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Menopause, Weight Gain, and Pelvic Health

The new year is here and with it, lots of motivational posting about exercise and weight loss…but how is this desire for ‘new year, new you’ affecting peri-menopausal women with urinary dysfunction? It has been established that the lower urinary tract is sensitive to the effects of estrogen, sharing a common embryological origin with the female genital tract, the urogenital sinus. Urge urinary incontinence is more prevalent after the menopause, and the peak prevalence of stress incontinence occurs around the time of the menopause (Quinn et al 2009). Zhu et al looked at the risk factors for urinary incontinence in women and found that some of the main contributors include peri/post-menopausal status, constipation and central obesity (women's waist circumference, >/=80 cm) along with vaginal delivery/multiparity.

Could weight loss directly impact urinary incontinence in menopausal women? In a word – yes. ‘Weight reduction is an effective treatment for overweight and obese women with UI. Weight loss of 5% to 10% has an efficacy similar to that of other nonsurgical treatments and should be considered a first line therapy for incontinence’ (Subak et al 2005) But do these benefits last? Again – yes! ‘Weight loss intervention reduced the frequency of stress incontinence episodes through 12 months and improved patient satisfaction with changes in incontinence through 18 months. Improving weight loss maintenance may provide longer term benefits for urinary incontinence.’ (Wing et al 2010)

The other major health issues facing women at midlife include an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Bone Health problems – all of which are responsive to lifestyle interventions, particularly exercise and stress management. In their paper looking at lifestyle weight loss interventions, Franz et al found that ‘…a weight loss of >5% appears necessary for beneficial effects on HbA1c, lipids, and blood pressure. Achieving this level of weight loss requires intense interventions, including energy restriction, regular physical activity, and frequent contact with health professionals’. 5% weight loss is the same amount of weight loss necessary to provide significant benefits for urinary incontinence at midlife.

Successful weight management depends on nutritional intake, exercise and psychosocial considerations such as stress management, but for the menopausal woman, hormonal balance can also have an effect on not only bladder and bowel dysfunction but changing metabolic rates, thyroid issues and altered weight distribution patterns. As pelvic rehab therapists, we are all aware that pelvic health issues can be a barrier to exercise participation but sensitive awareness of the other particular challenges facing midlife women can make the difference in developing a beneficial therapeutic alliance and a journey back to optimal health. If you would like to explore the topics surrounding optimal health at menopause, why not join me in California in February?


Climacteric. 2009 Apr;12(2):106-13. ‘The effects of hormones on urinary incontinence in postmenopausal women.’ Quinn SD, Domoney C. Menopause. 2009 Jul-Aug;16(4):831-6. The epidemiological study of women with urinary incontinence and risk factors for stress urinary incontinence in China’ Zhu L, Lang J, Liu C, Han S, Huang J, Li X. J Urol. 2005 Jul;174(1):190-5. Weight loss: a novel and effective treatment for urinary incontinence’ Subak LL, Whitcomb E, Shen H, Saxton J, Vittinghoff E, Brown JS. J Urol. 2010 Sep;184(3):1005-10. Effect of weight loss on urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women: results at 12 and 18 months Wing RR, West DS, Grady D, Creasman JM, Richter HE, Myers D, Burgio KL, Franklin F, Gorin AA, Vittinghoff E, Macer J, Kusek JW, Subak LL; Program to Reduce Incontinence by Diet and Exercise Group. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Sep;115(9):1447-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.031. Epub 2015 Apr 29. Lifestyle weight-loss intervention outcomes in overweight and obese adults with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Franz MJ, Boucher JL, Rutten-Ramos S, VanWormer JJ. Lean, M, & Lara, J & O Hill, J (2007) Strategies for preventing obesity. In: Sattar, N & Lean, M (eds.) ABC of Obesity. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

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