When the topic turns to maintaining health and well-being or managing body composition changes in midlife, we are met with a sweeping recommendation to “lift heavy.” It’s not bad advice. It’s simply very generalized. What does that even mean? You may imagine a being under a barbell. This can be the way to go for some folks. However, this type of training is not required nor even prudent for everyone (including me!) Even without hundreds of pounds, you can still lift enough to have a significant positive impact.
First, if you aren’t on board with strength training at all …let’s chat about strength training and why everyone, ESPECIALLY women 40, benefits from adding some form of it into their weekly routine.
A few years ago...okay, like 20 years ago, I took “before photos” while on an exercise and diet kick (back before I figured out this consistency thing). I had intentions of exercising my way to a “fit-looking” body. I had it in my head that working out would make me look better (aka closer to the mainstream culture version of an attractive, healthy body). Well, I suppose I never found that reason compelling enough because I quit exercising consistently before getting to that "after photo"-worthy body.
Twenty years later, I don’t quite have the "fit body" you often see in after photos. My belly isn’t flat and fat-free. I'm not as lean and muscled as a lot of trainers I see online. But I AM fit (for the life I want to live). I exercise consistently, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, I eat a nutritious, satisfying, non-restrictive diet. I enjoy it. Exercise has become more about how I feel and less about how I look.
We have a problem in the fitness industry that perpetuates the idea that only lean-muscled bodies are fit and the primary motivation for exercising is to look fit (not necessarily be fit). Some are moving away from that ideology or at least some areas of industry are giving it lip- service. I still see A LOT of social media posts emphasizing exercise as a means to shape your body rather than having a healthy body that works well so you can do life. This is why before & after photos can be detrimental.
Before you get upset and think, "But training does shape your body!" Of course it can. But for the average middle-aged American who spends 12+hours a day sitting while balance and muscle mass is declining, getting up to move and train purposefully shouldn't be dependent upon desiring a more svelte physique (which is what before & after photos often drive into our heads). Photos can be a tool for some, however, I'll not use them unless a client specifically requests. Here's why:
I haven’t written anything on the blog in a while so I went back to review previous topics and works-in-progress. I discovered that I never completed the follow-up on hysterectomy recovery and the results of getting back into my fitness routine after surgery. If you need a refresher on what lead up to this, read this and this. And here where I talked about plans for recovery but didn't completely follow my own advice.
Let's go all the way back to 2020. Yes, the year that lives on in infamy. On January 30th, I was given the "green light" to resume normal activities after a hysterectomy on November 26, 2019. Recovery had been more challenging than I expected; I was SO ready to get back to teaching classes, lifting weights, and doing all the things I had been restricted from doing (well, except vacuuming). I had goals in 2020 for my business and my fitness and I was ready to get to work! Of course, surprises lay ahead…and none of them were good.
If you have general fitness and wellness goals, you probably need some cardio in your training program. However, what you do for that cardio may vary considerably from what you are imagining. Slogging away on a treadmill or elliptical is definitely not required to improve cardiovascular fitness and all the fabulous benefits that come with it.
Putting it simply, cardio is any exercise that increases your heart rate to the point that your breathing rate increases and you start to feel warm. In order to get the desired benefits, you need to place adequate stress on the cardiovascular system to get the system to adapt and change for the better. Cardiovascular fitness allows you to perform “large muscle, repetitive moderate to high intensity exercise for an extended period of time.” The mountain hike on vacation, hours of quickly walking from ride to ride at an amusement park, raking and bagging leaves all afternoon, dancing the night away and even lifting weights will be much more manageable if you improve your cardiovascular fitness. That’s because cardio improves your body’s function in so many ways. One of the main improvements is a more efficient heart beat so your body is better able to deliver and use oxygen for metabolic purposes. It’s pretty cool how your body adapts to the (good) stress you place on it.
How do you get to the point of making these adaptations happen without wanting to quit (or pass out)? Here are your five tips: