4 Things Older Women Must Include In Their Fitness Programme

4 Things Older Women Must Include In Their Fitness Programme

As we get older and our bodies and hormones change, we need to also change how we workout. You may feel that you're already too old, or that you're middle aged or peri menopause. Regardless of your actual age, there is a lot going on in your body that needs your attention, so read on to find out how you can plan a fitness programme that's perfect for you right now.

When are you middle aged?

If you look at it literally, it is the middle of your life. So let’s look at life expectancy. The average global age of life expectancy for women is 75. In the USA it’s 81 and Europe is 84. So therefore the average global age is 37.5 which is pretty young right? This is the global average which means it includes developing countries. If we took the average of the US and Europe, which will make middle aged 41 years old. 

But that’s just a label. You could also argue that when a woman is in menopause, which the average age is 51 (USA) then this could also be termed as middle aged. 

 

So, let’s just assume that middle aged can be a range between 41-51! So at 49, that is definitely me. 

 

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal , women need a template or a plan as they age. Because when we get older, our physical limitations are there. Our body is definitely ageing, getting older. But we don’t have to sit there and melt away, and claim we are too old, and accept the inevitable. 


When you were younger, perhaps you were more active. You were more adventurous and attended classes or you just found that you were doing stuff without really thinking about it. 

 

But as your body gets older, and our priorities and preferences change, we may shift away from what we used to do when we were younger.  

 

Hormones are so important in their role in how we feel, and what our bodies can do (and what’s happening inside our bodies). As a woman approaches menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, as do other hormones. Our bodies are adapting to not being able to have children and thank goodness for that! 

 

Other factors (such as our muscle mass reducing by 5% every decade and the shift of body fat due to the change in hormones) can be a wake up call to all of us. 

 

One day, we find that we just can’t do the things we used to do. And our bodies have changed suddenly although we “haven’t changed the way we eat”. Which can be confusing and frustrating. 

 

But our bodies are changing. So therefore, the way we do intentional movement (ie exercise) has to change too. 

Women's Fitness Goals

A few years ago I interviewed some of our clients. I wanted to understand what their pain points were and how their goals have evolved since ageing. Their average age was 51. 

 

Their goals included :

  • weight loss
  • improving flexibility
  • getting rid of pain (in knee, shoulder and back)
  • getting stronger (for simple things like opening jars even)
  • improve arthritis
  • to have more energy
  • avoid health problems that plague their parents
  • to be slimmer
  • to boost body confidence and self esteem

 

Notice how most of these goals come down to having a better quality of life? Their concerns were more about how our bodies seem to be “breaking down” and feeling old and creaky, rather than aesthetics. One client said that it’s the simple things, such as the ability to get up off the floor without holding onto anything that were most important to her.

Obstacles To Achieving Fitness Goals

I wanted to understand what was holding a woman back from embarking on a journey to improving their health and fitness. So I asked these women prior to becoming our clients what was holding them back from moving forward?  

 

One client said that there were too many choices out there. She was bombarded by ads on social media and she just didn’t know what to do. And all ads were showing younger women, so it made her wonder if it was appropriate for her as a middle aged woman. 

 

Time was also an important factor. Most of the women felt that they just didn’t have time for health and fitness. They knew they should do it, but they couldn’t carve out time in their lives. Women are constantly juggling the lives of so many people that they don’t feel they can be “selfish” and take time out for themselves. (Ask yourself - when does your husband feel selfish about doing his workouts? I think the answer is never! They just do it!). 

 

Self Limiting beliefs. They think that they can’t do it. Or that their pain points will be stopping them from doing an exercise programme. So they don’t want to try anything new. 

 

Self worth and value. One client said that she wanted to be in a studio/gym where she felt understood, being a “middle aged woman”. Where she didn’t have to feel bad about her current fitness levels and body shape. 

 

So let’s summarise what we know so far. 

As women approach middle age (41-51), their goals are about a better quality of life. But what’s holding them back from joining an exercise programme was time, self limiting beliefs, tyranny of choice, and to be part of a tribe. 

 

What Women Should Consider When Developing A Fitness Programme

 

By looking at the most common diseases that plague women as they age, we can reverse engineer this to find out what are the best components to add to their fitness plan. 

The most common diseases or ailments that affect women as they age are :

  • Cardiovascular - this is the #1 cause of death in women
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cancers
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Mental - alzheimers, depression. 

And being physically active can help with all these conditions.

 

Cardiovascular

Apart from diet, having a strong healthy heart is important for reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease. The heart is a muscle, and it needs to be worked. Components to include in a fitness plan are : 

  • Aerobic exercise: This improves circulation, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Such as walking briskly, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, tennis, jump rope. 
  • Resistance training : This helps reduce fat and create leaner muscles, which can reduce risk factors for heart disease (like being overweight). 
  • Pilates/ Yoga : For flexibilty. While this doesn’t directly contribute to heart health, it will allow you to maintain good musculoskeletal (muscle and bone) health thereby enabling you to do the other important exercises, which directly help your heart. 

