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You're 50, Why Aren't You Working Out And Getting Fitter?

02/23/2016 02:44 EST | Updated 02/23/2017 05:12 EST
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Portrait of sporty females doing physical exercise in sport gym

Oh wait. Maybe you are. Maybe you've always worked out, and been able to maintain your weight. You haven't changed anything -- the way you eat and what you eat -- and if anything you've upped your exercise.

But instead of losing weight or keeping it where it should be, you notice a change in the distribution of your fat. Congratulations. You're probably a woman in her 50s, in peri-menopause or full-on menopause. I know this, because I live it. I'm 52 and I work out at least six days a week, count calories and still struggle with maintaining and losing weight.

"Women get demotivated when they don't see an improvement, they might stop exercising, their energy levels drop, they're not sleeping well and they might even be moody," says Dr. Jennifer Berman, women's health specialist and host of the Emmy award-winning show, The Doctors.

"The key message I want to get across to women is that they're not alone," she says during our phone interview. "Every single woman will experience this. We need to talk to each other and our health care providers to get the conversation going."

Part of that conversation are the barriers, real and imagined, that women in their 50s have to start working out and managing what dietitian Christy Brissette, president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, calls "meno-pot."

"Research shows that during menopause, women tend to lose muscle and gain fat, especially around the waist. Too much belly fat is dangerous because it increases the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers," says Brissette.

It's not just an aesthetic desire to lose that weight, it's a medical concern. But even when you've made the decision to step up your workout schedule as well as eating the right foods, there can be other barriers to achieving your fitness goals.

One of the biggest for women in their 50s is stress urinary incontinence (SUI). In the past, only surgery could totally solve that problem, but a recent introduction of an over-the-counter solution that Dr. Berman supports (Impressa) can effectively eliminate that particular hurdle to improving your fitness. "For some women SUI can affect just walking around," says Dr. Berman. "They really can't exercise, and added weight is in turn a factor for incontinence."

Seems like a vicious circle, unless you take care of the SUI first. Then what?

"Movement of any kind, at any age is the key to life and especially to leading a good quality life," says Marika Pederson, a fitness specialist and personal trainer. "Maintaining muscle, bone and heart health becomes even more important for menopausal women in their 50s and beyond."

But is it ever too late to start? Pederson doesn't think so. "Hormonal changes affect bone density as well," says Pederson, "Leading to weaker, more brittle bones and potential injury, but we can prevent or diminish the effects of aging by increasing our fitness levels, no matter what our fitness level is when we begin."

As Dr. Berman noted, the key to success may be connecting with others going through the same challenges. "Some enjoy the social factor," says Pederson. "If you prefer the class environment, join a fitness club, or find like-minded individuals that will keep you laughing and sweating together."

Pederson also recommends practising Kegels through Stott Pilates. "It truly does help with strengthening deep core, especially important for women pre/post childbirth and pre/post menopause."

Dr. Berman agrees that Kegel exercises are extremely important for improving the pelvic floor strength, preferably before incontinence happens. "Once the muscles are damaged, it can be too late," she emphasizes.

Besides exercise, food and nutrition play a key role in losing weight, and staying motivated. Brissette would love to see more of a focus on mindful eating. "Ask yourself if you're eating because you're physically hungry or if it's because you're bored, sad, stressed, lonely, etc."

Just like most things in life, the key is to find balance. "Both cardio and weight training, a well-balanced diet, and a healthy brain diet will result in a mental and physical strength of mind and body," says Dr. Berman.

Marika Pederson's Top 5 Exercises to fight "meno-flab"

1. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines cardio drills peaking heart rate for intense short durations, with bodyweight or strength training exercises to increase muscle mass and work core.

2. For the annoying back fat, do rolling lats on a stability ball or use gliders or even paper plates.

3. Planks -- a basic core exercise because it's a staple for all fitness levels. You can start from knees or full body with toes on the floor.

4. Torso Rotations -- any exercise that works obliques helps carve those muffin top areas.

5. Lower ab exercises like reverse hip lifts target the lower stomach area.

This post originally ran on www.kathybuckworth.com.

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