Physical activity is an important health habit during every decade of life. Unfortunately, fewer than one in four Americans meet the current physical activity guidelines of 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity combined with at least 2sessions of muscle-strengthening activity per week. Furthermore, women are less likely than men to get the recommended amount of physical activity. Keep reading to learn why physical activity is critical to women’s health across the lifespan.
Fitness in Your 20s: Focus on Maintaining Healthy Bones
Our bones provide a protective framework for our bodies. Bone is living tissue and during childhood and adolescence, new bone is added frequently to the skeleton. These “deposits” allow bones to become stronger and heavier. For most people, peak bone mass, which is the maximum amount of bone a person will ever have, occurs in the third decade of life. Once peak bone mass is achieved, bone resorption, which is the process of bone mass being lost at a faster rate than it is formed, becomes more likely. Compared to men, women are disproportionately impacted by bone degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases encourages lifestyle behaviors such as consuming foods rich in vitamin D and calcium and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake to reduce the risk of bone loss and degenerative bone diseases. Exercise is also a key player in bone health. You can attenuate the process of bone degeneration by including weight-bearing exercises in your physical activity routine. Brisk walking, hiking, stair climbing, weightlifting and high impact sports such as tennis are all great activities for maintaining and improving bone health.
Fitness in Your 30s: Achieve Ideal Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally for both men and women. However, women have poorer health outcomes after heart attack and cardiovascular disease diagnoses. Researchers are working to understand how and why heart disease affects men and women differently, but most believe the reasons are multifaceted and include factors related to the timing of diagnosis, exposure to both first- and second-hand smoke across the lifespan, and recognition of heart disease symptoms. Like many other chronic diseases, heart disease develops over time and often without many warning signs. The American Heart Association’s current strategy for reducing the risk of all cardiovascular diseases focuses on seven behavioral and health factor metrics to achieve ideal cardiovascular health. These metrics include:
- Not smoking
- Sufficient physical activity
- A healthy diet
- An appropriate energy balance and healthy body weight
- Optimal total cholesterol without medication
- Optimal blood pressure without medication
- Optimal fasting blood glucose without medication
Ideal cardiovascular health is key for reducing your risk for heart disease. Prioritizing your cardiovascular health while in your 30s can reduce your risk for heart disease later in life.
Fitness in Your 40s: Maintain Lean Muscle
Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, begins around age 40 and continues at a rate of about 5 pounds per decade. It’s easy to become overly concerned with the aesthetics of muscle loss, such as weight gain and changes in body size and shape, but the more important issue is functional capacity. When we lose too much muscle, it becomes difficult to perform activities of daily living without assistance (e.g., reaching, lifting and maintaining personal hygiene).
While conventional wisdom has led many to believe that muscle loss is a normal part of getting older, exercise science literature suggests otherwise. For example, a cross-sectional study of recreational athletes between the ages of 40 and 80 found no significant losses in muscle mass and function among those who regularly exercised. To improve muscular fitness and to prevent muscle loss, perform two to three resistance training exercise sessions per week that target all major muscle groups. Focus on performing multijoint exercises and achieving balance by targeting both agonist and antagonist muscle groups (e.g., quadriceps and hamstrings).
Fitness in Your 50s: Stay Fit and Active Through Menopause
Menopause, which occurs when the ovaries stop making estrogen and a woman stops having menstrual periods. The average age of onset is 51 years. In addition to hormonal and reproductive changes, many women report changes in their sleeping habits and energy levels during this time. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle pattern for managing some of the discomforts and health-related changes that may accompany menopause. Mind-body exercise such as yoga and any other type of exercise that improves subjective well-being can be particularly beneficial.
Fitness in Your 60s: Exercise to Prevent Falls
Baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, are more active than their parents were at their age. That’s good news, because as you’ve read, physical activity is one of the most important habits you can adopt to maintain health and quality of life across the lifespan. In the seventh decade of live, fall prevention becomes paramount. One in four older adults fall every year, and after age 65, injurious falls are a leading cause of death and disability, and women are at a greater risk for falls than men.
Fall-prevention programs should include neuromotor exercises that challenge balance and coordination, improve muscular fitness, and train gait. Click here to learn more about incorporating balance training into your exercise routine.