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As we get older, a lot of women tend to do less exercise. Sporting hobbies become replaced by kids, and then spending time watching them fulfil their sporting hobbies. There’s less time to be active, and everyone else comes first.
In this post my aim is to outline some of the reasons why it’s so important to exercise as you get older, and explain what the most effective types of exercise are.
At the age of around 25-30, we reach our maximum level of bone mineral density and from there can expect a gradual decline of around 1% per year until we reach Perimenopause. In many women this can happen around the ages of 40 – 45, followed by reaching the Menopause itself around age 50.
Perimenopause is marked by irregular periods and fluctuating hormones leading to symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings.
If a woman enters Perimenopause leading a sedentary lifestyle, the loss of bone mineral density can increase to as much as 3% per year.
This is a crucial point to understand, for two reasons.
- Reduced bone mineral density means your bones gets weaker; this increases the chance of osteoporosis and falls in later life. Weaker bones are of course more likely to fracture under the stress of a fall.
- The amount of bone mineral density lost, and the risk of falls in later life, can be markedly reduced by leading a healthy and active lifestyle
Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and unhealthy eating habits also contribute to increased loss of bone mineral density. The good news is that all of these factors are completely within personal control and can make a huge difference whenever they are improved.
Essentially, to give yourself the best chance of ageing with a body that is as strong and healthy as possible, this is what you need to do:
- Exercise regularly – weights and cardio (I’ll explain more about this later)
- Drink in moderation (or not at all)
- Eat healthy natural foods (90% of the time – allow 10% for unhealthy things you like)
- Don’t smoke
All stuff you’ve heard before right?
But there is real scientific evidence showing how much better off you’ll be by making positive lifestyle changes and starting them as soon as possible.
It’s easy to put off changing while you’re still fairly young and healthy, but the sooner you start, the better chance you give yourself of a healthy and active middle to old age.
Don’t wait until you need to make changes. The earlier you begin, the easier you will find it.
Most people know that eating better, drinking less and stopping smoking will help them stay fit and healthy as they age. So I’m going to focus here on the training. What exercise will help you best maintain health, strength, bone density and a healthy weight for the rest of your life?
Training with weights is the only type of exercise that will strengthen and maintain muscle, and this is why it is so important. More muscle:
- Helps you to maintain a healthy level of body fat (by allowing the body to burn more calories during exercise and at rest), which is one of the biggest factors affecting health and bone mass density as you age.
- Means you are stronger – better able to lift and play with kids, then grandkids, and do all the tasks associated with everyday life as you get older.
- Makes your body less likely to suffer aches, pains and joint problems at any point.
- Is associated with decreased risk of falls, fractures and death in the elderly.
To get the most out of weights training, follow a program that works your whole body. 2 – 3 sessions per week work very well, but chat to an instructor or trainer to get help designing a program that works best for you.
Co-ordination and Balance
This is an aspect of training that is rarely considered, but it gets ever more important the older we get. Co-ordination and balance naturally diminish over time, but can be vastly improved just by a few exercises regularly done at the gym.
Basically, make sure you get up and do some exercises that challenge your co-ordination and balance – don’t just sit on the leg press because you hate squats!
Squats, lunges, step ups and single leg deadlifts are all great exercises that improve leg strength as well as balance. Ask for advice on these if you are new to them or have knee or hip issues. Standing on one leg is an important skill to keep practicing. Standing on one leg while throwing and catching a ball is a fun exercise you could do with your kids. If it feels difficult, that’s a good thing – just keep practicing!
Cardio keeps your heart healthy and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. This can be any type of cardio you like, but a great one is simply walking. A 30-minute walk 5 times per week would cover the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Walking also gives your bones gentle impact, which encourages the body to keep them strong. The old adage of ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ applies here, as it does with weights training. Make sure you use it!
Another option to improve fitness levels and aid weight loss is interval training. This is where you work hard for a short period of time, rest, and repeat for anything from 5 to 20 minutes. Good options include using the rowing machine, bike, cross trainer, stepper or treadmill in the gym, or hill walking or running outside.
An example of this would be 30 seconds of fast rowing / cycling / hill walking etc, followed by 1 minute of going very slow to allow yourself to recover. Then repeat again for a total of 15 minutes.
To Sum Up…
Remember, if you don’t use it, you risk losing it! Get yourself active and making the most of the body you’ve been blessed with. Lift weights, go walking, and eat healthy foods NOW to reap the benefits in the months and years to come. Get yourself in shape, keep your bones strong, and stay healthy and happy into the menopause and beyond.
This blog post is based on the online article ‘Menopause and fitness sex differences’ found HERE
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