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Exercise for Midlife Women

Mona M. Shangold, MD, with Carl Sherman

Series Editor: Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD


Exercise is good for everyone, but it's more important than ever when you reach midlife. While regular exercise may not eliminate symptoms like hot flushes, it can improve your general well-being and increase your strength and stamina in daily life. If you want to lose fat or maintain a healthy weight, exercise is far more effective than diet alone. A physically active lifestyle, along with good nutrition and estrogen therapy, will also help protect you against heart disease, overweight, and osteoporosis.

Three Types of Exercise

A good exercise program includes aerobic activities for your heart, bones, and general fitness; resistance training for muscle and bone strength; and stretching to decrease injury.

Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise raises your pulse and gets you breathing harder. Brisk walking, swimming, aerobic dancing, stationary bicycling, and treadmill or outdoor running are all effective means of aerobic exercise. Choose the most enjoyable activity that fits your schedule.

Doing such activities for 20 to 60 minutes 3 to 5 days a week will help maintain heart health and strong bones. If finding a block of time for exercise is difficult, do several shorter sessions each day to reach this goal. To lose weight, do some aerobic activity every day.

If you have not been exercising and feel out of shape, start slowly. Begin by taking 5- to 15-minute walks at a comfortable pace three times a week, and gradually increase your distance and pace, keeping in mind the goals mentioned above.

Strength training. Strength training involves free weights or exercise machines to strengthen individual muscles. Do a series of exercises that focus on your arms, shoulders, and torso two to three times a week. For example, using small dumbbells, do one to three sets of 10 repetitions each of arm curls, upright rowing strokes, and lateral raises. To increase strength, first gradually increase the number of repetitions and then the weight of the dumbbell. Similar exercises to strengthen your hips, thighs, and calves are also important.

If you haven't done this kind of exercise, seek instruction from your doctor, a physical therapist, or a trainer. Guidance is especially important if you have osteoporosis of the spine, since you should avoid lifting heavy weights.

Stretching. Flexibility exercises should also be done two or three times each week. They can best be done after aerobic exercise. Flexibility exercises are most effective if the stretch is done slowly and held for 20 to 30 seconds. If you have osteoporosis of the spine, you should avoid back flexion exercises (bending forward from the waist). Your doctor, a physical therapist, or a trainer can suggest appropriate exercises.

Making It Enjoyable and Safe

Regular exercise can be pleasant, invigorating, and safe if you follow some simple suggestions:

  • Warm up at the start of each session with a few minutes of easy activity, such as leisurely walking. Stretching at the end of the session will keep your body flexible.
  • Exercise at a brisk but comfortable pace; your breathing should be harder and faster than normal, but you should be able to talk.
  • Many people enjoy exercise more and find it easier to do regularly in the company of others. Get together with a friend or join a group that walks, rides bikes, or goes to a gym.
  • If you prefer to exercise at home, invest in equipment like a stationary bicycle or treadmill, and keep it in a convenient place. Listening to music or watching TV while you exercise can add enjoyment.
  • If you feel chest pressure, dizziness, weakness, nausea, or unexpected shortness of breath, stop exercising and relax. If the symptoms persist, seek medical help.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Shangold is director of The Center for Women's Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia. She is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Mr Sherman is a freelance writer in New York City. Dr DiNubile is an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and the director of Sports Medicine and Wellness at the Crozer-Keystone Healthplex in Springfield, Pennsylvania.




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