 

 

Diabetes

 Exercising regularly helps manage blood sugar and weight. When you exercise, your insulin sensitivity is increased which means your muscles are able to use any available insulin to take up glucose during and after the activity to be used for energy. Components to include in a fitness plan are : 

  • Aerobic exercises : such as walking, cycling, running, rowing, and swimming. 
  • Interval training : Such as HIIT (High intensity interval training), or a form of circuit training (alternating between exercises that increase heart rate with exercises that have moderate heart rates). 
  • Resistance training : By building muscle mass, this burns more calories. You can use weights, resistance bands or your own body weight. 

Cancers

Exercising helps reduce cancer risk, because of how it helps control weight, insulin resistance, sex hormones and by strengthening the immune system. Patel (Jama Internal medicine) recommends physical activities that have moderate to vigorous intensities. Components to include in a fitness plan are : 

  • Aerobic exercises : such as walking, cycling, running, rowing, and swimming. 
  • Interval training : Such as HIIT, or a form of circuit training (alternating between exercises that increase heart rate with exercises that have moderate heart rates). 
  • Resistance training : Using weights, resistance bands and body weights. 

Osteoporosis

This is a condition where bones become more porous thus making them less dense, which can lead to them being more brittle. It affects more women than men and they lose bone at younger age too, and also more rapidly. 80% of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. 50% of women with osteoporosis who are over the age of 50 will experience a broken bone. Estrogen, which declines nearer menopuase, is a factor which contributes to bone loss. 

 

Apart from taking calcium and vitamin D, weight bearing exercises are important for building bones and to keep them strong. Components to include in a fitness plan are : 

  • High Impact : running, dancing, jumping rope, tennis
  • Resistance training : To build muscle strength. Includes lifting weights, body weights, resistance bands, functional movements. 
  • Pilates/Yoga : To improve balance to prevent falls from happening in the first place

 

Arthritis

Regular exercise helps relieve joint pain and stiffness. Exercise regimes should include the following :

  • Pilates/ Yoga : to increase range of motion and balance. 
  • Resistance training  : Lifting weights, body weights, resistance bands, functional movements.
  • Aerobic exercises : These increase endurance to do other things, as well as improving overall health. But stick to activities that don’t jar joints. Lower impact versions work well, such as walking, swimming, rowing, deep water running. 

 

Lower Back Pain

While not a ‘disease’, LBP affects a significant number of people. The WHO estimated that at least 60% of adults in industrialised countries experience some form of non-specific LBP. And this has an impact on what you can do, thereby affecting work, happiness, and the ability to perform physical activities that can help prevent other diseases. Therefore having an exercise programme that is designed to prevent LBP should be in everyone’s exercise programme. 

 

Components to include in a fitness plan are : 

  • Pilates : Pilates is a huge core strengthener. And the core consists of your abdominal muscles, glutei muscles and back muscles. Pilates is also a stickler for proper body technique, which is important so that daily activities can be performed without detriment to back health. There is also the stretching / flexibility component that is important to improve mobility.
  • Resistance training : Apart from core work, strength training is important to target the glutes and back muscles. 

 

Mental Health

Exercise can help self esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. Endorphins, which are a feel good hormone, are produced during exercise. Blood is also pumped to the brain which helps you think clearly and clear brain fog. Your connections between nerve cells and the brain are also increased, which helps protect the brain against ageing related diseases. 

 

All exercise can be good exercise for mental health. So, apart from the type of exercises already listed, (aerobic, strength training, pilates, yoga) a mindfulness regimen should also be included. This can be in the form of meditation, or practising mindful activities - such as petting pets, social interaction, learning a new language, learning a new musical instrument, or going for a relaxing walk within nature. 

 

Summary

While it looks like a lot, we can summarise what a woman needs to do as she ages quite simply. To give the best protection as she ages, a an older woman's fitness programme should include :

  1. Aerobic exercises
  2. Resistance Training
  3. Pilates / Yoga
  4. Mindful practices. 

 

The standard recommendation is that one should get 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week. That’s why in our studio in Singapore (and our virtual classes), our Strong & Lean class is perfect. Each class is 55 minutes long, and we start with :

  1. Pilates for stretching & mindfulness
  2. Circuit training for Strength
  3. Fat Burner for cardiovascular
  4. Mindful meditation and breathing at the end. 

 

You don't have to join a fitness class. You could do this yourself. By going for a 20 minute walk every day, and including just 10 minutes 3 times a week of a strength routine, you’d already have 150 minutes right there. Do your stretches before and after, and do some meditation (5 minutes) before bed. 

 

I know it sounds easy, but I also know it can be anything but. So although you could very well do this by yourself, my professional recommendation is to look for a gym or studio where you feel you can belong, where you’ve found your tribe, that will include those 4 types of exercises. It will help with your adherence, by having a tribe and a good coach to help motivate us. 

 

I hope that you’ve seen what women who are getting older need to include in their Fitness programme. It is so important as we age. And that if you’re missing one of these 4 practises above, then you’ll do very well if you start to include them.

 

It’s never too late!

 

If You Want To Learn How We Help Women's Health.... 

We help women in their 40s and 50s to commit to a better future by helping them gain strength and confidence with our specialised workout programmes. We offer virtual and in-studio programmes. Contact us today to see how we can help you!

And could you share this post? There are a lot of women you know out there who are silently in pain, and are looking for a solution. By sharing this article, you are helping a friend. Thank you :)

(main Photo by Andreea Boncota on Unsplash)




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