Beginning around age 40, many women notice changes in their bodies that sound an alarm. You may be perplexed by creeping weight gain and stubborn belly fat. Perhaps you feel stiffer in the mornings and are becoming accustomed to living with little aches and pains in your joints. You may start looking for the elevator instead of taking the stairs.
Behind the scenes all of the systems of the body are indeed undergoing a subtle shift. As you approach perimenopause, hormonal changes cause your metabolism to slow down. There is a steady decline in bone and muscle mass. You are at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. You may even experience a slight decrease in balance and cognitive function.
The good news? Though most women face these common fears of aging at some point, there are steps you can take to empower yourself and age in the best-possible health.
1 Creeping Weight Gain and Stubborn Belly Fat
“I’ve gotten really frustrated by the changes in my body. I used to be able to get by with a regular exercise routine and by watching my diet, but recently I have gained weight and my body fat is redistributing—it’s all going right to my belly.”
Midlife belly is caused by a combination of factors. Age is one part of the equation; hormones and stress also contribute. Not only is abdominal fat damaging to your silhouette but it can also damage your health profile. The key to avoiding this common issue is to keep moving. Research shows that exercise reduces the size of fat cells in the belly more effectively than dieting alone.
2 Slowing Down and Losing My Edge
“I’ve become aware that I’m slowing down and losing my edge. I just don’t have the energy to do all of the things I used to, and I feel like old age is creeping up on me.”
Experts in the field of aging agree that exercise is the prime mover in the drive to preserve vitality. Being in shape frees us from physical limitations and creates confidence, self-esteem, and a positive attitude. We may not be able to recapture our youthful bodies completely, but we can override the signals of aging by engaging in a consistent, dedicated exercise program.
3 Pain Has Taken Control of My Body
“At the end of last year, my body was falling apart and could no longer do what I wanted it to do. I felt as though I had lost control over my body, and pain was dictating to me what I was able to do.”
Don’t assume that muscle aches,painful joints, or nagging discomfort in any part of your body is a natural part of aging. With professional guidance, appropriate exercise will actually diminish the discomfort, increase mobility, and strengthen the muscles that support the joints.
4 White-Coat Anxiety
“I’m plain scared to see the doc and possibly get bad news. Serious cardiovascular disease runs in my family, and I’ve recently seen numerous reports about women my age dying far more frequently from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer.”
Silent diseases are difficult to detect because they have no symptoms to alert us. The first symptom of osteoporosis could be a bone fracture; of high blood pressure, a stroke. Coronary artery disease, diabetes, and breast cancer also advance without warning. The best defense against developing disease is a healthy offense, including regular visits with your healthcare team and a well-rounded fitness program of cardio exercise, strength training, and stretching.
5 I’m Afraid I’m Too Old to Start Exercising
“I am helping my elderly parents cope with the changes that are occurring as they are getting older. It bothers me to see them struggling to maintain their independence. Is it ever too late to begin exercising? Is it safe for them to start at this advanced age?”
It is never too late to start exercising, and the earlier you begin, the longer you will benefit. Your individual exercise program should be unique to your needs and tailored to your starting level of fitness, your medical history, and your personal objectives and goals. Studies show that even people in their nineties with chronic diseases can improve their strength by 175 percent and their walking speed and balance by 48 percent.
Each of us wants to be able to maintain all of our everyday activities without undue fatigue and with energy to spare. Although genetics plays a role in retaining a youthful body, the single most important lifestyle factor is engagement in a well-rounded exercise program.
Joan Pagano is the author of five exercise books, including the best-selling Strength Training for Women: Tone Up, Burn Calories, Stay Strong (DK Adult, 2004). She is the owner of Joan Pagano Fitness in New York City and the former trainer to Jackie Kennedy. Since 1988 she has provided professional guidance to people at all levels of fitness—including those with such conditions as heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, and breast cancer as well as advancing age. For more information visit joanpaganofitness.com.