Every day the media bombards both men and women with messages about what the ideal body looks like. Though these advertisements feature men and women, the vast majority of them focuses on women and has contributed to a set of social standards and female beauty and fitness. Advertisements stress the importance of taking good care of yourself, as well as more unrealistic norms like having hair free from split ends, skin that is free from blemishes, and a body that is firm and toned but not too muscular.
Women are told to paint their nails and curl their lashes, but it is also emphasized that they must feel as good as they look. In today’s society, it almost seems like health comes second to beauty, even though, in the aisles of most stores, the description written is “health and beauty.”
Despite all of these media pushes, you get just one body, so it’s important that you look after it. This means that instead of going on a health kick, you should focus on making small changes to your lifestyle that will stand you in good stead for the future. You don’t have to train like an athlete or give up the foods that you love. With the right approach to health and fitness, you will look better, feel better, and still enjoy “living a little.”
Some essential, practical tips for women’s fitness are highlighted below.
Don’t Be Scared of Resistance Training
A lot of women assume that the lean and toned look comes just from fat loss, but this isn’t true. If you lose fat but don’t build muscle, there is the risk that you will end up simply looking smaller, but will still not have any muscle.
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Don’t worry about getting too bulky. Growing large muscles requires a lot of testosterone, and women have much lower testosterone levels than men, so it is very difficult for a woman to look like a bodybuilder, even deliberately, and it most definitely will not happen by accident with occasional gym sessions.1
Resistance training has many other benefits too. Lifting weights can help improve your bone density, which means that as you get older, you will have a much lower risk of osteoporosis.2 The increase in muscle strength also helps improve your balance, which again has a protective effect as you age by lowering your risk of falls and injuries.3
If those benefits seem too abstract because you are still young right now, then note that increasing your muscle mass can also help to have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes and can improve your metabolism.4
Cardio Is Still Useful
If you want to protect your health, both weight training and cardio are important. There is no need to spend endless hours on the treadmill, though. You can reap benefits from a small amount of light cardio.
If you are currently sedentary, then just walking for two hours a week is enough to see some benefits, with one study showing that people who had that level of physical activity had a 39 percent lower risk of mortality than those who did not exercise at all.5
Of course, within reason, more exercise is better, and going for a jog will give you more benefits. The U.S. Government’s physical activity guidelines recommend that adults receive 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week, at a minimum, and this will offer mood boosting and cardioprotective benefits, as well as burn calories.6
Eat What You Love
One trap that a lot of women fall into is following highly restrictive diets for a short time in a bid to manipulate their weight and then stopping the diet either when they get to their goal weight or when they simply cannot face another spoonful of broccoli. This is not a sustainable or healthy way to go about staying in shape.
If you want to be healthy then you need to start thinking about your body in the long term, and that means finding a way to eat the foods that you enjoy while still staying at a healthy weight and eating all of the nutrients that your body requires.
It’s not healthy to starve yourself, but it’s not healthy to drink to excess or eat only junk foods either. Your best bet is to find some healthy foods that you love and build your diet around them, indulging in treats on special occasions.
Studies show that one of the hardest parts of following a healthy diet is finding ways to make long-term changes, and it is finding a way to make that mental shift which matters.7,8 If you know that you can have a piece of chocolate cake any time you want, as long as it fits into your long-term nutritional plan, then it may be easier for you to say “no thanks” to some of the junk food that you are exposed to on an almost daily basis.
If your struggle comes from a belief that you don’t like the taste of most healthy foods, then it may be worth challenging yourself to try new foods every week. You may think that you hate certain vegetables, for example, if you grew up in a household where vegetables were boiled and served without seasoning. However, perhaps you might enjoy them steamed or in a casserole. Don’t be scared to experiment.
Normal Is a Spectrum
Education about women’s reproductive and hormonal cycles hasn’t, historically, been very good. This means that a lot of women have grown up confused about their bodies and unsure about whether the struggles that they face are normal.
The truth is that “normal” varies massively. For instance, it is not uncommon for the menstrual cycle to be as short as 21 days or as long as 35 days.9 Some women may have ones that are even longer or shorter than that, and it is not a cause for concern as long as the pattern for that woman doesn’t suddenly change.
Some women bloat by as much as 10lbs in the run-up to their periods, while others experience almost no water retention at all. Diet and exercise levels can have a significant impact on how a woman’s monthly cycle is and whether or not she experiences period pains, but some women have PMS that cannot be completely controlled through lifestyle changes alone.
If you are struggling with mood swings or with period pains, then don’t be embarrassed about talking to a doctor. Also consider keeping a diary of your food, drink, sleep patterns, monthly cycle, and exercise, to see if you can spot any triggers for more severe PMS symptoms.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is one of the most neglected parts of fitness. Getting a good night’s sleep will improve your mental clarity, make it easier for you to make good decisions in terms of diet and exercise, and help you recover from or ward off illnesses.
With modern, busy lifestyles, it is easy to neglect sleep. If you have work to do, then staying up a little later to finish it is tempting. If you are out socializing, then you don’t want to be the first one to leave for fear of being boring, but if you keep robbing your body of a couple of hours of necessary sleep each night, then the negative impact will mount up.
Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep each night. A pregnant woman may need more.10 Note that “sleep” refers to time actually sleeping. If you are in bed but tossing and turning, then that doesn’t count.
Try to get into the habit of avoiding caffeine for a few hours before bed and be sure to limit screen time around bedtime as well. If you want to do something to help yourself doze off, try reading a paper book instead of looking at your phone screen. Develop a routine that you will follow every night to help yourself doze off and you should find that you sleep much better.
When it comes to health, the most important thing is to try to make a series of good choices every day. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to stress about living the best lifestyle. If you over-indulge, miss a workout, or have to pull an all-nighter one day, then that is not a crisis. Just mentally dust yourself off and try to make better choices next time around. You have your whole life to get it right.
Photo credits: Ahturner/shutterstock.com, Gutesa/shutterstock.com, wavebreakmedia/shutterstock.com, AlbinaGlisic/shutterstock.com, Artbox/shutterstock.com, Gorodenkoff/shutterstock.com