Women over 40 benefit from regular exercise
For most of her adult life, Phyllis Ingram of Barto, PA, was too busy raising her two children to even think about her
own health. By the time she turned 52, she carted an unhealthy 225 pounds on her 5'6" frame.
Just walking up the 12 steps in her house left her gasping for breath, and she suffered daily with a multitude of annoying
aches and pains.
Today, she is 50 pounds lighter and her body is rock solid with muscle. She rides hundreds of miles a years on her
road bike (sometimes nearly 100 miles in a weekend) and is training for a cross-country bike ride.
Ms. Ingram is a convert, convinced of the power of exercise and physical activity, determined never to return to the
world of the unfit. "I find I get grouchy if I don't get my exercise in," she says.
She's the exception. More than 60 percent of women don't get the recommended amount of physical activity, and one in
four women aren't physically active at all. That number jumps in women over 55 - nearly 40 percent say they get no leisure-time
Yet the benefits of physical activity and exercise if you're middle-age or older begin at the top of your head and continue
to the tips of your toes, affecting every body system in between and contributing more to your overall health and longevity
than any pill or diet ever will.
Studies find that your mid-30s through your 40s is a critical period for determining whether you'll remain physically
active after menopause, something you definitely want to strive for. The best reason is that you'll likely live longer. One
large study of older women found that exercise reduced all causes of death in postmenopausal women.
Here are some others:
• Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of "bad" cholesterol while raising levels of "good" cholesterol
and slows our resting heart rate, enabling it to work more efficiently.
• Several studies have found that physically active women experience less intense and fewer symptoms of menopause,
including the ubiquitous hot flashes.
• Physical activity also reduces your risk of colon cancer, kidney stones, gallstone surgery and diverticular disease.
• Exercise can lower the risk of the disease women fear most: breast cancer.
• Exercise has emotional benefits, too. It can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer and deeper, and relieve
If the benefits of exercise are so clearly significant, why isn't every woman out there doing the things that translate
into physical activity?
"The number one barrier we hear is 'I don't have the time,'" says Bess H. Marcus, PhD, who directs the Physical Activity
Research Center at Brown University Medical School in Providence, RI.
That may be due to the mistaken belief that physical activity means hard, intense exercise, the kind that makes you drop
with sweat and leaves your muscles aching the next day.
Get over it. You can gain significant benefits in as little as 30 minutes as day. Don't get all hung up about time and
intensity, says Dr. Marcus. "The most important way for people to stick with physical activity is to be flexible in their
approach. Particularly women. They need to get away from all-or-nothing thinking," she says.
One thing that may help: Surround yourself with people who are physically active.
The underlying message is that no matter how difficult it seems to be to find the time or resources or strength or mindset
to go out and move, it is critical because it enhances your health and the other 23.5 hours of your day.
If you're ready to change your sedentary lifestyle for one filled with physical activity, here are some suggestions from
• Consider your life. Do you have a schedule that would allow you to go to the gym every
day or do you need flexibility?
• Start slowly. One reason people quit exercising is because they over do it early on.
Remember, it can take up to 12 weeks to see measurable changes.
• Warm up and cool down to prevent injury and soreness.
• Rest when you're not feeling well.
• Wear the right shoes and clothing.
• Vary your activities so you don't get bored.
• Drink and eat right. Drink water before you start exercising and while you're exercising.
Don't exercise on an empty stomach or workout after a heavy meal.
The most recent issue of the National Women's Health Report, "Exercise & Fitness for Women Over 40," has lots
more information to help you get on the road to fitness, including an article on new programs at the gym designed specifically
for the Baby Boomer generation. There's also a story about exercise and chronic conditions. For inspiration, you'll want to
read about the 79 year-old woman who has run marathons on every continent, including Antarctica. For your copy, call 1-877-3-986-9472
(toll free) or visit the National Women's Health Resource Center Web