When it comes to looking and feeling great through the seasons of life, the closest thing to a one-size-fits-all solution may be the most obvious: exercise.
“When we think of healthcare, we often focus on doctor visits, preventive care, lab tests and immunizations. But there are other factors that are in our personal control, like improving our diets, reducing stress and adding fun to our lives,” says Jordan Horowitz, M.D., a gynecologist with Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation and clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. “Exercise is one of these controllable factors, and it’s highly effective at improving health.”
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, regular exercise provides a great array of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes, improving mood and cognitive function, and reducing mortality. For women, those benefits expand, thanks to their particular combination of hormones and health risks.
“Many of the health issues that women face can be improved substantially with consistent exercise. It’s one of the best preventive options available and should be encouraged in childhood and throughout life,” says Dr. Horowitz.
Exercise helps counteract hormonally-driven mood swings.
From the first menstrual cycle until menopause, women live with a shifting level of estrogen and progesterone that impacts their fertility patterns as well as also their brain chemistry and moods. When estrogen levels drop, such as before and during a woman’s period or leading up to menopause, women lose a natural source of the “feel good” brain chemical called serotonin. This makes them more susceptible to moodiness, depression and anxiety attacks, such as the symptoms found in severe premenstrual syndrome or post-partum depression.
Exercise counters these hormonally-triggered mood swings by releasing endorphins, another mood regulator. Sometimes called the “runner’s high,” endorphins leave you feeling happy and relaxed after a workout.
“It’s our body’s way of substituting one natural chemical for one that is waning,” Dr. Horowitz says. “For some women, this may reduce or eliminate the need for serotonin raising medications known as anti-depressants.”
Even after menopause, when estrogen levels have permanently diminished, exercise can improve mood. One study of 60 women experiencing postmenopausal anxiety and depression found that the group of participants who exercised showed an 18 to 22 percent improvement in symptoms, while those who did not exercise showed no improvement.
Exercise prevents bone loss and osteoporosis.
Women are far more vulnerable than men to develop osteoporosis and related bone fracture and loss of height as they age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, eight out of 10 of Americans with osteoporosis are women, and half of women over age 50 who have osteoporosis will break a bone. This is largely because women have thinner bones than men and lose bone strength more rapidly as they age due to the loss of estrogen. Hip fracture, a consequence of osteoporosis, can lead to immobility and premature death.
One of the best ways to build strong bones is through exercise, preferably starting in the younger years. “During the teen and young adult years is when women build most of the bone mass that can protect them from osteoporosis later in life,” Dr. Horowitz says.
Weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises particularly promote bone health, no matter what your age. Tennis, hiking, aerobics or jogging build bones and keep them strong. Lifting weights, using exercise bands or simply standing up and rising to your toes, builds strength, balance and flexibility that can prevent falls. Be sure to talk to your doctor, physical therapist or exercise professional to help you determine the best and safest exercises for your age and condition.
Exercise keeps weight in check.
Although men and women both tend to gain weight as they age, women have special challenges. Younger women may find that the weight gain of pregnancy can linger long past delivery. Then, as middle-aged women lose estrogen in menopause, the body redistributes fat cells to the belly, which can frustrate weight loss. And because muscle burns more calories than fat, women can struggle with maintaining or losing weight as their muscle mass declines with age.
Exercise can counter these factors by helping women maintain and build lean muscle mass that makes them look and feel slimmer. Exercise also burns excess calories that would otherwise accumulate as fat. In one 20-year study of 3,500 men and women conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, all participants gained weight as they aged, but those who exercised gained substantially less weight. Women, especially, benefitted, gaining 13 pounds less, on average, than inactive women.
Exercise improves sleep.
A national poll of 1,506 adults nationwide, conducted in 2005, discovered that women have more difficulty falling and staying asleep compared to men and experience more daytime sleepiness. This tendency can grow even more disruptive due to new motherhood, monthly hormonal changes and perimenopausal symptoms like night sweats.
Thankfully, exercise has an excellent track record of improving sleep. In one study of 2,600 participants, published in the Journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity, participants who incorporated 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity into their week reported a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. They said they also felt less sleepy during the day.
Even with all these benefits in mind, women may find it difficult to find time or energy to exercise regularly. Dr. Horowitz says the motivation must start with looking in the mirror and telling yourself, “Now is the time to do something.”
“It takes personal commitment and readiness. Yet you don’t need to start exercising in a self-punishing way. Just get out there and do something active. Find a friend or a trainer who motivates you to get up and get moving,” he says. “And remember, it’s not about instant results but long-term change that will bring you better health and self-esteem for a lifetime.”
Exercises To Do At Home
Regular exercise is the key to relieve stress and to promote good physical and mental health. Women who juggle between personal and professional responsibilities often fall short of time to pay attention to their fitness. But importance should be given to fitness from an early age itself to live a healthy and longer life. Routine exercises can help you treat health issues and can even avoid them, all you just need to do is take out 20-30 minutes a day for yourself. You might not be able to hit the gym regularly or step out for a daily jog or walk, but you need not worry.
Bridge PostureLie flat your back with arms on your sides, palms down. Keep feet flat on the floor with knees bended. Ensure to keep feet’s apart (hip-width). Now, slowly lift your hip towards ceiling and hold on to the position for a while and then come back to original position. Bridge pose helps you get relief from lower back pain and helps you fight hypertension.
Single Leg StandBalancing on one feet enhances flexibility of leg muscles. It boosts your concentration, helps you stay focused that makes you fight anxiety and depression. To start with, do a basic exercise. Shift your entire body weight on one foot and lift the other slightly off the floor. Keep it straight forward and try not to lean your body. Stay in the position for a minute. You can also do yoga posture called vrikshasana that relaxes and calms the central nervous system.
SquatsSquat is most effective exercise to tone your thighs, hips and butts. There are many variations in squatting exercise. Do the basic one to start with. Keep shoulders and chest up with back straight and feet wider apart (as of the shoulder width). Take your hips back and then bend your knees and sit as if you are sitting on chair. Slowly come back to the original position and repeat. Ensure to look straight while squatting. Do it in a controlled manner. If your back or knew starts hurting, you are not doing it properly! Take a rest and then start a fresh. Do only fewer sets of 2 to 3 with only 8 or 10 reps. Squats do improve your overall health by boosting digestion and blood circulation.
Push-upsIt’s one of the most effective and common do-at-home exercise ever. It’s quite simple to do. Get into plank position. Keep hands under bit outside your shoulder, keep your leg stretched, lower your body until chest gets near to the floor and quickly come back to original position. It basically strengthens your upper body as it’s beneficial for chest, shoulders and triceps. It also strengthens yours thighs and abdominal muscles. In the beginning, it seems difficult to do more number of pushups. You can also start with knee pushups, inclined pushups in the beginning.
It’s a basic exercise to start with. It’s important to warm up and stretch before starting the regular exercise. Jumping jack gives flexibility and help you increase the stamina. Keep your feet together and stand tall and keeping hands straight at your sides. While jumping, raise your arms above your head and feet’s apart to the sides. Quickly reverse and come back to standing position with a jump. A one or two minute jumping jack exercises can loosen your muscles with more flow of oxygen into the bloodstream. Burn some calories, get flexible and toned body with some jumping jacks exercise daily. Modify jumping jack steps and have fun exercising.
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PlankPlank exercise puts your entire body on work. It’s most vital for abdominals. Get down on the floor on your elbows and toes. Elbows should bent and directly below your shoulders. Keep the body straight while holding on to the position.
Leg RaiseLeg raise exercises are one of the best for abdominal areas. You just need to lie on your back, place your hands beside you, palms down. Raise your legs off the ground keeping your knees locked. Hold on to the position as long as you comfortably can and then slowly come back to original position.
Hands In and Out BreathingThis one is good for lungs. It helps in people with menstrual disorder and asthma. It’s quite easy to do. Stand straight, Stretch your arms forward at the shoulder level with palms facing each other closely. Spread your arms out to the sides while inhaling till they form a straight line at the shoulder level. Come back to original position while exhaling. Repeat it for 3-5 minutes.
Hip RotationLie flat on the floor and keep the feet apart. Slowly push up one leg, looking straight and then pull it back. Now raise your other leg and do the same. It’s that simple. It’s great stretching exercise that strengthens your hip muscles and improves flexibility.
CrunchesIt’s a traditional exercise for stronger abs. Lie flat on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Keep the feet apart. Hands to be kept at the base of your head with elbows pointed out. Bring up your head and shoulder off the floor using your abs and go back to the position with control.
It’s never too late to start something good! Improve your overall health by these easy exercises daily. For people with existing health issues, its better seek doctor’s advice before starting up an exercise.
Eat healthy, stay active, exercise regularly and live longer!