Women’s Exercise and Fitness Tips:
For women of all ages, exercise has become one of the most accessible and reliable paths to self-discovery and self-realization. As a women’s body becomes stronger and more effective, so her self-esteem rises. Getting rid of the fragile ‘little-me’ image and moving from being a spectator to a participant brings new confidence and pleasure.
Research studies into the psychological benefits of exercise show it to be remarkably effective in combating depression, anxiety, and other negative and self-destructive emotions. This is of particular relevance to women. They make up the majority of those suffering from psychological disorders (although not from breakdown).
Exercise encourages women to be assertive, giving them the confidence to stand up for themselves and their opinions. As they become physically stronger and more supple, they feel less physically vulnerable and afraid of harassment.
Joggers, particularly, gain a great sense of courage from the thought that if trouble looms they can at least run – and they can probably run faster than most people.
Similarly, as the body’s circulation improves and thermogenesis (heat production) increases. So a woman feels less inclined to bundle up against the cold. A great many women find that once they take regular exercise and get used to continuing through rain, snow, slush, and heat.
Get used to feeling sweaty and dirty, get used particularly to the freedom of moving fast and with skill in minimum clothing and flat shoes, unhampered by handbags and high-heeled shoes. So their attitude to the great outdoors changes considerably.
Most alter their ways of dressing to accommodate the new sense of freedom they have gained, opting for flatter shoes, fewer layers of clothing, easy-care haircuts, and less make-up.
What Stops are Women Exercising?
When previously non-active people assume a more active lifestyle, they quickly realize that their tolerance for physical effort is limited. In the beginning, exercise quite literally shakes everything up and provokes varying degrees of physical discomfort.
Muscles ache, backs strain, and stomachs swell as the digestive system reacts to the shock of movement. At this stage, many people simply give up. There are no visual changes in the body in those first few days or weeks, and what’s more, it hurts!
Tiredness and stiff muscles the day after are the most common complaints from many newcomers to a regular exercise routine. The main cause is usually ‘too much, too often, too soon. Exercising unused muscles should be a gradual affair with rest days in between.
But rest days do not mean sitting at home with your feet up. This merely causes the muscles to contract and tighten, making it feel even harder the next time you exercise. To stop muscles from stiffening the day after, try to be mobile – walk and take the stairs rather than the lift.
Take a hot bath immediately after the exercise, then gently massage the muscles. The secret to enjoying exercise is to pace yourself sensibly, increasing gradually.
The second most common cause of abandoning exercise is failure to appreciate the importance of warming up and cooling down when doing any strenuous sport. Cold muscles injure easily, and a sleepy body gets a rude shock when suddenly jerked into a violent movement.
Similarly, if you bring your system to an abrupt halt at the end of a game of squash or a run without a gentle warm down, muscles may go into spasm and the heart may start to palpitate. When exercise ceases, the body flow to the heart is no longer assisted by the pumping action of the muscles.
This causes a build-up of pressure in the muscles which results in an accumulation of waste product fluids (lactic acid). The next day the effect is felt as stiffness and aching muscles. The worst thing you can do after physical exertion is to sit down and flop.
See the warm-up and warm-down exercises overleaf for a simple and effective way to get the system going and keep it gently ticking over before and after exercise.
Attitudes to women’s bodies:
One thing that hinders a lot of women from taking exercise is the fear of stripping off and exposing what they have come to think of as the only female body with lumps and bumps in the world.
Western women rarely see each other’s bodies in close and easy intimacy, whereas many men continue some form of sport into middle age, and enjoy the easy camaraderie of the changing room. Surveys show that most women give up sport as soon as they possibly can.
From adolescence onwards, women’s bodies change more radically than men’s, and the natural confusion and awkwardness that young girls feel with the hormonal happenings in their bodies are compounded by how we feel embarrassed and shy about our bodily functions.
The tremendous variety of the female body, instead of being considered by us as something wonderful and exciting, usually provokes insecurity in every woman: ‘I don’t fit the standard, I don’t match up, I’m ugly.’
However, although this fear of exposure acts as an initial hindrance to taking up exercise, once a woman does so and sees other women like herself, facing such fears is very liberating.
Moreover, with the wonderful range of attractive sports and dancewear now available, exercise can afford as much opportunity for dressing up as going to a party. The timid now have the chance to get fit without the horror of feeling on stage but not dressed for the part.
Sport is unfeminine:
In other, possibly less sophisticated societies than ours, it is accepted that women do heavy work and have strong bodies. It is only in the highly-automated societies of the West and in the top echelons of eastern cultures where women are considered to be part of the wonderful array of choice consumer goods.
That a woman’s body must be soft and delectable. Just like chickens which are kept penned so they can’t move and put on fat, women have been discouraged from experiencing their bodies as strong, active, and capable of physical exertion.
The time has come to forget all that conditioning and learn from the new images of attractive women who know that beauty comes from whole health which is a result of being fully alive and active, whole individuals who are strong in mind, spirit, and body.
Exercise will make me hungry:
Many women are afraid to take up exercise for fear it will increase their appetite and they will put on weight. The opposite happens. Women who do regular, strenuous – but not exhausting – exercise report that they do not come home feeling ravenous. On the contrary. There are several reasons for this.
Exercise increases your metabolism, the rate at which your body ticks over. The resulting metabolic rate (PMR) is the largest single user of energy, and after strenuous exercise, it remains raised by 10 percent or more for up to 48 hours.
