‘Women’s Health’ is a term that can be used to explain the life stages of women, from puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause, and the health conditions that might occur through these stages.1 From menarche to menopause, pregnancy to any chronic conditions, exercise has an important role in preventative health.
In 2014-15, women were approximately 50% of Australia’s total population. Of them, only 58% reported their own health to be excellent or very good.2 Women remain at a higher risk of developing non-communicable diseases during pregnancy and post-menopausal period, eg. Gestational diabetes, osteoporosis. Though women tend to live longer than men, even with the same non-communicable diseases, they do so in poor health.3
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days, accumulating at least 150 minutes a week, is needed for good health. This is the same for women. But as per the surveys only 54 per cent of Australian women meet these guidelines.4 Some barriers that women might experience to physical activity include lack of motivation, body image worries, family responsibilities and work schedule leading to lack of time and perceptions of safety.
Importance of Exercise in Various phases of a Women’s life
Sedentary women may have increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, breast or colon cancer, hypertension and depression.5 Physical activity is vital and very valuable, specifically when it comes to women’s health. It is a crucial part to keep you health, happy and strong. It won’t be easy for women to always find time to exercise, but the benefits of being physically active are too great to be ignored. Physical activity is an enormous part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. It might also be helpful to manage a good weight balance and to reduce stress. Physical activity thus reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, one of the major killers of women.6
An Australian study in 60 to 67-year-old people (of both genders) and their physical activity motivators found
- Women were more likely than men to be motivated by improving appearance, spending time with others, meeting friends or losing weight.
- The three leading context preferences were for activities close to home, at low cost and that could be done alone. Women were more likely than men to prefer activities that are with people of the same sex.
- Women were less likely than men to prefer activities that are competitive or vigorous, require skill and practice and done outdoors.7
Performing physical activity during pregnancy benefits a woman’s overall health. For example, moderate-intensity physical activity by healthy women during pregnancy maintains and improves cardiorespiratory fitness.8 Further, exercise has benefits on other prevalent conditions in women. Some conditions that need to be considered are, Osteoporosis, in which bones become fragile and more likely to break, is most prevalent in post-menopausal women. Breast cancer is the mostly commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Women who engage in regular exercise have been shown to have a reduced risk of breast cancer.9
Regular exercise is more likely if you plan. Suggestions include:
- Identify your barriers, and plan about a range of possible solutions to these.
- Consider the beliefs that may be constricting you, such as guilt about taking time out. Challenge those beliefs. Help yourself and near ones realise your needs are as important as theirs.
- Find a support group – perhaps your partner, extended family, friends or paid childcare.
- Find something you like to do. You are more likely to stick with it if you choose an activity you enjoy than if you do it because it is ‘good for you’.
- Look through your diary for the week and plan exercise schedules with yourself.
- Set achievable goals. If you can only find the time for one or two exercise sessions per week now, achieve that goal first.
Every bit is useful, and some exercise is significantly better than no exercise at all. 10
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines. All women of all ages, shapes, and abilities should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. Women also need muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
- Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefit.
- Strength training.Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.
Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, swimming and mowing the lawn. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running and aerobic dancing. Strength training can include use of weight machines, your own body weight, resistance tubing or resistance paddles in the water, or activities such as rock climbing.
For women with obesity, you want to begin exercising, start slowly by moving more around your home. Try doing stretches or lifting weights while watching TV. You can lift cans of food, jugs of water, or other household items as a weight.
Pregnant and postpartum women need at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Women with disabilities should try to get the same amount of physical activity as all other adults.11 Getting regular physical activity can also help you stay independent by preventing health problems, such as heart disease, that can make it harder for you to take care of yourself.
Balance exercises are important for all women, but especially older women who are at a higher risk of falls. This includes women who have had falls in the recent past or have trouble walking.
Thus, these general guidelines can be useful to start many healthy women on the right track. Further for specific needs and expectations, exercises should be tailored to meet gender, age, condition, and specific interests. Exercise programs conducted with supervision and guidance from allied health professionals like accredited exercise physiologists will ensure that you achieve the best performance and thus better outcomes.
- Beyene, Y. (1989). From menarche to menopause: Reproductive lives of peasant women in two cultures. SUNY Press.
- The health of Australia’s females, How healthy are Australia’s females? – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Retrieved 6 October 2020, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/men-women/female-health/contents/how-healthy
- Maher, D., Ford, N., & Unwin, N. (2012). Priorities for developing countries in the global response to non-communicable diseases. Globalization and health, 8(1), 1-8.
- Australian Government Department of Health. Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines. Dep Heal Website. 2014 Jun.
- Manley, A. F. (1996). Physical activity and health: A report of the Surgeon General. Diane Publishing.
- Van Uffelen, J.G.Z., Khan, A. & Burton, N.W. Gender differences in physical activity motivators and context preferences: a population-based study in people in their sixties. BMC Public Health17, 624 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4540-0
- Women and physical activity – World Heart Federation. (2020). Retrieved 16 October 2020, from https://www.world-heart-federation.org/resources/women-physical-activity/
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. DPHP. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
- McTiernan A, Kooperberg C, White E, Wilcox S, Coates R, Adams-Campbell LL, Woods N, Ockene J. Recreational physical activity and the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women: the Women’s Health Initiative Cohort Study. Jama. 2003 Sep 10;290(10):1331-6.
- Physical activity for women. (2020). Retrieved 16 October 2020, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/physical-activity-for-women
- National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. (n.d.). Exercise Guidelines for People with Disabilities.