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Combination of Diet and Exercise May be Most Effective Weight Loss Tool for Postmenopausal Women

Weight gain can occur at any age but it is common in women after menopause. Weight gain at this age is often due to decreased activity levels and loss of muscle tissue. Both decreased activity levels and muscle tissue lowers your metabolic rate (your body's consumption of calories). Healthy weight loss requires a change in caloric balance. This can be done by decreasing calories you eat, increasing calorie you use through physical activity or a combination of both.

Researchers from the United States investigated whether a weight loss program based on calorie reducing diet, physical activity increase, or a combination of both was most beneficial for postmenopausal women. The study, published in Obesity, found that a combination of reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity led to greatest weight loss.

About the Study

The randomized trial included 439 postmenopausal women who were not currently active. All of the women were considered overweight or obese according to the body-mass-index (BMI) scale. They were randomly divided into one of four treatment groups:

  • Diet only (reduced calorie, low-fat diet based on weight goal reduction of ≥ 10%)
  • Moderate intensity aerobic exercise program (gradual increase to goal of 45 minute sessions, 5 days per week)
  • Diet plus exercise
  • Control group - no intervention offered

Average reduction at 12 months was:

  • 10.8% weight loss and 12.4% loss of body fat with diet plus exercise
  • 8.5% weight loss and 8.9% loss of body fat with diet alone
  • 2.4% weight loss and 3.3% loss of body fat with exercise alone
  • 0.8% weight loss and 0.3% loss of body fat in control group

The reductions achieved with diet and exercise was significantly greater than any other group. The reductions achieved with diet alone or exercise alone were more significant than the reductions in control group.

How Does This Affect You?

Randomized control trials are considered very reliable trials. This particular trial was well done with many participants which increases its reliability. In addition, 91% of participants completed the trial, which can be rare in trials on weight loss. The women included in this trial were also sedentary so the benefits may be different for women who are currently active.

As discussed above, postmenopausal weight gain is often due to a decrease in the calorie needs of your body. You can counteract this by increasing your activity. And decreasing your calorie intake on top of that can increase overall weight loss. By splitting the difference between them you will only need small changes instead of focusing on one aspect and making larger changes. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in starting a weight loss program.




  • Foster-Schubert KE, Alfano CM, Duggan CR. Effect of Diet and Exercise, Alone or Combined, on Weight and Body Composition in Overweight-to-Obese Postmenopausal Women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Apr 14.

Last reviewed February 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD

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