Surprise! Things change as we age. Our bodies, hormones, metabolism, strength, balance…you name it!
Fortunately, there are things we can do to support these changes and enhance our health, and one super-helpful way is to modify our EXERCISE.
Don’t get me wrong. Any activity that gets your body moving, your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and feels good to you is great. However, adjusting your exercise routines as you get older allows you to focus on and support the aspects of your health that need a little more attention and TLC.
Why Exercise Needs Change With Age
As young adults, physical activity is often a natural part of the multiple demands of our busy lives—working, caring for our families, managing a household, etc.
We can get plenty of exercise chasing kids around, walking the dog, doing chores, and running from one commitment to the next. Fitting in workouts at the gym or other scheduled exercise activities may seem impossible, or at least not a priority. I get it because I’ve been there. ;)
Around midlife, however, the requirements for physical activity in our daily lives may decrease. In addition to becoming more sedentary, age-related changes begin to crop up. You may notice weight gain, especially around your midsection. Blood sugar and lipids might be creeping up. Perimenopausal symptoms may also become noticeable, leaving you moody and fatigued and making everything feel harder.
Changes Speed Up After Menopause
As we transition through perimenopause and menopause and levels of estrogen and progesterone dramatically drop, there are even more unwelcome changes. Most obvious are menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, but other health challenges also appear, including an increased risk of:
- Weight gain and excess body fat, especially around the midline
- Reduction of and difficulty maintaining lean muscle mass
- Balance problems and falls
- Osteoporosis and fractures
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
This is also the time in our lives when illness starts hitting closer to home. It isn’t just our grandparents’ and parents’ friends who are experiencing life-changing chronic diseases—it’s our friends! Aging is starting to feel real and scary.
You may discover that what you were doing to maintain your figure, strength, and endurance isn’t working as well as it used to. Don’t accept this sitting down. Instead, let it motivate you to make modifications to your exercise program.
Benefits of Exercise for Women
A consistent, well-planned exercise program can help stave off all these health challenges—and actually reverse some of them. There are so many benefits of exercising! According to the National Institute of Health, exercise helps to:
- Maintain and improve strength. Women (and men) who are inactive lose 3%–5% of their muscle mass each decade, beginning in their 30s. Strength training exercises promote muscle gain while actively slowing muscle loss. Use it or lose it!
- Improve balance and lower risk of falls. Poor balance may be due to certain diseases or medication side effects, but muscle weakness is a major cause. Lower limb and core strengthening exercises, plus activities like tai chi and yoga, improve balance and gait and reduce the risk of falls.
- Reduce risk of fractures. Weight-bearing exercise protects against bone loss and osteoporosis, which affects about 20% of women over age 50. It also reduces the risk of fall-related hip fractures, which are three times more common in women than men.
- Reach or maintain healthy weight and reduce weight gain. Exercise alone is not a particularly effective weight loss tool—diet changes are also imperative. But regular physical activity, both aerobic/cardio and strength training, is essential for keeping that weight off. Consistency is key.
- Prevent and manage diseases. Women who exercise have a reduced risk of arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and eight types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer. If you have already been diagnosed with any of these, regular activity can help improve symptoms and lower the likelihood of recurrences or progression.
- Reduce stress, boost mood, and relieve anxiety and depressive feelings. Exercise is an excellent stress buster and mood booster. In addition to clearing your mind and taking the focus off negative thoughts and emotions, it stimulates the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that help relieve pain and enhance your sense of well-being.
- Sleep better. Physical activity obviously tires you out, but it also relieves stress, anxiety, and depression, which are common sleep robbers. If you can exercise outdoors during daylight hours, so much the better. Sunlight exposure helps sync your body clock/circadian rhythms, and this has a profound effect on your sleep-wake cycles. Gentle stretching exercises before bedtime also reduce muscle tension and help you relax.
- Boost energy and reduce fatigue. Regular cardio/aerobic exercise improves your cardiovascular fitness and endurance—a benefit that spills over into your daily activities. Improvements in sleep also mean more energy and less fatigue.
- Improve aspects of cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia. Studies reveal that exercise boosts performance on tests of cognitive function, including memory, attention, and processing speed. Recent research suggests that regular vigorous physical activity, including household chores, may also reduce the risk of dementia. Although exercise is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, physical activity improves some symptoms and may slow disease progression.
- Reduce menopausal symptoms. Exercise can help relieve some symptoms of menopause. For example, a study published in Menopause found that exercise training reduced hot flashes by improving women’s ability to regulate their body temperature. Exercisers had a 60% reduction in hot flash frequency! Specific exercises for women that strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles also help with urinary incontinence, which is a problem many women experience after menopause.
- Increase sense of empowerment and self-confidence. Last but not least, committing to exercise can be empowering. It helps you feel stronger, more confident, and in control of your health.
Time to Get Serious About Exercise
There are many exercise options and modifications, depending on your fitness level, health challenges, and personal interests. As you develop your new regimen, it is important to choose activities and goals that are doable, attainable, and maintainable. It’s also important to select activities that bring you joy because to realize lasting benefits, you have to keep it up.
Now more than ever, it is essential to make exercise a part of your daily life. The payout for putting the effort into incorporating a healthy movement routine is enormous. Exercise can change your life—if you make it work for you!