Health Benefits of Exercise for Women

Health Benefits of Exercise for Women

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, regular exercise provides a great array of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, preventing diabetes, improving mood and cognitive function, and reducing mortality. For women, those benefits expand, thanks to their particular combination of hormones and health risks.

“Many of the health issues that women face can be improved substantially with consistent exercise. It’s one of the best preventive options available and should be encouraged in childhood and throughout life,” says Dr. Horowitz.

Of course, exercise takes a fair amount of effort, time and self-discipline. So why bother? Here are four ways exercise specifically benefits women, no matter what your age:

Exercise helps counteract hormonally-driven mood swings.

From the first menstrual cycle until menopause, women live with a shifting level of estrogen and progesterone that impacts their fertility patterns as well as also their brain chemistry and moods. When estrogen levels drop, such as before and during a woman’s period or leading up to menopause, women lose a natural source of the “feel good” brain chemical called serotonin. This makes them more susceptible to moodiness, depression and anxiety attacks, such as the symptoms found in severe premenstrual syndrome or post-partum depression.

Exercise prevents bone loss and osteoporosis.

Women are far more vulnerable than men to develop osteoporosis and related bone fracture and loss of height as they age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, eight out of 10 of Americans with osteoporosis are women, and half of women over age 50 who have osteoporosis will break a bone. This is largely because women have thinner bones than men and lose bone strength more rapidly as they age due to the loss of estrogen. Hip fracture, a consequence of osteoporosis, can lead to immobility and premature death.

One of the best ways to build strong bones is through exercise, preferably starting in the younger years. “During the teen and young adult years is when women build most of the bone mass that can protect them from osteoporosis later in life,” Dr. Horowitz says.

Exercise keeps weight in check.

Although men and women both tend to gain weight as they age, women have special challenges. Younger women may find that the weight gain of pregnancy can linger long past delivery. Then, as middle-aged women lose estrogen in menopause, the body redistributes fat cells to the belly, which can frustrate weight loss. And because muscle burns more calories than fat, women can struggle with maintaining or losing weight as their muscle mass declines with age.

Exercise improves sleep.

A national poll of 1,506 adults nationwide, conducted in 2005, discovered that women have more difficulty falling and staying asleep compared to men and experience more daytime sleepiness. This tendency can grow even more disruptive due to new motherhood, monthly hormonal changes and perimenopausal symptoms like night sweats.

Thankfully, exercise has an excellent track record of improving sleep. In one study of 2,600 participants, published in the Journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity, participants who incorporated 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity into their week reported a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. They said they also felt less sleepy during the day.

Even with all these benefits in mind, women may find it difficult to find time or energy to exercise regularly. Dr. Horowitz says the motivation must start with looking in the mirror and telling yourself, “Now is the time to do something.”

“It takes personal commitment and readiness. Yet you don’t need to start exercising in a self-punishing way. Just get out there and do something active. Find a friend or a trainer who motivates you to get up and get moving,” he says. “And remember, it’s not about instant results but long-term change that will bring you better health and self-esteem for a lifetime.”

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