A Woman’s Perspective: Olympics: Inspired Women Exercise More For Health
The number of women representing the U.S. at the Rio Olympics this month was 292, the largest women’s team to compete for any nation in the history of the Games (and the second time women have outnumbered men in a U.S. Olympic team). Our nation is still applauding this historic moment, as well as the extraordinary physical accomplishments of the Olympians, particularly the women of our water polo and basketball teams, and athletes Katie Ledecky, Maya DiRado, Simone Biles, Helen Maroulis, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Simone Manuel, Michelle Carter, Gwen Jorgensen, Allyson Felix, Kristen Armstrong, and Dalilah Muhammad, among others.
Evidenced by an increase in exercise-related questions received at my health-care practice during the last few weeks, it appears that this year’s Olympics re-energized many women with new resolve to get and stay fit. While few women aspire to be Olympians, all women aspire to age well and are seeing how different types and levels of physical activity play an integral part in the process as well as their overall quality of life.
Benefits women receive from regular exercise and physical activity go well beyond helping maintain or lose weight; for example, it boosts the level of “good” HDL-cholesterol and lessens the risk of developing many cancers. Low- to moderately intensive activity every day, such as going for a brief walk, stair climbing, gardening, yard work, housework, and home exercise, helps lower the risk of heart disease. More vigorous exercises (aerobic), including long walks and hikes, jogging, swimming and jumping rope, lower heart disease risk, and improve heart fitness.
It’s recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity several times a week to receive the health benefits. You can do this in walking bouts that add up to 30 minutes a day like, such as two 15-minute bouts or three 10-minute bouts.
Regular exercise and physical activity helps:
• Lessen the risk of dementia. By boosting mind function and energy, the Alzheimer’s Association says dance classes are particularly helpful for women who have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (due in part because dancing requires learning skills like memory and concentration).
• Reduce osteoporosis risk. According to studies, the best activities for preventing osteoporosis, maintaining bone health, and protecting bone mass during falls are strengthening exercises like weight-lifting, jogging, hiking, stair climbing, step aerobics, dancing, and racquet sports.
• Improve their sex life. Working out leaves you feeling energized and more desirable. According to a Harvard School of Public Health study found just 20 minutes of regular exercise a day can improve sexual response in women by improving vitality and self-esteem. Further, a Yale University Prevention Research Center study says exercise tends to increase interest in, and capacity for, sexual activity. (Adrenaline and other feel-good hormones are triggered when working out with your partner.)
• Maintain and increase lean muscle mass. Studies validate as we get older our muscles break down more quickly and our bodies build muscle less efficiently. Exercise helps maintain and increase muscle mass, providing strength, helping to prevent falls, and keeping metabolism high.
• Improve digestion. While it has long been established that exercise helps prevent constipation, recent studies from the Gastroenterological Society of Australia find even short daily walks help intestinal muscles break down food, strengthen abdominal muscles, and minimize sluggishness.
• Reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is because neurotransmitters and endorphins, which are released in your body when you exercise, ease depression. Exercising also raises body temperature, which is known to calm nerves.
• Enhance mental performance and work productivity. A recent survey by the American College of Sports Medicine indicates 65 percent of employees who worked out in the middle of the day were better able to manage time and be more productive. They reported improved mental and interpersonal performance, self-confidence, and focus.
• Reduce cancer risks. Studies confirm the risk of lung, colon, and breast cancers can be greatly reduced in regularly active people. Regarding breast cancer, it is important to note its connection with high estrogen levels. Estrogen is stored in fat, which is often reduced as a result of exercising. Further, women who exercise heavily tend to have irregular periods and a shortened estrogen-producing phase. Physically active postmenopausal women have lower levels of estrogen.
• Lessen severity of a stroke. Several studies indicate that first-time stroke victims who had a regular exercise routine before suffering a stroke were two and a half times more likely to have a milder stroke compared with those who barely exercised.
• Improve skin. Exercise enhances blood flow to your skin and improves acne by controlling the production of DHEA and DHT, both acne-inducing testosterone hormones. Exercise causes sweating, which detoxifies the skin of oils and dirt by unclogging pores.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, particularly if you have health issues, are pregnant or elderly, or have not been physically active in a while. When you do start, find a time that works best for you and include stretching, strength training, and aerobic or endurance exercise in your routine. Remember to start slowly and gradually increase length and intensity. Remember, too, to stop if you hurt; a little soreness is to be expected, but not pain. Most important make exercise fun. Listen to music or watch television while on the treadmill, or take that daily walk through a pretty park or at the shoreline to enjoy the views at the same time.
A good website for more information is womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/physical-activity.html
Don’t forget activities like raking leaves and mowing the lawn count as physical exercise, too!
The Marin Independent Journal welcomed Dr. Lizellen La Follette as their health columnist from 2015-2018. Her A Woman’s Perspective column appeared every fourth week in the Journal during these 3 years.