If you’re a woman over 50, and worried you’re on a downhill slope to old age, you might be wondering if it’s too late to get fit and start exercising. You probably realise that exercising like you did when you were 20 isn’t going to work for you. The good news is it’s never too late to get fit and improve your health and well being.
Before you start any sort of new fitness regime you need to establish your current level of fitness. My comprehensive Women’s Health and Fitness Assessment, which is free to download and complete, is a useful tool to help discover how fit you are. The assessment includes a number of tests, questions and tasks you can complete at home. It enables you to compare your results with those considered optimal for your age. Armed with this information you’ll be better able to assess which areas of your health and fitness to focus on first.
Please note: If you have any underlying medical conditions or specific health issues consult a GP before increasing your level of physical activity.
YouTube videos, free workouts and online diet plans may be helpful for motivation and ideas. However, they are not in any way tailor made for your specific needs.
For something bespoke to you, then it’s worth considering the benefits of investing in a personal trainer. Whilst this is a more expensive option a personal trainer can help fast track your progress from where you are now to where you want to be. Without a personal trainer many women struggle to make progress, get injured, waste time on ineffective exercises and programmes that don’t yield results, and often get frustrated and abandon attempts to get fit.
A personal trainer will draw up a careful plan based on your goals, the time you have available, your training history, and your general health. In addition a personal trainer will provide much needed support, accountability and motivation. An experienced personal trainer, who specialises in female health during the peri to post menopause years and beyond, will also empower you with knowledge and education, enabling you to embrace this new life phase with confidence and enthusiasm.
Maintaining or improving strength in midlife is essential to your long term health and independence. Muscle mass is lost with each decade, in addition the hormonal changes that accompany menopause means women are also affected by a decrease in bone density. Ultimately these changes can lead to osteoporosis, trips and falls, bone fractures and impact quality of life. Strength training can offset these changes, injury proof your body, and assist with healthy weight maintenance.
There are lots of body-weight strength exercises you can do at home. An example of a beginner’s strength training routine can be seen here. Other ways to increase your strength include working out with resistance bands, weights such as kettlebells and dumbbells, or using resistance machines.
As a general guide look to follow a whole body strength routine twice weekly.
Prior to menopause women have a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks when compared to men of a similar age. After menopause the rate of heart disease and heart attacks in women start to increase, in line with men, due to hormonal changes. In order to maintain your heart health it’s vital to include aerobic activity into your fitness plan. This doesn’t mean you have to start running, but activities like cycling, swimming, dance classes or circuit training are all beneficial for improving and maintaining cardiovascular fitness.
Public Health England recommends healthy adults complete 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, such as walking, swimming or cycling, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity , such as running or playing sport. For women it’s especially important to include exercise that involves impact, like brisk walking or running, as this assists bone health.
One of the most overlooked but important ways to support your physical and mental health, assist with weight maintenance, and decrease your risk of issues like lower back pain, and pelvic floor weakness, is to include lots of activity in your daily life. This is different than structured exercise, and doesn’t require time to be set aside in order to do it. Instead your aim is to integrate activity and movement seamlessly into your day and decrease time spent sedentary. Typical activities include using the stairs instead of a lift, walking to local shops and appointments rather than driving, and breaking up long sedentary periods at your desk with standing up and moving around. At the very least a 10 minute walk at lunchtime will contribute to your daily energy expenditure, and incorporates light aerobic activity, weight bearing and lower body work.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate stress. Instead you need to become very good at managing stress. The stress hormone cortisol plays an important role in the body, for example elevated cortisol levels in the morning promote waking up. However when stress becomes chronic or prolonged this can have a detrimental effect on the body. Long term exposure to stress can lead to
Pilates, yoga and meditation, reading, walking or spending time in nature are all activities that can support stress management. A total body stretch routine, like this one here, can also assist with relaxation.
If you’ve been on and off diets all your life now is the time to take a long hard look at your nutritional habits and choices. Eating an adequate amount of protein is important for the retention of muscle size and strength as we age. Protein also helps with appetite regulation, which means you’re less inclined to reach for calorie dense and poor quality food. A diet rich in protein is also important for bone health, especially relevant for midlife women. Bone density rapidly diminishes in the first five years following menopause, so this is a key time to be mindful of protein intake. Specific protein requirements will vary between individuals. However as a general guide aim for 25 to 40g of protein three times a day focusing on good sources of protein such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs.