If you’ve noticed the pounds creeping on around your midsection during perimenopause and menopause, you can blame it on biology. The changes in your hormones during midlife mean fat is redistributed to the abdomen, and the average woman gains between two and five pounds. If your waist measures more than 89 cm (or 35 inches) it is time to take action. But, if you want to lose menopause belly fat, do it sensibly. While nutrition is key to getting belly fat under control, exercise is extremely effective in supporting dietary changes, and is fundamental to midlife health. There is no magic formula to getting the pounds off, the fat won’t drop off on its own, but we promise, help is at hand.
READ MORE Why does menopause make you bloated?
Weight gain for women in menopause is just one of many unwelcome hormonally-driven symptoms that we can experience in these years. In fact, other symptoms like insomnia and low mood can exacerbate the weight gain issue: Hands up who feels like going to the gym or eating healthily if they’re exhausted and feeling blue… Yep, none of us. Netflix and a takeaway are way more appealing.
One thing that is a myth is that HRT is to blame for any weight gain. It’s not. There is zero evidence to support this claim.
READ MORE Does HRT and menopause cause weight gain?
How do I get rid of menopausal belly fat?
Menopause belly fat can certainly take its toll on your self-confidence – especially when your beloved pair of favourite jeans feels a bit of a squeeze all of a sudden. Panic not. There are a lot of ways to address the issue.
While focusing on nutrition is key to losing menopause belly fat (try cutting down on sugar, alcohol and any processed foods), the right exercise is also important. Crash diets and extreme workouts won’t help, a balanced approach to menopause health is best.
READ MORE What is The Difference Between Perimenopause And Menopause?
Here are 11 workouts for toning up your middle and lose menopause belly fat, as recommended by the experts.
For a fun way to lose menopause belly fat, Nike Master Trainer and former dancer for the likes of Beyoncé and The Black Eyed Peas, Traci Copeland, recommends high-intensity dance-based workouts. You’ll tone up and strengthen your core, while enjoying yourself too.
One of her favourite moves? The cross jack. “Start with your feet wider than hip distance. Jump, and cross the right foot in front of your left while bending your knees and bringing your left elbow toward your right knee. Then jump back out back to the starting position. Repeat, alternating between your left and right leg for 30 seconds, or four counts of eight.”
Knee to nose
Jeanette Jenkins, the celebrity trainer who Alicia Keys credits for her enviable abs, recommends completing three sets of 15 reps of this move, three times a week. “It recruits the core’s fast twitch muscle fibres and targets the obliques,” says Jeanette.
“Start in a plank, then round your spine towards the ceiling while bringing your right knee to your nose. Then lift your right arm straight back and your left arm forward, both to shoulder height. Next, return to plank position and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep completed.”
Incorporating strength and resistance training into your exercise routine can help to speed up weight loss. And it’s not just a good way to lose menopause belly fat. Weight training will strengthen your bones too, essential in midlife.
“You won’t necessarily burn more calories lifting weights than doing cardiovascular exercise, but the increased muscle mass you develop will make your body burn calories during rest,” says Louisa Drake, founder of The Louisa Drake Method. “Not only will you increase your resting metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns energy when it is at complete rest), it will be elevated for up to 15 hours post exercise. Try introducing lunges, squats and barre style workouts.”
Sarah Gorman, founder of BlendFit, advises building strong core muscles to tone up your mid section and help lose menopause belly fat.
“My favourite exercise for this would be a plank (or modified plank, meaning knees resting on the floor),” she says. “Try adding a series of knee taps to the floor, whilst keeping your body and pelvis stable. I imagine that I have a tray of drinks balanced on my back. First alternating the knees (4×8 reps), then double knee taps (4×8 reps), then back to single knee taps but with an internal rotation, drawing the knee underneath the extended leg (4×8 reps). When in rotation, aim to keep your shoulders and upper body still and square.”
The Spiderman crunch
Another variation on the plank is the Spiderman crunch, designed to help tone stubborn love handles. Recommended by Poosh columnist and fitness trainer Amanda Lee, it’s a move you can do anywhere, anytime.
“Start in a traditional plank position with your forearms on the ground and your body perfectly straight. Bring your right knee forward toward your right elbow, then return to the plank position. Repeat by bringing your left knee toward your left elbow. Alternate sides and add a push up in between reps for an extra challenge.”
You might not have used a skipping rope since school, but it’s an effective way of burning calories and belly fat. “Jumping rope is a great way of squeezing in sneaky cardio,'” says celebrity fitness trainer Kira Stokes. “It keeps the heart rate up and fuels a higher level of fat burning and increased stamina during recovery.”
Her biggest tip? “Typically people jump too high, you only need to clear the rope. You will save energy and your joints if you keep your jumps low.” She recommends splitting it into three or five minute chunks so you’re jumping rope for a total of 15 minutes a day.
Overhead leg switches
If you like to incorporate weights into your workouts, try fitness trainer Janine George’s lying down overhead leg switches to feel a real ab burn.
“Start by lying on your back with your legs and arms extended whilst holding on to your dumbbells above your head. Begin to raise your legs and glutes off the floor vertically, focus on pulling your navel to your spine and begin switching each leg at a time towards your face, aiming to keep your legs as straight as possible throughout the move.”
The bicycle crunch
“The old-fashioned bicycle is one of my favorites,” says midlife fitness expert Denise Austin. “You lay down like you are doing a sit up and then kick your legs in the air as if you were peddling a bike. To make it more difficult, do a crunch and twist towards your knee while you bring it to your chest. This will work out your entire core and abs.”
Exercise ball sit ups
Davina McCall is a longtime advocate for incorporating gym balls into your exercise routine. “They’re brilliant for toning your stomach and core,” she says. “It forces your abs to stabilise the body which results in creating great strength and definition.”
For a new take on a standard sit up, try rolling yourself back over an exercise ball, putting your hands to your temples, then sitting up at around 45 degrees holding for five seconds each time.
The boat pose
Jillian Michaels may be famous for her intense workouts, but she believes in the value of simple moves too. “A lot of people really underestimate how powerful a pose can be,” she says. “We always think that dynamic movements are best, and while they are really efficient, keeping a constant contraction in an exercise pose you can also burn a ton of calories and accelerate your results.”
Try the boat pose, which challenges you to balance your body by sitting on a mat with your legs bent off the floor at a 90 degree, and your arms raised at your sides.
A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that women strengthen their abs by an average of 21% after 36 weeks of Pilates training. As well as toning your midsection, this is important for supporting your back and building bone density, too.
“Pilates exercises tend to target all of the muscles of the core, and specifically what I call the deep-core four: the transversus abdominus, multifidi, pelvic floor, and diaphragm,” says Erika Bloom, founder of Erika Bloom Pilates. “These muscles draw the belly in to create a flat stomach, and provide stability and support to the pelvis and torso so that your extremities can find both power and freedom of movement.”