Let’s face it—unless you’re a superhuman supermodel with round-the-clock access to a celebrity trainer, the human body is a tough act to manage. The figure morphs, weight yo-yos—and as the years slide by, it doesn’t get any easier. That’s why a regular fitness routine is crucial to a woman’s health, not only to keep up appearances, but more importantly to address health concerns that inevitably arise in the various stages of life. Whether you are in your 20s, 30s, 40, or 50s, getting in shape now will do wonders for your physical condition—reducing your future encounters with heart disease, osteoporosis, and even breast cancer!
Women’s Health magazine addresses these concerns in their September issue with their article, “A Body For the Ages.” Here are some of the workout tips they recommend to combat the specific challenges of your age.
IN YOUR 20s
You have a hunch. Spending 40 or more hours a week crouched over your keyboard like a human comma probably impresses your boss, but it also compresses your spine. “That leads to slumped posture in the short term and irreversible damage to your spine over the years,” says Lori Incledon, author of Strength Training for Women. “When your spine is held in the same posture for years, the muscles become too deconditioned to move the bones, and the bones begin to fuse together.” Act now and you’ll be a head above the other women on your over-50 basketball team—not to mention less prone to upper back and neck pain.
Stretch tall. Do the foam roller snow angel every day. Lie back along a 3-foot foam roller so that it runs the length of your spine. Bend your knees and rest your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands next to your hips, palms up, with you arms straight. Without raising your shoulders, slowly—take 15 seconds—drag your hands along the floor (as if you’re making a snow angel) until they’re above your head or they lose contact with the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Take another 15 seconds to drag them back to the starting position. If you feel tightness in a particular spot, pause there for 10 to 15 seconds, then keep moving. Repeat four times.
IN YOUR 30s
Your back is a royal pain. More than 50 percent of women in their 30s suffer from lower-back pain, and that number rises to nearly 70 percent during pregnancy. The key to preventing it is not just muscular strength but endurance too. “Your back muscles don’t need to be overly strong to support your spine; they need to be able to support it for long periods of time,” Incledon says. In other words, it’s about how much force those muscles can exert as well as how long they can go before pooping out. That’s doubly important when you’re expecting because levels of the hormone relaxin rise, loosening not only your pelvic ligaments (get that baby outta there!) but also the ones around your spine.
Shore up your core. Do the side bridge three times per week. Lie on your left side with knees straight and upper body propped on your left elbow and forearm. Place your right hand on your right hip and slowly raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds, breathing deeply. That’s one rep. Repeat four times, then switch to your right side. Do one to two sets for each side. If that’s too hard, bend your knees 90 degrees so that they rest on the floor. If you’re pregnant, do the exercise with your back against a wall for support.
IN YOUR 40s
Getting a little chunky, aren’t you? Cardio is a good way to protect your heart and burn calories, but you’ll lose weight only if you’re burning more calories (duh). Your metabolism is starting to put on the brakes as a result of dwindling muscle mass, so continue hitting the iron. That way you don’t have to worry so much about curbing your dark chocolate habit.
Go to the mat. “Yoga teaches you to go to the edge of discomfort in a nonreactive way,” says Alan R. Kristal, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “It trains you to be mindful so that you’re more likely to pass on dessert even when you want it.” Okay, that sounds nuts. But in his studies Dr. Kristal found that women who practiced yoga for 10 years starting at age 45 gained 3 fewer pounds (if they were at a healthy weight) compared with those who didn’t do yoga. He recommends trading in one of your cardio days for a 1-hour yoga class once a week.
IN YOUR 50s
You’re a (hot) flasher. Your thermostat is whacked, care of menopause.
Find your rhythm. Reseachers at the Lafayette Clinic in Detroit say that deep, paced breathing—like the kind you do in yoga—reduces hot flashes in menopausal women by 44 percent. How often should you take to the mat? A study at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, New Jersey, found that women who did two 1-hour yoga sessions a week reduced hot flashes, night sweats and improved flexibility.
To get more tips on age-appropriate fitness—including role models and step-by-step workout routines for ages 20 through 50—grab a copy of the month’s Strong & Sexy issue of Women’s Health.
Photos courtesy of Women’s Health.