Exercise is important for everyone, even if weight loss is not an issue. It is important for maintaining cardiovascular health, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Exercise lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and some cancers. Overweight women who exercise have less heart disease than thin women who do not exercise. Exercise also has an anti-aging effect by lowering cortisol and increasing endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. By increasing endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, exercise might be more effective than traditional antidepressants in treating depression. Endorphins neutralize the effects of cortisol, giving a post exercise calming effect. This result can prevent anxiety and insomnia and possibly help with hot flashes. Exercise improves metabolism and fat oxidation. Exercise builds muscle and muscle dictates metabolism. It not only burns fat but most importantly it burns intra-abdominal fat. It is the intra-abdominal fat that puts women at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Exercise improves bowel motility and digestion. It improves the endocrine (hormone producing) and immune systems. Exercise protects from osteoarthritis by strengthening the muscles within the joints and increasing the flexibility of the ligaments and tendons within the joints. Weight bearing exercise improves bone strength, improving or preventing osteoporosis.
Proper exercise involves stretching, aerobic activity, and weight training. Yoga is a great form of exercise because in involves stretching and breathing control (see next chapter). If done properly it is considered an aerobic workout as well because of the elevation in heart rate from the stretching. One of the problems with aging is that we have gone through life without stretching. Stretching our muscles prevents a lot of chronic problems we face such as back and joint pain. Flexible muscles prevent injury because tight muscles are more prone to injury during routine use. With proper and routine stretching, we can get back to the flexibility of our youth. Stretching not only improves physical relaxation, but improves mental relaxation as well. It is best to stretch after warming up the muscles with exercise, because muscles respond better when they are warm. If possible, stretching should be performed daily. Aerobic exercise involves getting your heart rate above baseline and maintaining it there. Walking, running, biking and swimming are the most common aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise is important for maintaining cardiovascular health and for burning calories. Forty-five minutes of aerobic exercise at least five times a week is important for maintaining health. Aerobic exercise is often avoided because low energy levels lead to procrastination. It is important to remember that energy levels will improve significantly after exercise is completed. Painful and strenuous exercise is not necessary. Moderate exercise, such as walking is almost as beneficial as strenuous exercise. Pilates is becoming more popular and it focuses on strengthening the core muscles. The core muscles consist of abdominal, lower back, and hip muscles. Improving the core muscles makes all the other muscles work more efficiently. It also has been shown to prevent lower back pain and improve balance. Weight training is very underrated in women. It is much harder to burn fat without incorporating weight training into your regiment. If muscles are not used they diminish in size. Muscles burn an enormous amount of calories, even when at rest. So any loss of muscle mass results in a reduction in metabolism and less calories are burned in the muscles. The best workout involves circuit training. Numerous machines are used with repetitions of 15-20, while not resting between exercises so the heart rate remains elevated. This adds an aerobic component to the weight training. Weight training should be performed 2-3 times a week.