By Lauren Glendenning, For Memorial Regional Health
Sept. 25 is National Women’s Health & Fitness Day
While fitness can help women reach weight loss goals, it should be part of a lifestyle routine regardless of a need or desire to lose weight.
Regular exercise can help with your mental health, bone health, heart health and more, according to Memorial Regional Health specialists.
“You just feel better about yourself when you are exercising,” said Chris Trujillo, a physical therapist at Memorial Regional Health for the last 39 years.
Ericka Lucas, rehabilitation services manager at Memorial Regional Health, said it’s important to focus on exercising for your health and overall well-being, not just for weight loss. Women face various societal roles and pressures that can get in the way of maintaining a healthy weight. They’re often full-time employees, mothers and caregivers, making it difficult to find time to spend on themselves, Lucas said.
“A lot of times, this stress can play into weight gain,” she said.
Change Your Mindset
If you’re trying to start a new exercise routine or get back into a routine, think of the motto, “move more, move often,” said Sue Winters, occupational therapist at Memorial Regional Health.
“Give yourself permission to take 30 minutes for yourself,” Winters said. “This could be a walk around the block, or going up and down the stairs 10 times, or watching a YouTube video on yoga. Exercising, although tiring when you first start, will actually increase your energy, your mood and be good for you and the others around you.”
Starting out slowly helps avoid setbacks, Winters said. If you’re just getting back into exercise again after a hiatus, don’t try to get back to the level you were in your 20s.
“Start with low weights and lower repetitions,” she said. “If you can work at that level without pain or other symptoms that make you want to quit — and no quitting until you have tried it for at least three months — then advance your program.”
Winters recommends getting creative with exercises and mixing things up (see factbox) so you’re not always doing the same thing. It’s also helpful to exercise with a friend.
“Follow some videos on YouTube if you feel like you’re getting stuck. You do not need an expensive gym membership to start giving your body the exercise it craves,” she said. “Make it social. There is always a good reason for women to get together.
Do It for Health, Not Just for Weight Loss
One study looking at women who exercised with the specific goal of weight loss found that women who exercised did not lose significantly more weight than women who did not exercise. The study, published in the International Journal of Liberal Arts And Social Science, showed that a woman’s motive for exercising plays an important role in the benefits exercise provides.
“In light of these findings, it is reasonable to suspect that if one exercises for weight loss and this motive is not fulfilled, the effects of exercise on quality of life may be different than if one were exercising for an alternative motive, such as health reasons, and improved health is attained,” the study said.
Winters said the effects of poor health habits — such as poor nutrition, smoking, obesity, poor posture and sedentary lifestyles — on patients’ ability to heal is very dramatic.
“We see differences in bone healing, endurance, muscle strength, posture, pain — just to name a few,” she said.
Don’t Skip the Weights
Strength training increases lean body mass, decreases fat mass and increases resting metabolic rate in adults, according to medical research.
“While strength training on its own typically does not lead to weight loss, its beneficial effects on body composition may make it easier to manage one’s weight and ultimately reduce the risk of disease, by slowing the gain of fat — especially abdominal fat,” according to Harvard Medical School.
Fighting abdominal fat happens with aerobic exercise, strength training and a healthy diet. Unfortunately, Lucas said specific exercises that target the belly are not effective in reducing belly fat.
“This is a common misconception,” she said. “There is no such thing as ‘spot-training.’ You cannot simply do abdominal exercises and lose belly fat — it doesn’t work that way. The only way women can target their mid-section is by losing weight — by eating healthy and exercising.”
With resistance training, women can not only fight a slowing metabolism as they age, they can also fight osteoporosis. Resistance training promotes good bone health, Lucas said.
“Everyone can perform some type of resistance training or weight-bearing exercise,” she said. “Even walking is considered a weight-bearing exercise and can help strengthen bones.”
Don’t Skip Your Annual Women’s Health Exam
Your annual health exam is an opportunity to take charge of your health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that routine health care visits can help find problems early or prevent health problems before they occur. An annual checkup is also a time to discuss healthy lifestyle habits with your provider.
Diversify Your Exercise Routine
- The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults engage in flexibility training two to three days per week, stretching major muscle and tendon groups.
- Flexibility training or stretching exercise is another important part of overall fitness. It may help older adults preserve the range of motion they need to perform daily tasks and other physical activities.
- For older adults, the American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine recommend two days a week of flexibility training, in sessions at least 10 minutes long. Older adults who are at risk of falling should also do exercises to improve their balance.
- Aerobic activity: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week.
- Strength training: Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.