Do a quick search on aging and women’s health and you get endless hits about heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis. Plus, hormone changes mean lower muscle mass, slowed metabolism, and creeping weight gain.
How can you fight back? With exercise. You don’t need to live at the gym, either. All you need are just the right activities and a keen motivation. Bonus: You may even get relief from menopause symptoms like mood swings and sleep issues.
Strength training isn’t about bulging biceps. Aim for toned, strong muscles so you can do everyday tasks. It keeps your weight in check, helps your balance, and keeps your bones strong. You can try:
- Elastic bands
- Body weight (squats and lunges, pushups)
- Hand dumbbells, kettle bells, and even canned foods
Be sure to work all your major muscle groups: chest, shoulders, arms, abs, hips, and legs. Do it least two days a week. Plan on 8-10 different exercises. Aim for at least one set of 8-12 reps for each, with a couple of minutes’ rest in between.
Tip. Circuit workouts, where you move quickly between different exercises, give you strength training and cardio in one shot.
Pump Your Heart
Aerobic exercise -- especially working out hard enough to speed up your breathing -- is key for heart and lung health. If your bones and joints are strong, you might try:
Exercises that put less stress on your joints include:
- Elliptical machine
- Low-impact or water aerobics
Shoot for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week. You can even break it up into 10-minute chunks. Check your level of effort: You should have enough breath to be able to have a conversation, but not sing.
Tip. Build cardio into your day. Take the stairs. Walk your dog. Even yardwork, gardening, and fast-paced housework count.
Stretch It Out
Greater flexibility means healthier muscles, better balance, and less joint pain. Good choices include:
- Arm circles and quad stretches
It’s good to stretch every day, but start with at least 2 days a week.
Tip. Build it into your exercise routine by stretching after every aerobic and strength workout. Couple it with deep-breathing exercises to help lower stress and hot flashes from menopause.
This is a common fear among older women. Tai chi and yoga, along with strength training, keep you balanced and on your feet. Any activity that has you up and moving, like walking, helps, too.
Here are some other ways to guard against trips and falls:
- Avoid flip flops, shoes with slick soles, and walking in stocking feet.
- Clear your house of clutter, like boxes, cords, and other hazards.
- Get regular eye and ear exams.
- Keep your lighting bright enough to see well.
- Talk to your doctor about your chances for falls based on your medications and health history.
Exercise benefits you even into your 80s and 90s, so it’s never too late to start. Talk to your doctor first so you know what’s safe for you.
Then, go slow. Start with a 15-minute walk and light weightlifting. No need to sweat. Just get moving and build it up over time.
Schedule exercise into your days and make it a habit. Pick an activity you enjoy. Find a workout buddy. Always listen to your body. If it hurts, stop.
Soothe the Aches and Pains
When a workout leaves you sore, try:
- A warm towel or hot pack to relax joints and muscles
- Gentle stretches
- Ice for swelling and pain
- Muscle massage
- NSAIDs, like ibuprofen
Stay Fit on the Road
Don’t let traveling throw off your routine. Many hotels have fitness centers and some even offer “workouts in a bag” with exercise mats, elastic bands, and other essentials. When you’re taking in the sights, skip the bus and make it a walking tour.
Mind and Spirit
Your brain needs exercise, too. Now’s the time to learn a language or pick up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. Taking classes or joining a club gives you a two-for-one. You challenge your brain and make new friends along the way.
An active social life is equally important as an active body. Set aside time for family and friends, and consider volunteer work.