Posted on Aug 23

Fitness Tips For Women In Their Fifties

By: Holly Perkins, New Balance Fitness Ambassador

Fitness Tips For Women In Their Fifties

The fifties are such an interesting decade for many reasons. This time signals many changes in lifestyle and probably most notable is the shift in hormones. For women, hormones - or rather, the symptoms that hormones create - play such a significant role in our lives that I consider them like imaginary friends because we have an intense and intimate relationship with them. For some of us, these symptoms are probably more like frienemies! The next few years mark major changes in your relationship with your hormones.

At this age certain health risks become amplified, including breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, a woman at age 50 has a 2.38 percent chance of developing breast cancer. While there are many suspected causes of breast cancer, various studies predict that certain activities may lower one's risk. For example, studies suggest that exercise may lower a woman's risk by 47%. That's major! Exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporosis by 45%, and heart disease by 14%. While this may be the decade of hormones, it's also an opportunity to meet your new best friend: fitness. Every girl likes a new best friend, right?

The Scoop on Estrogen
Now let's explore a little bit on the science behind some of these changes. Menopause is brought on by the decline of estrogen. Once estrogen gets low enough, you'll stop getting regular menstrual cycles and this signals official menopause. Most women know this in theory, but the specifics of how estrogen influences your body are very interesting.

For most of your life estrogen is the cause of many unwanted symptoms: moodiness, food cravings, weight fluctuations, hunger and sleep disturbances. Depending on where you are in relation to menopause, now is the time to take a good look at estrogen. The good news is that as estrogen decreases, so do many of these symptoms. One major risk factor for breast cancer is estrogen. Being a woman, you can't escape estrogen and you've had a lifetime of exposure to it. Your estrogen level is in part related to the amount of body fat you have. You can help to optimize your estrogen levels by reducing body fat down to the ideal percentage for your body. If you are more than 8 pounds over the weight that you (and your doctor) think you should be at, commit to a fat reduction, weight loss program. By decreasing unnecessary body fat you will be setting yourself up for an easier transition through menopause. It has been shown that women with ideal body fat levels experience fewer menopausal symptoms.

Your Plan

The best approach to burning off unwanted body fat is a combination of dietary changes, cardiovascular exercise and strength training. While you can rely on any one of these things alone to promote change, you will be most successful if you commit to addressing all three areas. If you've been a committed gym rat your whole life, you may want to consider shifting your workouts a bit. I find that a woman's body responds better to different activities at different ages. In your twenties high intensity cardio may have been great. With each decade, I prefer a shift to lower intensity, strength-building activities.

Because of hormonal shifts, most women see a change in her mid section and amount of belly fat. You want to keep your waist circumference below 35 inches as anything greater increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Many women are wired to believe that because of menopause, the associated body changes are inevitable. Studies show that you can reduce many of the symptoms of menopause through exercise.

Dietary Changes
Many foods have the ability to influence your hormone levels. It is true you are what you eat. Because of hormonal shifts, there are brain changes as well in this decade. It's important to eat foods that support a healthy brain. Consider making some of these changes:

Foods To Decrease
Added sugar in any form. Sugar can appear as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, table sugar, glucose, brown rice syrup, agave, sucrose, dextrose, rice syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. While some forms of sugar are better than others, it is wise to decrease your consumption of all sugars. Reducing your intake of sugar allows your body to regulate blood sugar better. This, in turn, will allow you to move towards its optimal hormone levels.

Alcohol. While there are some health benefits of drinking alcohol, there are also health risks. When you look at all of the pros and cons of alcohol, it is wise to decrease your intake. While we do see some cardiovascular benefit to drinking alcohol, there is also a good chance that the consumption of alcohol is linked with breast cancer.

Caffeine in the form of soda and coffee. Caffeine over stimulates your central nervous system and taxes your delicate adrenal glands. The adrenal glands help to regulate stress and hormones levels.

Foods To Increase

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Healthy omega 3 fats — Some fish like salmon reduce silent inflammation, improve brain health and balance out the negative effects of too many omega 6's in your diet.

Dark chocolate — Just like any other food, there are different qualities of chocolate. Look for pure products with a high percentage of raw cacao and buy organic when possible. There is a big difference between products made with chocolate liquor and cocoa mass. For maximum nutrition opt for raw cacao nibs or powder mixed into some form of edible or drinkable chocolate. Try my favorite truly healthy chocolate drink:

Makes one serving:
-2-3 tablespoons of organic, raw cacao powder
- 1/2 tablespoon of agave or other natural sweetener, or
- a few drops of stevia

Optional:
- Dash of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of coconut cream or whole milk

Combine all ingredients in a beverage cup, add warm water to desired consistency, drink to your health!

Green tea — Like chocolate, you will get the most health benefits by choosing a high quality, organic product. Loose leaf tea is most often always better than bagged tea. Try a few different styles of green tea to find the one that suits you. I love China green tips, Sencha and anything with peaches!

Dark green vegetables — You can find the most nutrition and health benefits from kale, broccoli, collard greens, spinach, and asparagus.

Cardiovascular Exercise
There are many forms of cardio and many ways to incorporate it. For any type of cardio, in my opinion, there are 3 different reasons to engage in cardiovascular activities:

To improve heart health

To improve fitness level

To promote weight/fat loss

During this decade there is a prioritization of heart health and weight management. In order to effectively address both goals, it is wise to structure your cardio workouts. In order to promote cardiovascular health, you'll want to engage in an ongoing activity like walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, cycling at a heart rate level around 75% of your theoretical heart rate maximum for 30-40 minutes. A heart rate monitor is the best way to accurately track your exercise intensity. This kind of workout also promotes fat burning, but it's wise to also incorporate a fat-burning specific workout each week. For most people, a low to moderate cardio workout works best to burn fat in an ongoing, realistic way. Each week, aim to include a similar activity but at a lower heart rate of 65-70% of your theoretical heart rate maximum and keep it up for 40-50 minutes.

Strength Training
A combination of traditional strength training with weights and functional strength training through yoga works wonders for this decade. Traditional strength training with free weights and weight machines will improve your muscle mass, which means lower body fat in general, less belly fat, osteoporosis prevention and injury avoidance. Aim to incorporate strength exercises for your legs, back, chest, arms and shoulders, or seek a fitness pro to help you build a program. Yoga helps to balance out all of the body's systems including hormone levels, builds functional strength to avoid injury, and improves flexibility. The deep breathing in yoga has been proven to reduce hot flashes and provides a mental boost to ward off depression that can come with hormone changes. Yoga also improves your overall sense of well being.

Your Weekly Plan
Here is an example of a plan that I suggest to my clients:

Monday: Cardio for Heart Health + 20 minutes of Strength Training
Tuesday: Yoga
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Cardio for Weight Management
Friday: Yoga
Saturday: Cardio for Weight Management + 20 minutes of Strength Training
Sunday: Off

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