When your metabolism functions faster and more efficiently, you feel better in every part of your body: your blood circulation is improved, and movement of the bowel and intestines is increased so that food passes through your body more quickly.
You also burn more fat from your body stores because your need for oxygen is increased. Using the analogy of a fire in a hearth, it is apparent that the logs (our fat stores) will only begin to burn.
When they have been set alight with kindling (our blood sugar stores) and the blaze encouraged with bellows (our lungs). When our lungs function more fully we take in more oxygen and burn our food more brightly.
Preventative Women’s Health Care:
Exercise combined with a healthy diet is the surest preventative medicine and a major component of positive health. Heart disease is still the biggest killer in the United Kingdom, and women are by no means exempt.
Exercise is one of the best ways to combat stress and the clogging up of the arteries both of which contribute to heart disease. It is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. It balances the body and improves its functioning in three different ways:
Regular, rhythmic, exercise tones the muscles, increase endurance and stamina, and improves the cardiovascular system, making your heart and lungs stronger.
Shorter bursts of strenuous exercise strengthen your muscles, making physical work easier. This helps to improve your posture and protect your spine and vital organs, making such common ailments as lower back strain less likely.
Stretching exercises help to keep muscles and joints supple. These, combined with exercises for mobility help to maintain the full range of body movements, preventing the common afflictions of arthritis and rheumatism, and the stiffening up that so often accompanies the process of aging.
(Yoga and dance are both superb forms of exercise; regular practice will bring a deep sense of well-being and relaxation).
Special nutritional requirements for women:
Three to six months before conception you should begin thinking seriously about your diet. Especially if you do not usually pay attention to eating regular, balanced meals. The future health of your baby will largely depend on giving your own body good nourishment from a time well before the fertilization of the egg.
If you do not, you may reduce your chances of conceiving, because the hypothalamus responds to vitamin deficiency by suppressing the release of hormones responsible for fertility. Vitamins A. B6, folic acid, and the minerals zinc and magnesium are particularly important.
Folic acid, a B vitamin, is essential to the manufacture of DNA and RNA, the genetic material of the cell. Zinc, found in leafy green vegetables and wholemeal bread, is the mineral most often mentioned not only in connection with pregnancy. But for women generally, particularly since it has now been calculated that a large proportion of the population is deficient in it.
Zinc plays a part in many body processes, among them the absorption of other vitamins and minerals. Notably folic acid, and a deficiency of it in pregnant women has been liked with the incidence of spina bifida. The official recommendation is that pregnant women need 20mg daily. But much higher levels, such as 100mg daily, have a curative effect on problems such as skin disorders and water retention.
It is found in whole grains, pulses, and meat. Zinc and calcium also protect us from the effects of lead pollution. In one study, abnormally high levels of lead in combination with very low levels of zinc and calcium were found in the bones of stillborn babies.
Healthy eating habits are formed in babyhood; the way you feed your baby is, therefore, crucial, not only in helping it to grow healthy and strong but in the foundation you lay down for the food choices he or she will make as an adolescent and adult.
No salt or sugar should be given to a baby. Choose baby food brands that are salt0 and sugar-free and do not add any to the food you prepare for the baby yourself, even if the food seems very bland.
The same nutritional requirements apply to babies as apply to us. If a baby has a small appetite or is fussy about eating. Feed him or her often and make the food more energy-dense by adding a little olive (or other high-quality polyunsaturated) oil to the food. Do not cultivate a sweet tooth by tempting your baby with sugary confections.
Growing toddlers tend constantly to demand snacks. Give them bananas and dried fruit, but not nuts or raisins as these are one of the major causes of choking in young children. Slices of fresh fruit, sandwiches, very small pieces of cheese, and plain scones are quick and easy and far healthier alternatives to sticky cakes and biscuits.
For quick suppers, if you must use convenience foods, serve fish fingers and baked beans rather than any of the preserved. Processed or canned meats, such as sausages and spam.
Most adolescents want to eat what their friends are eating, and all go through a period of consuming junk food. Being young and fit and absorbed in the business of living today, they cannot conceive that all those hamburgers, colas, ice cream, and white bread are either doing them harm now or will cause them trouble later in life.
They do not want to think about such issues and rarely connect their skin and hair problems with unhealthy eating habits. Even when they do become aware of the connection they are often loath to give up the seductive taste of first freedom, eating in cafés with friends, grabbing snacks from take-aways, and feasting on ‘forbidden foods’.
As a mother, the best that you can do is to provide wholesome food at home so your child’s growing body receives adequate nourishment. If healthy tastes have been cultivated during childhood, the chances are that the taste for junk food will be just a passing phase.
This is a time when many women lose their husbands; more than half of all women over 75 live alone. No longer cooking for a loved one, there is a tendency to lose interest in food. To become careless about eating properly and use more convenient snack foods.
Vitamin C deficiency is thus prevalent among older people and scurvy can even occur; if you are in this age group, eat a fresh salad every day and plenty of fresh fruit.
It is important to get enough zinc as bones become increasingly brittle with age due to lowered calcium absorption and zinc assists calcium metabolism. Calcium is also depleted from the body through lack of exercise; exercise is therefore essential in maintaining healthy muscles and bones.
Tiredness caused by lack of adequate nourishment contributes to the apathy many elderly people feel about caring for themselves. The social aspect of eating is important to all of us and particularly in these circumstances. Try to arrange social events involving meals, and share the preparation of the food with friends; this sharing can be as ‘nourishing’ as the food itself.
The next article is on some Aerobic Sports.