According to the Heart Foundation, every year 19,000 women are admitted to hospital due to a heart attack, and 4,500 of them die annually. Additionally, women are three times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
Being a strong and independent woman can be time-consuming and physically demanding. Often, we go far too long neglecting our own health because of our demanding schedules and ignore the health warning signs that signal impending disaster.
Lecturer and Accredited Practising Dietician from Griffith University Dr Ellie Gresham says the key to building a healthier body is to choose an activity you enjoy and stick at it.
“Activities such as walking, swimming, dancing, cycling and yoga provide many health benefits,” Dr Gresham says.
“If you currently do no physical activity, start gently and without over-exertion, and gradually build towards reaching your exercise goals.”
Aside from exercise, it can be quite a simple process to take care of yourself in small ways every day. By rethinking and adjusting your routine in certain areas of your life, such as your fitness and diet regimes, you’ll start improving your health in leaps and bounds. In this first edition of “the healthy woman’s guide”, we focus on how to keep your body fit and happy through fitness, diet and weight loss.
What we discuss in this article
The ten easiest ways to fit fitness into your everyday life
We rush constantly to fit everything we can into a 24 hour day, but breaking up exercise into small chunks throughout a crazy schedule can keep you fit and make you feel less tired. We give you 10 simple and practical ways to fit in exercise every day, even when you’re a bit short for time!
Around the house
1. When you go to pick up your mail, take a five minute power walk up and down your street before heading back inside the house.
2. Preparing dinner? While your food is cooking, do some standing push-ups. Stand arm’s length away from the kitchen counter and push your arms against it.
3. During TV commercials, jog in place until the ads are over.
4. Brushing your teeth is a perfect time to do some leg lunges or maybe some freestyle dance moves; turn the music up and go crazy!
5. If you decide to eat out while on your lunch break, walk to a restaurant or cafe that is a bit out of your way.
6. Have a meeting in another building? Leave 5 – 10 minutes earlier and do some extra walking. You don’t have to follow the same route every time!
7. Swap the elevator for the stairs and get those legs moving.
8. If you’re waiting in the car while your child is having a music lesson or you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, go for a brisk jog around the block.
9. Try out some calf stretches while riding the elevator or escalator.
10. Waiting for answer on the phone? Being put on hold is the perfect time to do some squats and lunges.
The 4 wonderful reasons you should be motivated to exercise
Regardless of your gender, maintaining healthy fitness levels is an important part of everyday life. As you grow older, it becomes even more important to engage in regular physical activity. Having an active lifestyle not only significantly lowers the risk of developing a multitude of serious illnesses, but it will also boost a person’s overall physical and mental wellbeing. Improving your fitness can help in many ways and you’ll begin to look, feel and think better.
Dr Ellie Gresham also explains that regular physical activity has four main benefits for the body:
- Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
- Reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Helps to maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
- Promotes feelings of well-being
“Women should aim to be active on most days of the week. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, each week,” Dr Gresham explains.
“Research from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health shows that around 50% of women in their early 20s are reporting high levels of physical activity, and a quarter has low activity levels.”
A snapshot of what you should eat throughout your life
Women’s nutritional needs change during menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. A woman’s reproductive life means that her nutritional needs differ greatly from those of a man. In terms of getting the right nutrition, eating real whole foods, avoiding packaged foods most of the time and eating lots of green leafy vegetables will greatly improve your overall health.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines encourage all Australians to eat a nutritious diet that includes a variety of foods from the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and meat), and to limit the intake of alcohol and foods containing saturated fats, added salt and added sugar.
Research from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health shows that:
- Less than two percent of women attain the daily recommended intake of five serves of vegetables.
- Only one in three women in their 20s eat the recommended two or more pieces of fruit per day.
“For most women to follow the latest dietary guidelines, they would require increased consumption of grain foods (preferably wholegrain varieties), vegetables (of different colours and types) and low-fat dairy foods,” Dr Gresham says.
Dr Gresham also points out that particular nutrients of interest for women are iron and calcium. Incredibly, one in three women in their 20s participating in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health reported having had anaemia.
“Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt and fish. Good dietary sources of iron include red meat, chicken and fish; fortified cereals; legumes and nuts and leafy green vegetables.”
“Iron absorption can be impaired by very high-fibre diets, alcohol, the tannic acid in tea and concentrated sources of calcium,” Dr Gresham explains.
How to prepare the perfect plate of food
Eating a wide variety of healthy foods promotes good health and helps to protect against chronic disease. Eating a varied, well-balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups daily, in the recommended amounts. It is also important to choose a variety of foods from within each food group.
When planning and preparing a healthy meal, it is important to consider both the types of food on your plate as well as the portion size of the different foods.
“Most dinner plates are too large, which can make portion control challenging. Having the right size plate makes it easier to avoid overfilling your plate and your stomach. Aim for your dinner plate to be less than 25 centimetres wide,” Dr Gresham says.
“When filling your dinner plate, aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and salad, followed by lean protein (palm size portion) and then low GI carbohydrate (small fist size), such as potato, sweet potato, rice, pasta, grainy bread or legumes.”
How to watch your weight and still avoid the fad diets
There’s no denying that one of the most significant concerns for a woman is how to manage her weight. Striking the right balance between eating the right foods and doing enough exercise can be a struggle. While it can be easy to resort to celebrity-endorsed fad diets and get-skinny-quick eating regimes, the best way to get in shape is the healthy way. While this method might require patience and dedication, it does guarantee visible results – not just with your dress size, but also with you physical and mental health.
According to Dr Gresham, some of the best ways women can lose weight are through the following nine steps:
- Avoiding sugary drinks and fruit juice
- Eating protein and vegetables at all meals
- Using smaller plates
- Chewing food slowly
- Eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods
- Drinking water
- Undertaking regular, physical activity, including resistance training
- Getting a good night’s sleep, aiming for 8 hours per night
- Focusing on changing your lifestyle
On the other hand, some of the worst ways women can try and lose weight (not including the fad diets) are through the following:
- Severely restricting your calories
- Eating fat-free everything
- Skipping meals
- Cutting out entire food groups
- Eating just one food
- Trading your meals for shakes
- Working out for hours at a time
The best ways to build on your body image
A negative body image can develop over the course of your life, so changing that mindset can take time and effort. There are many ways to bring your confidence and positivity back up to scratch:
- Appreciate all that your body can do. “Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you such as running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming and so on,” Dr Gresham says.
- Keep a top ten list of things you like about yourself. “These things aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list as often as possible and add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.”
- Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep. “When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body,” Dr Gresham explains.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. “When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you would want others to see you–as a whole person.”
- Surround yourself with positive people. “It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognise the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are,” Dr Gresham says.
- Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. “You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.”
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. “Work with your body, not against it,” Dr Gresham says.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. “Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.”
- Do something nice for yourself. “Something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax,” Dr Gresham explains.
- Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. “Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.”
If you feel depressed about your body or if you start bingeing or fasting, then professional help is also a good idea. Contact your local GP or dietician.
As with any goal, it’s important to have a positive attitude and a realistic mindset when you’re putting your plans into action. While at times it can seem frustrating and hopeless, you just need to keep your eye on the prize to start seeing the payoff. Remember that fad diets, no matter how quick and easy they might seem, can only help you in the short term. It’s especially important to have the support of your friends and family, as well as faith in yourself. Sticking to a new eating plan is always tricky at the start, but after some perseverance, you’ll feel good on the inside and out.
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