Exercise Helps Women #GoRed All Life Long

Feb 28, 2017

Female student exercising in Foster Recreation Center
Women all over the world experience it and recent statistics show that 6,000 women per day reach menopause. With the onset occurring on average between age 45 and 55, women may spend as much as one third of their lives in this state according to Dr. Barbara Bushman, professor of kinesiology at Missouri State University. She says that many don't maintain activity levels and make healthy choices as they age, which can worsen some of the side effects of menopause. 

I'm Nicki Donnelson and Bushman is my guest today on the Missouri State Journal. 

One major concern Bushman sees for women in mid-life and beyond is heart health. She is an expert on women's health and the editor and contributing author of the American College of Sports Medicine's "Complete Guide to Fitness and Health." "Heart disease is actually the number one killer of women. Unfortunately, 44% of women do not realize this. Really, initially it's an awareness issue. There's so many factors that are associated with heart disease that we can't change. I can't change my family history. I can't change my age, but what I can change are those lifestyle factors. I can look at physical activity and I can look at nutrition. On the nutritional front, typically we look at fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish a couple times per week, cutting down on sodium, saturated fats, added sugars, so a good healthy diet," said Bushman. Bushman also offers tips to stay moving to keep the heart pumping.  "On the activity front, the American College of Sports Medicine would recommend a complete exercise program. That includes four components, one being aerobic activity. We want to look at 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Moderate activity is just walking. Vigorous activity would be jogging or running," she said. "For muscular fitness, we look at resistance training. That could be weight machines. It could be free weights. It could be resistance bands. It could be body weight activities, so a lot of options there. The other component, and this may not relate directly to heart health, but we do tend to lose flexibility as we age, so having a stretching program in place a couple days per week. Then the fourth component is neuromotor exercise training. That includes things like balance, agility, proprioception. Some activities that are helpful in that regard are tai chi and yoga." In addition to the daily recommendations of 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 to 800 international units of vitamin D, she gives some ideas for promoting bone strength with exercise.  "If I'm looking at older women, about 16% have osteoporosis and 61% have low bone mass. That puts an individual at risk for fracture," said Bushman. "We want to look at resistance training and weight bearing activities to put a stress on the bone so that we can strengthen the bone. Of course anyone diagnosed with osteoporosis should speak with their doctor about exactly what type of activities ." Research regarding hot flashes and exercise has been inconsistent, noted Bushman, but she encourages everyone to maintain an activity plan for all the other benefits.  "The good news to me is overall we're not seeing that exercise increases across the board and it does reflect a person's initial fitness as well as body weight," she said. "Keeping exercise in place does not appear to increase the hot flashes for most women. Then there's all the other benefits, the cardiovascular, the bone health, maintaining body weight. Please keep exercising." Getting started on an exercise plan is a challenge for many, but Bushman reminds us that it doesn't have to be expensive or even have to be continuous workouts for it to be effective.  "My first goal would be 150 minutes per week of moderate activity. That may seem like a huge number if you're not active right now," she added. "The good news is you can build up slowly. You don't have to do 150 minutes to start reaping benefits. Just start moving. Once you're to that 150 minute point, it doesn't even have to be 30 minutes continuously on five days per week. I can do 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes over my lunch hour, 10 minutes when I get home from work. Fitting that 30 minutes in can potentially be simpler than we make it out to be. If we increase that amount from 150 minutes to 300, double up that number, and again, that can seem super daunting, but there are definite benefits there. We see health benefits if we increase the amount of activity. Again, split it up. For resistance training, again, a gym membership is great where you have a lot of options in terms of machines and free weights, but it doesn't have to be that way. I know when I do some traveling, I actually throw resistance bands in my luggage and I'm good to go. I can hit all of the major muscle groups using resistance bands as well as body weight activity. That's something a person could do at home that is very, very low cost." That was Dr. Barbara Bushman, Professor of Kinesiology at Missouri State University. I'm Nicki Donnelson for the Missouri State Journal.