Cardiac nurse practitioner Mary Kathryn Macklin, MSN, author of Women: Fit at Fifty, shares 10 health tips for women to shape up, stay fit, and ward off age-related disease.
Sure, you may not be as fit or active as you were in your 20s, but that doesn't mean you throw in the towel, become sedentary and end up with a chronic illness. Macklin's book, Women: Fit at Fifty, which delivers practical diet and fitness tips, relatable stories and self-assessment checklists, can help you get and stay motivated to take charge of your health regardless of your age. All that's required is your desire to improve the quality of your life.
"Making a commitment to health doesn't have to be time-consuming," Macklin says. "Small steps taken every day can, over time, make a huge difference – and there's no better time to start than now."
Just because Zumba is all the rage for many women, if you don't like it, don't do it. But don't let that keep you from seeking out activities that are enjoyable for you. "The suggested amount of exercise is at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week," says Macklin. "This can be any type of exercise that is suitable for you." Even walking is excellent as long as you walk briskly.
If you're new to exercise, don't do too much and get discouraged with yourself. Macklin recommends following the "five-minute rule" outlined in her book. "Basically, just commit to five minutes of exercise every day, then increase from there," she explains. "The most important thing is keep moving, no matter what you do." You can also use this rule when you're craving junk food, feel hungry even though you just ate or have a tendency to eat for emotional reasons -- wait five minutes then assess whether you really need to eat. Many times, the feeling will pass. You can also use that five minutes to take a stroll outside or do another activity that gets your mind off of food.
You meet your friends for coffee or lunch, so why not meet them for a brisk walk in the park or a bike ride to coffee? Macklin encourages women to find a fitness friend. "This will help you stay committed and keep you on target," she explains. "Develop a routine schedule with a workout buddy and stick with it."
No more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, according to Macklin. "Some experts even recommend keeping that as low as 20 percent," adds the nurse practitioner. "Make small changes to decrease the fat, like choosing fat-free milk, snack foods that are low in fat, and using a healthy oil for cooking, such as olive oil, in moderation."
Macklin recommends always carrying healthy snacks to avoid grabbing something less healthy. "Try a bag of baby carrots or small bag of pretzels, and always keep fruit handy," she explains.
Carrying extra weight puts you at risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It can also put stress on your joints and cause back pain or even arthritis, as well as increase your chances of injury. Incorporate more physical activity into your day and make healthier eating choices to lose weight. If your progress seems slow, don't give up. Macklin has these words of encouragement: "Exercise even without a substantial amount of weight loss will benefit you significantly."
Doing a 30-minute class at the gym in the morning and then lying on the couch watching TV for the rest of the day isn't going to help you age gracefully. Living a healthy, active lifestyle means being active even when you aren't doing a workout.
Macklin suggests adding little bits of activity to your day, such as:
"Quitting smoking is the No. 1 most important thing you can do for your health," stresses Macklin, who has seen her share of the damage smoking can do to the heart and overall health. "If you need assistance with medications to help or are looking for group programs, contact your health care provider."
"If your blood pressure is higher than guidelines suggest, you need to treat this either with lifestyle changes or medications," says Macklin. "High blood pressure is the main cause of stroke, as well as other problems like heart disease and kidney damage." You should already be seeing a doctor for regular checkups but don't get your blood pressure checked only once a year -- take advantage of the self-checks available at pharmacies and health clubs. If you get high readings, make an appointment with your health care provider.
An important key to disease prevention is to have regular checkups with your doctor. Ask for the health screenings appropriate for your age and health history. Proper screening will help with early detection if you happen to have a medical condition, and this will increase the likelihood of successful treatment.
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