By Roni Laytin, NASM CPT, NASM CES, AFAA GFI
September 28th is National Women’s Health and Fitness Day. This topic covers attention brought to the obvious basics such as annual breast and gynecological exams, following up with your primary care provider, debunking myths around certain health issues such as getting vaccines when pregnant, or bras causing breast cancer. However, seeing as we’re nearing Halloween season, this article is going to touch on a topic a lot of women/people find mysterious and scary: Fitness.
When we think about Women’s fitness as a society, the acceptable imagery tends to be of thin, toned women with perfectly done hair and makeup all while doing effortless burpees. Media imagery has changed slightly over the years to include more of an assortment of body types, but the ideal tends to remain the same. There is no way to win when it comes to societal beauty standards and this often keeps women away from doing something that is vital to their health and well-being. If we can’t be perfect like these airbrushed photos, why try? Other barriers can include, working long hours either at a formal job or taking care of children, the financial strain associated with gyms and fitness studios, current fitness skill level or limitations without a trainer that can work around them, time, lack of energy due to sitting all day at a desk job, malnutrition (what people often consider overeating can actually be undereating with little nutritional density), age, even feeling selfish for taking that hour to take care of yourself. Believe it or not, there are workarounds for each of these obstacles.
One way to incorporate movement into your schedule, even if you are extremely busy, is to take a look at the ways you can get passive exercise in. Are you taking the elevator? Try walking up the stairs at a fast pace, but safely. Walk to a further restroom. If safety is not a concern, park further away and walk. Spend ten less minutes on social media or Netflix and use it to go for a walk, or even throw in a ten minute workout. Engage family and friends in these activities to help with accountability. Maybe instead of cocktails after work, ask if coworkers or friends would be up for a walk someplace nice. As a trainer, I tell my clients that anything is always better than nothing. People will underestimate how far small tweaks in their regimen will go. Exercise, if done correctly and not excessively, will add to your energy levels, making it so that you have more energy to do more (but not too much, or you’ll burn out your adrenals and wind up in worse shape than you began with all sorts of physical impact and likely injuries to boot.)
Starting small is smart, literally. The National Academy of Sports Medicine refers to tangible fitness milestones as SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. This sets people up for success, because it breaks their fitness journey down into realistic chunks so that they feel less overwhelmed and are more likely to convert them into long term habits. Achieving many small goals along the way, as opposed to larger more difficult ones, has been proven to provide more inspiration to keep going.
This type of program extends to dietary changes as well. In order to maintain a more active lifestyle, you need to fuel your body the same way you’d fill up your car (with premium if it requires it). It’s very important to be wary of trendy diets. For example, Keto probably won’t fuel you for endurance or strength training, because it is so low in carbohydrates and high in fat. Healthy fats are crucial, but consuming too much of them will weigh you down due to how hard your metabolism and liver are working to process their density. There’s also such conflicting pseudoscience out there about many diets like Keto and Raw Food that it’s really important to both listen to your body and consult with a registered dietician before embarking on any drastically different dietary journey. When it comes to nutrition, fueling your life according to your individual health and activity / exercise needs is key.
The importance of exercise for women cannot be overstated. It can help offset or even prevent arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, bone density loss, injury, and insulin dysfunction. It also improves sleep, energy levels, metabolism, and mood. Studies have shown that high intensity interval training is the most impactful for cognitive improvement. Contrary to popular belief, high intensity movement does not have to mean high impact, for example, jumping up and down on your own body weight with exercises such as jumping jacks or the dreaded burpees mentioned above. Picking an instructor or trainer that works with people that need low to no impact exercise with necessary modifications is feasible. A misnomer is that low or no impact exercise makes for too easy a workout program which doesn’t yield results. I’ve been programming no impact exercise for years and the clients participating in these routines have had the most tangible results, because they are listening to their bodies, enjoying the way they are moving, and not injuring themselves doing it.
Lastly, affordability is a very real obstacle to fitness in a city like Los Angeles where certain options can be cost prohibitive. However, there are many city-sponsored programs at park recreation centers, meetup groups, new and seasoned instructors offering free and donation-based classes, ClassPass (which reduces boutique class and gym rates by 40-50%), discounts for employees in certain industries, such as government and healthcare employees, and affordable box gyms such as Blink Fitness or Planet Fitness. Exercise can be a loaded topic for many women, because it has been tied to societal standards for thousands of years.
This Women’s Health and Fitness Day, I hope you take agency over your health and fitness by making space for movement in your daily life in ways that are enjoyable and also individually beneficial for your body, budget, and lifestyle. Working out doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it can be quite fun.
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