Exercise review for women over 40

I don't suppose that there is anyone out there who needs convincing about the beneficial effects of exercise. The challenge is... doing it!

We  know that exercise can reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases and, according to the latest scientific evidence, live longer with better quality of life.  Sounds great and who wouldn't want to buy into it? So what's the big deal? Well sometimes life has a tendency to get in the way. There's the children, work-load, no time, fatigue, or all of the above. The list is endless. So how can we make life and fitting in exercise seamless?

Firstly,  let's look at what is meant by exercise. Of course you can join a gym, swim, do a zumba class,  get a personal trainer or do a combination of all of these things. However, if you do nothing else there's always good old fashioned walking!

Walking your way to health - 

Walking is a great all-rounder for health. It's free, does not require any expensive training and,  other than a good pair of walking shoes, no specialist equipment is required.  Because it's a weight bearing exercise walking is good for osteoporosis prevention. So, it's especially good for woman over 40. Aim to walk half an hour a day, 5 days a week. Make it a brisk walk,  perhaps through your local park. Or, if you happen to live by the coast, a brisk walk along the sands. Engage with your surroundings. Think of it as a joy. Something you look forward to. Experience the fresh air, colours and the sound of the birds. That way you'll not only derive the physical benefits but the psychological ones too. Incorporate walking into your every day life. If possible walk to work, school or wherever you regularly have to go to. You might want to try power walking.  (That's rapid walking where the pace is halfway between a brisk walk and jogging and where the walker uses an exaggerated arm swing.)  To make it more enjoyable walk with a partner or a friend. Or, if you're single, find a local walking group. Or perhaps the Ramblers Association appeals.

Women over 40 - who are within their normal weight band - usually  need to tone up and get into shape. Calories need to be burnt off and  arms,  legs and abs need sculpting and  toning.  In addition, women over 50, may need to address issues such as improving core stability, pelvic floor strengthening and balance. Here's a list of a few exercises that can help.

Exercises that burn calories and give you a cardio workout -

Running -

Running, like walking, is free. You don''t need specialist training or equipment. However,   some basic things like running shoes and suitable clothing is required.  It  is great for oxygenation and increasing your overall level of fitness.   Because it is weight bearing it is also good for osteoporosis prevention; so good for women over 40.  Running  with a partner or a friend probably makes it more fun and easier to keep going. If you're single, there are a few running  groups around that you could join.

Cycling - 

Cycling requires a bike, so there is a basic cost there. Some other  equipment like a helmet is also required. Depending on where you live and what you do you could cycle to work. If you haven't got a bike but want to give it a try some towns and cities in the UK have bike hiring schemes, which enable you the chance to have a bike for a period of time. Cycling can open so many possibilities for different types of travel or holidays. Growing up in London in  the days when very few people had a car I used to spend all summer on my bike. Since then I've lived in various urban locations and haven't had a chance to get back in the saddle. However, I'm retiring next year and definitely want to revisit this skill. As the old saying goes - it's just like riding a bike! I hope so.

So what about women with health issues who find walking, running and other physical activities problematic?

Swimming -

Unless you have your own lake or swimming pool, swimming regularly will have to be budgeted for and there's also the cost of the swimwear. To help with the budget many pools and leisure centres run discounted sessions at certain times of day and often have women only sessions. Other water based activities,  such as Aquafit,  are also good all rounders. In addition to being aerobic,  because of the supportive nature of water on the body, these type of activities  can be good if you have joint problems.

Keep fit classes -

Good all round activity with some weight bearing elements, so also addresses the osteoporosis issue. However, classes have to be budgeted for and some spending on basic suitable clothing may be required. If you have health issues (either physical or mental) it may be worth asking at your surgery as to whether your GP is able to make a gym  referral to a local gym. (Which is usually available in the UK on the NHS.) Alternatively, if it's appropriate, there may be an age specific keep fit class in your area. Also, some clubs for older people run exercise sessions where you can remain seated whilst exercising. T'ai chi for instance can be undertaken from a  seated position. It's not quite as effective but it works none the less and at least you're keeping active. If, for whatever reasons, you can't get to a class there's a plethora of home fitness DVDs out there or, like Helen Mirren, you could get a Wii.

Zumba/salsa or other dance classes -

Dance of any kind gives you  a great cardio work out and is a good calorie burner whilst, at the same time, being great fun. Join a class - there are lots around. Take care if you have lower limb problems but do give it a try if it appeals.

Below is a brief overview of some of the more popular types of formal exercise that help with toning and sculpting limbs, improving core stability,  pelvic floor and balance.

Yoga  - 

Like skincare it's never too early to start Yoga. Likewise it's never too late. I've practised Yoga  over the years at different stages in my life. If you're thinking about doing Yoga and you're new to the practice, it's probably best to start with a class. Classes will need to be budgeted for and some suitable clothing may need to be bought. You also have to be disciplined enough to attend the classes.

Before starting though some caution may be required before diving in. There are different Yoga styles and not all may suit. So you may want to read up about the subject first.

Hatha Yoga is a relatively gentle style and is perhaps more accessible than say Ashtanga. However, whatever the style yoga is a dynamic practice and, if not done correctly with good core stability and using upper body strength, undue strain can be placed on the pelvis and lower limb joints. It can be particularly problematic if you have a history of sacro-iliac or knee joint problems. If you have specific back or other joint problems, you may want to consider a 1:1 session with a yoga teacher.

Pilates - 

With the right teacher Pilates can be great for improving core stability and pelvic floor tone. I've done it for years and  found it particularly good for both. In the wrong hands, if you have joint problems, it can do harm. If you're new to the practice it's probably best to start with a class. Or, if you have joint problems,  it may be worth investing in some 1:1 sessions with  a teacher. (Bear in mind that in a group setting the teacher may not always be able to check whether you have achieved the postures correctly.) Whatever you decide to do, before you start,  you might want to read up about the subject first.

When I was in my late 40s I  used bands and weights in combination with Pilates to achieve  the best looking body that I've ever had in my life.  If you've done Pilates before and have no joint problems you might want to consider a DVD that combines Pilates with bands and weights to increase the sculpting effects on the abs, upper and lower limbs. In combination with a high protein low carbohydrate diet this type of exercise system can be great at fighting the flab and giving you an enviable body at any age.

T'ai chi -

If you're new to T'ai chi it's best to find a local group that runs a beginner's class. Before you start you might want to read up a bit about this amazingly powerful martial artIf you decide to enrol in a class remember that it's usually done in a mixed gender group setting. From an exercise point of view it's a good all rounder. It is also good at increasing energy  and joint mobility.  If you have lower limb problems, particularly knee problems, let the trainer know. Also, bear in mind that it is a martial art and most groups will include the fighting style elements. Some work in pairs  is also likely. However, if you prefer there are beginner's DVDs out there to help get you started. You might also like to look at  Qi Gong,  an exercise routine that combines breathing and stretching. I do a daily modified routine  that  only takes a few minutes.  See my previous blog.

Gym membership - 

For those who are motivated this can be well worth investing in. In addition  to having access to professional cardio machines most gyms run extra exercise classes that are free to members. These classes are usually suitable for all ages and abilities. The gym is also a  good place to find a trainer to work with and to socialise.

Whatever, you decide to do though make it something you enjoy. Otherwise it will be difficult to sustain. Here's to good health through exercise and a new you!

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