We know that exercise is a habit that promotes overall health – helping with weight loss and maintenance, reducing the risk of chronic disease and improving mental health for everyone, regardless of age or gender.
But exercise plays a unique role in a woman’s life, helping to ease the transitions between important life events like puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
A woman’s body undergoes several significant changes during her lifetime. Dr. Kameelah Phillips, OB-GYN and founder of Calla Women’s Health, spoke with Sheinelle Jones on Wellness TODAY, to share how exercise can help facilitate these changes.
Benefits of exercise during puberty
- Helps improve body image and increase confidence.
- Helps reduce the pain of menstrual cramps.
During early adolescence, a girl’s body undergoes significant changes that can make her self-aware. This often results in girls not wanting to move their bodies or draw attention to themselves. But staying active can ease this transition period, helping young women respect their bodies.
“Puberty is such a difficult time for so many young people. I remember myself, feeling strange in your own body. So it’s very important to be active to help them reconnect,” said Dr Phillips. “I like to get off the beaten track with activity; it doesn’t have to be running, it can be football, basketball, contact sports, to help them engage different parts of their body. It helps them maintain a sense of pride and excitement about what wellness and strength can be, and that they embody that.
It’s also a time when women begin to menstruate, and exercise can help relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms that come with menstruation.
“When we work out, your body releases an incredible assortment of endorphins, which are natural painkillers,” Phillips said. “So before you go for a pill, moving your body sometimes, jogging around the block, having a dance party in your living room, can help release those endorphins and ease menstrual pain.”
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy
- Reduces the risk of caesarean section.
- Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes.
- Gets you in shape for the marathon that is childbirth.
Pregnancy is another time in a woman’s life when her body undergoes drastic changes. And while snuggling up on the couch sounds especially appealing during this time, keeping your body moving is key to reducing soreness and getting your body ready for work.
“We’ve really had a paradigm shift when it comes to being active during pregnancy. The days of lying on the couch are over,” Phillips said. “We encourage women who have normal and safe pregnancies to get out and move their bodies. It helps reduce the risk of caesarean sections, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure, and can really help with the labor marathon.
When it comes to the type of exercise you do, use your best judgment, says Phillips. “Anything that involves contact is probably not the best idea. You can ride a stationary bike as your risk of falling is minimal; swim; low impact exercises are best.
Of course, every body and every pregnancy is different, so you should consult your doctor before starting or continuing any exercise routine during this time.
Benefits of Postpartum Exercise
- Help with mental health.
- Strengthens core muscles.
It’s not just during pregnancy, but afterwards, that it’s essential to follow a fitness routine.
“Exercise is key after pregnancy,” Phillips said. “When you’re active when you’re pregnant, it helps your postpartum recovery. Women who have gained extra weight tend to lose it faster, this helps your mental health and the prevention of postpartum depression. It can also help tone your core and get your regular clothes back on.
Benefits of exercise during menopause
- Improves muscle tone/strength.
- Maintains bone health.
Many women find it more difficult to lose extra weight and stay in shape when they enter menopause. Phillips said this is a critical time to incorporate strength training into your fitness routine.
“A lot of women are often very scared of putting on weight. But that’s the best thing. Even 5, 10, or 15 pounds will help you maintain muscle and really tone up,” Phillips said. of women complain of unintentional extra weight gain, and that’s what weights will help (with). Plus, gaining weight will help you maintain bone health, which is extremely important when you’re going through menopause. Osteopenia and osteoporosis, where bones become weak and can even fracture, are a big problem. So weight-bearing exercises are going to be great.