Women’s Health - Nutrition, Exercises & Routines

Some women are genetically predisposed to stay thin and look good without much effort.  Others have to work hard to keep their waistlines down and their skin healthy and glowing.  Regardless of who you are, however, to achieve optimal health and fitness, you need to exercise regularly and pay attention to nutrition.

What are the best fitness routines for women?  What foods are best suited to a woman’s health needs?  Are women’s needs different than men’s? 

For a female who is not limited by health issues, weekly physical activities should include flexibility exercises, strength training, and cardiovascular workouts.  This is true, regardless of exercise experience and level of fitness.  A woman’s daily diet should focus on good nutrition as well as weight management.  By following a regular fitness regimen and healthy diet plan, she can look and feel her very best at any age.

(If you haven’t been particularly active for quite some time, you should certainly consult with your healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program.  Once you have been given the “go ahead,” begin your exercises at an easy pace and gradually increase the intensity.)

Flexibility Exercises
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “an effective fitness program is more than aerobic training and strength building.  To really reap the benefits of exercise, you need to add flexibility training to the mix.”

To maintain a youthful, limber body that moves with fluidity and ease, flexibility exercises (stretching) should be performed several times each week.  Too often, however, stretching exercises are disregarded and viewed as unimportant. 

Improving your flexibility not only helps you to move around easier, it leads to better posture and reduces muscle tension and strain.  Stretching the body before and after each workout can lower the risk of muscle injury.

Prior to stretching, prepare the muscles by doing a quick warm-up.  As you perform flexibility exercises, be sure not to bounce or force a stretch to the point of pain.  Breathe deeply into the stretch and relax, holding each stretch for at least 10 seconds.

Yoga and pilates exercises are examples of great ways to stretch and improve flexibility

Strength Training
Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you should shy away from using weights or engaging in other types of resistance workouts.  You don’t even need to be a body builder!  In fact, you don’t even have to use weights to perform strength-training exercises!

Strength-training exercises are essential to muscle growth, improving strength and tone, and developing muscle endurance.  For best results, these types of exercises should be performed at least twice per week.  It is a good idea to either consult a personal trainer or watch a strength-training video to learn the proper techniques for these exercises.  If done improperly, muscle strain or injury could result.

Examples of strength-training exercises include pushups, pull-ups, bicep curls, and bench presses.  Even carrying a full laundry basket around the house counts as a strength-training exercise!  (You may also substitute other household items, such as canned goods, for free weights.) 

Cardio Workouts
Routine cardio or aerobic workouts are essential to keep your heart strong and your metabolism working efficiently.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a minimum of 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity cardio exercise most days of the week is a key activity that contributes to the overall health of adults of any age.

The idea behind an aerobic workout is to noticeably raise the heart rate during physical activity.  Exercise of moderate intensity causes the heart to beat faster than normal without making the individual breathe too hard or too fast.  Exercise of vigorous intensity substantially raises the heart rate as well as causes fast, heavy breathing.

Examples of moderate cardio exercise are walking briskly, doing light yard work, and casually riding a bike.  Examples of vigorous cardio exercise include swimming laps, jogging or running, and jumping rope.  

Nutrition for Women
One of the biggest problems Americans face today is obesity.  A huge contributor to obesity is our unhealthy style of eating.  Many people tend to eat portions that are way out of line.  Those portions often consist of foods that are high in calories, fat, and cholesterol.  These foods not only lead to weight gain, they also increase one’s risk for health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. 

As a woman, you go through many changes during your lifetime.  At each stage of life, you have special dietary needs.  By eating a healthy diet, you can ensure that those needs are met.  This is one of the best ways to show that you care about yourself.

To make sure that you get all the essential nutrients each day, you should begin with a basic, well-rounded diet.  The Food Pyramid provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a wonderful guideline for planning your daily meals that are rich in vitamins and minerals.  The pyramid is designed to help you get the most nutrition out of the calories you consume.   

A balanced diet consists of lean protein, complex carbohydrates (i.e. fruits, whole grains, and veggies), and moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (“good fats”).  Olive oil is an example of a good, healthy fat.  Saturated fats are unhealthy, and it’s best to avoid them.  Lard is an example of a saturated (bad) fat.  

Good fats are necessary to aid the body in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).  Without essential fatty acids in your diet, your skin would become dry, and your hair would become brittle. 

Foods rich in calcium are a must in a woman’s diet.  During childhood and adolescence, calcium helps build strong bones and teeth.  Calcium has been shown to reduce PMS symptoms; it promotes healthy pregnancies; and, as a woman ages, calcium helps in the prevention of osteoporosis.  Because the body absorbs calcium slowly, the best sources of calcium are naturally occurring rather than in supplement form.  Cheese, milk, and yogurt are good sources of calcium.

Eating on the Run
Busy women often find it difficult to stick with a healthy diet.  Fast food tends to be a quick answer to eating on the run.  However, there are solutions to eating healthy on those hectic days. 

The best course of action might be to plan ahead of time and prepare healthy snacks and meals that can be taken with you.  This will ensure that you know exactly what you are putting into your body.  If you find that you must eat out, select from the healthiest choices on the menu.  Remember, too, that you do not have to clean your plate when the portions are Texas size!  Eat slowly and quit when you begin to feel full.  Consistent overeating can and does lead to obesity!

For Optimal Health
To be healthy at any age, a woman must be aware of what she consumes and the amount of physical activity she gets on a daily basis.  Her diet should consist mainly of moderate portions of good, nutritious foods.  Physical activity should become routine and should include flexibility exercises, strength-training workouts, and aerobic activities. 

An active lifestyle combined with good nutrition can lead to a longer, healthier, and happier life.   

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