Needs, Milestone By Milestone
I've worked with thousands
of women. Twenty-somethings to 50-plus career women. Anorexics and
to bingers and bulimics. Top athletes to women who were so obese that
could barely walk a block. For all of them, a customized fitness
became an essential part of their self-care.
Although women of every age
reap tremendous physical and mental benefits from regular physical
age is a factor in how much and what kind of activity their bodies need
in order to get fit, energetic, and strong. Here's a
description of a woman's physical activity needs.
Milestone 1: Menstruation
to First Pregnancy
Women in Milestone 1, with
their surging estrogen and burgeoning breasts, hips, and thighs,
have 21 to 32 percent body fat, well within a healthy range. They can
this optimal level with regular physical activity. And because there's
evidence that heart disease and diabetes can begin to develop in
-- even childhood -- being active now, and staying active, can help
them from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes down the road.
The benefits of fitness extend
beyond physical health. Research shows that physical activity eases
and depression in girls and that girls who play sports have a more
body image and higher self-esteem than those who don't. For that
girls who are active in sports are less likely to contemplate suicide
girls who aren't; they tend to spend more time concentrating on their
accomplishments and the fun of teamwork than obsessing about their
Another study shows that when preteens and teen girls get in just 30 to
40 minutes of exercise each day, they can lower by 30 percent their
of developing breast cancer later in life.
Milestone 2: The Reproductive
Women don't get fat from
pregnancy. Their bodies simply are gaining the necessary reserves on
and thighs to fuel the extra 500 calories a day required for
Women who enter pregnancy fit and stay physically active throughout the
pregnancy are less likely to gain excess weight, and therefore, they
less to lose after they give birth. And being strong can definitely
your endurance for the marathon of labor!
Of course, once the baby
is born, a woman has to work to lose that excess fat, and the older you
are when you deliver, the harder it is. Then, amid kids, career, the
and the whirlwind of everyday life, women in Milestone 2 face a most
challenge: to make physical activity a regular part of their
lives. According to one study, being a mom cuts a woman's time for
by at least 20 percent. But putting in that sweat time is
Regardless of whether a woman
bears kids or not, beginning in her thirties, she normally loses 1 to 2
percent of her muscle per year, slowing her metabolism. She can even
to lose bone. Regular physical activity revs up metabolism, preserves
and slows bone loss.
It also safeguards her future
health. Regular moderate-to-strenuous physical activity reduces a
risk for certain female cancers triggered by estrone, a type of
that increases with higher-than-normal body fat and is associated with
an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer. If you do regular
activity from 1 to 3 hours a week from your teens to about age 40,
cut your risk of breast cancer by 20 to 30 percent. Four or more hours
a week can reduce the risk almost 60 percent.
It's pretty simple: Move
the weight, remove the weight, and reduce your risk.
Milestone 3: Perimenopause
Remember the way your body
morphed at puberty? One day you were a beanpole, the next an hourglass.
Well, once you hit 40, you're shape-shifting again. Although
women gain fat in the lower body to nourish children, women in
3, whose reproductive years are drawing to a close, gain it in their
bodies. Think larger breasts, the emergence of back fat, weird little
pouches near your armpits that hang over your bra, and the menopot. Hot
flashes and other symptoms triggered by the swoops and dips of estrogen
only add to the fun.
However! There's a huge difference
between Milestone 3 women who are active and those who aren't. Women
stay fit through these years of hormonal fluctuations are less affected
by the typical symptoms of menopause. They pack more lean muscle, have
faster metabolisms, and can control their weight and body fat better.
activity also helps them control their blood sugar, blood pressure, and
blood cholesterol, which become an issue for many women in this
Milestone 4: Beyond Menopause
The goal of Milestone 4 women
is to retain their functional independence and prevent disease. To do
they need to pay special attention to achieving and maintaining
endurance, strength, and flexibility.
As a result of declining
sex hormone levels, lack of physical activity, chronic stress, and
women in this Milestone are at high risk for accumulating Toxic Fat.
bad news, because apple-shaped women are at greater risk of heart
than are pear-shaped women, who carry their weight on their hips,
and bottoms. This extra weight can lead to chronic knee and back pain,
which limit a woman's ability to get around.
Hormonal changes can also
cause bone loss, raising a woman's risk of osteoporosis. In a recent
of nearly 90,000 women ages 50 to 64, almost one-third had bone density
low enough to run an increased risk of fracture.
Happily, it doesn't take
much physical activity to keep women in this Milestone fit and healthy.
Weight training can build muscle, preserve bone, and improve strength,
and simple walking can keep hearts beating strong. In one study, 73,743
women ages 50 to 79 were asked about their exercise habits, and those
who walked briskly or who engaged in more-intense exercise at least 2
hours per week were both 30 percent less likely to develop
disease than women who didn't do either.
I recommend that women in
all Milestones -- especially 3 and 4 -- seek out an experienced trainer
who specializes in working with women 50 and over. Most midlife women
never lifted weights, and they need guidance to reduce the risk of
injuries. The price? Reasonable, and you need only a few sessions to
proper form and technique, followed by perhaps monthly check-ins to
sure you're progressing well.
About the Author:
Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H.,
F.A.C.P., is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the
of Maryland School of Medicine, a Pew Foundation scholar in nutrition
metabolism, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National
of Health and the author of the best-selling book, Fight
Fat after Forty. A regular contributor to Good Housekeeping,
is frequently quoted in O magazine, Shape, Vogue, Fitness, Glamour, and
Redbook. She is the chief medical correspondent for Discovery Health TV
and the spokesperson for its National Body Challenge. She appears as an
in-studio expert for CNN and the networks. She maintains her private
in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information, please visit www.drpeeke.com
Reprinted from Body-for-LIFE
for Women: A Woman’s Plan for Physical and Mental
Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P. (April 2005) © 2005
M.D. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Click
here to purchase Body For Life for Women