Tag Archive for menopause

Fit And Fifty

Starting around age 50, women face a whole new range of health issues, including menopause. The aging process speeds up around age 50, especially since women’s bodies are producing less estrogen. Some people believe that exercise can’t help you once you reach a certain age, but that’s not true. A consistent walking program can help menopausal women in many ways, according to Alice Lesch Kelly, a writer for Walking magazine. Here are a few:

  • A loss of heart-protecting estrogen causes cardiovascular risk to rise, but walking – which raises HDL (good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) as well as blood pressure – offsets some of that risk.
  • The beta-endorphins that our brain releases during exercise can lessen mood swings.
  • Loss of estrogen can bring on insomnia, but exercise can improve both quality and quantity of sleep.

Menopausal women are also at risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. About 20 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a painful disease that causes joint cartilage to degenerate. It mainly affects the hands, feet, knees and hips. A 1997 study funded by the National Institute on Aging found that people with moderately severe osteoarthritis of the knee who exercise in moderation have less pain than those who lead sedentary lifestyles.

About 28 million Americans (80% of them women) have osteoporosis, a loss of bone that can lead to fractures. Estrogen (the glue that keeps calcium and other minerals in the bones) protects our bones before menopause, but after menopause those minerals leak out, leaving bones brittle and porous. According to Dr. Warren A. Katz, chief of rheumatology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System Presbyterian Medicine Center, brisk walking is an ideal exercise. It can be done anywhere, requires no special equipment (except for a good pair of walking shoes), and carries minimal risk of injury. If walking is too difficult or painful, workouts on a stationary exercise cycle are a good alternative. The full benefits come from a regular schedule – at least 15 to 20 minutes of walking or cycling three to four days per week. If you haven’t been active for years, start at whatever level is comfortable for you. Five-minute walks are fine at first, but try to increase the length by one minute every other time you exercise, until you reach the optimal level.

Lifting weights or using strength-training machines every three days also strengthen bone. Strength-training is a slow process, so start at a low level and build up gradually over several months. As muscles strengthen, gradually add more weight. It is important to follow a program designed by your doctor or physical therapist. If you join a fitness facility, be sure you ask a certified trainer to show you proper techniques and form. Stiffness the morning after exercise is normal, but if you’re in pain, your joints are swollen, or you’re limping, stop the program until you are recovered, and cut your weights and repetitions by 25-50%. If bone, joint or muscle pain is severe, call your doctor.

Some benefits of muscular strength and endurance are not only being able to lift objects, but your own body weight as well. With lower body training, you will have improved ability to rise from chairs and the bed; be able to walk without a cane or less reliance on a cane; have increased ability to perform daily tasks; have improved walking speed, and better posture. Also, improved leg strength is an important part of maintaining balance and preventing falls. Balance is found to decrease with age and is one of the reasons elderly people have so many falls. Exercise and activity have been found to improve balance.

You can’t stop menopause, but you can lessen the risks that come with it by staying active.

Exercise will improve the quality of your life, as well as lengthen it.

Time To Get Going

Last year, I wrote a similar article entitled, Time for Fitness.” I thought this topic was worth repeating, as time (lack of, that is) seems to be the number one excuse of why women don’t exercise.

Experts say the number one reason for midlife weight gain is reduced physical exercise. According to C. Wayne Callaway, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., “When we get less exercise, we start shedding muscle and adding fat.” It takes fewer calories to maintain fat than muscle, so metabolism starts to slow down.

Hormones also play a role. Estrogen levels start to drop a year or two before menopause, which pushes our bodies to store fat. If you’re thinking you’re “doomed” come middle age, take heart. It doesn’t take an hour at the gym everyday or going on a too-strict diet to keep in shape. If you think of exercise as something you are doing for yourself, you’re off to a good start.

To stick to an exercise regime (and it doesn’t need to be grueling!), make it part of your everyday routine – just like taking a shower every morning. Take a look at your calendar to see what’s taking up a lot of your time, and put exercise high on your priority list. If you write it down, just like an appointment, it will be hard to break. Don’t put exercise on your general “to do” list; that’s too easy to stretch out into the next day (and the next, and the next – you get the idea).

If you think you don’t have time to exercise, you can probably find small stretches of time here and there that can be used to fit in some kind of fitness. When you’re on the phone, you can do stretches, sit-ups, lunges, etc. If you’re on the phone to a neighbor, suggest a walk around the block together – that way you can talk and fit in some exercise at the same time. Climb the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator. Take a 15-minute walk on your lunch break. Lift free weights at home for 10 minutes in the evening. All this counts!

Ideally, you should strive for 30 minutes of exercise per day. This can be broken up into segments, such as 15 minutes of brisk walking in the morning or on your lunch break, and another kind of physical activity in the evening – biking, playing soccer with the kids, or even taking another walk. Remember – any kind of exercise is better than none, and once you develop a routine, you’ll find yourself looking forward to this time for yourself, as you’ll feel better both physically and mentally.

I recently read some reasons (besides fitness benefits) why some women like to walk. See if you can relate to some of them:

  • Time to think.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Time to be with God.
  • Sweat out toxins.
  • Get a suntan.
  • Keeps me from eating during that time.
  • Makes me realize there is a world outside my house.
  • It refreshes my spirit about life.
  • More energy for everyday activity.
  • The dog loves getting out, too!

When you’re at home, the chores you do all count toward your fitness goal and well-being. Take the garbage out yourself. Haul the laundry basket up and down the stairs. While you’re watching TV, do some sit-ups and push-ups. During the warm months, get out and garden. Trim bushes. Rake the leaves. In the winter, shovel the snow off your porch and driveway – or at least help your husband or kids! All indoor chores – vacuuming, reaching and bending to dust, washing windows and floors – all these activities help burn fat and increase your metabolism.

Make time for yourself – you deserve it!