In part one of the “Ask the Expert – Women’s Health and Fitness”, Cassie Findley answered questions regarding breast cancer, coronary heart disease, menopause (and perimenopause), chronic depression, and why women gravitate to group fitness. This week she continues to answer your questions as it relates to women’s health and fitness issues.
6. There are many concerns regarding exercise and pregnancy through different trimesters. What are the concerns and recommendations?
CF: In theory, arguments suggest that cardiovascular fitness is beneficial during pregnancy but some evidence exist that there should be caution surrounding high-intensity exercise. Moderate exercise, by healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancy, does not appear to affect fetal health and generally speaking, exercise can help you stay in shape and prepare for labor and delivery.
Some benefits of exercise during pregnancy include: prevention of back pain, boost your mood and energy levels, help you sleep better, prevents excess weight gain and increase stamina as well as muscle strength. Some caution to avoid or minimize exercise during pregnancy includes: avoiding exercise if the mother has some form of heart and lung disease, has high blood pressure and has had preterm labor during the pregnancy prior to the current pregnancy or multiple pregnancy at risk of preterm labor.
Now that we are all on the same page about the benefits and situations where caution is necessary, lets move forward and discuss exercise options during each trimester. Each trimester brings different challenges and expectations. My goal is to maximize both the health of the mother and continued development of the baby.
During the first trimester, mom tends to be overly tired and dealing with unpredictable nauseousness. There also seems to be a fear that movement can cause harm to the baby. This has been unfounded in an otherwise healthy pregnancy. Evidence supports that if you were an exerciser before becoming pregnant; continue with your regular routine with the exception of lowering your training heart rate to 140bpm to make sure oxygen is never depleted to the baby. I think working out at a gym is a great option during pregnancy because, if one cardio machine or strength exercise isn’t comfortable, there’s always another one to try. However, in general, we know that exercising can help increase energy and minimize many of the discomforting signs during the first stages of pregnancy. The exercise recommendations include, walking indoors on a treadmill or outdoors with proper hydration, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes. Light weight lifting is also recommend to maintain muscle strength and endurance.
During the second trimester, mom generally feels great and is experiencing higher levels of energy. A workout including walking, recumbent bike cycling to support the lower back will feel good. You might even join a water aerobic class. I also encourage you to use your body as resistance for your weight training. If you are working out in a gym avoid any machine with a pad that presses against your belly, such as the seated row machine or abdominal machines. In addition, eliminate any overhead lift; since this kind of motion can increase the curve in your lower spine. Some exercises to add include side leg raises, kegel exercises and chair squats.
During the third trimester, fatigue has set in again and movement can be limited due to the growth of the baby. Keep in mind that even a little exercise in the third trimester will help you feel fresh and energetic and remember to only do as much as your body will allow. Continue with both cardio and resistance training as in the second trimester. Maintain hydration and listen to your body during this significant time of change.
7. Only 18% of Americans are members of a fitness club or recreation facility. What could they do to improve how they attract women to join and get the benefits of regular exercise?
CF: Besides introducing a “for women only” gym, at a time when even public restrooms are starting to go co-ed, the idea of a female-only gym sounds like a total throwback. However, advocates say there are advantages to working out in a single-sex workout space. To begin with, a woman’s gym is more likely to offer the equipment and activities women prefer. A new report from the International Health, Racquet & Sports Association (IRHRSA) found that though gym membership is almost evenly split between the sexes, each gravitates toward different things: women are significantly more likely to go for group classes and guys are more inclined to lift weights and play sports.
However, if our focus is on attracting women to join any gym… co-ed or female only, it all boils down to establishing the need with clear benefits, creating an environment that is safe and supportive and providing a comprehensive program that is results driven.
The gym must attract, capture and close leads from potential female clients who might be intimidated by the general approach to fitness and it all starts with your marketing (online and in print). To reduce the intimidation factor, try to get into the minds of your potential clients. For example, some things that are intimidating are heavy barbells and muscle bound athletes doing things like heavy squats and deadlifts. This is not even on the radar for most women.
When advertising your gym, remember to include basic information to avoid the fear of the unknown: What kinds of shoes and clothing are appropriate to wear? Are there changing facilities on site? Is there towel service? Are water fountains available? What does the facility look like when they walk through the front door? Will there be someone there to greet them and give them a tour? All of this information should be easy to find and available on your website. Providing this information makes a woman feel safe and secure in what is still considered a man’s world.
In addition, schedule her visit during a time when there will be other females training, or a group class is taking place. Arrange for her to talk with members that she can identify with and that have achieved a level of success based on established goals. Some common goals is weight loss, increase energy, meet new people etc. In addition, make sure that the visit and the gym experience is about them and their interest and success, not about you or your business’s success. Ask them for their honest opinion of the visit and ask if they could see themselves working out on a regular basis at this gym. Give them the opportunity to bring up their concerns and anxieties and address a solution for each concern. Put yourself in their shoes as Stephen Covey would say, “seek first to understand, then be understood.”
8. Stress is a negative influence in the lives of all Americans. Does stress effect women differently than men? If so, what are recommendations on how to easily manage stress on a daily basis?
CF: Stress has become such an ingrained part of our vocabulary and daily existence. It is hard to believe that our current use of the term originated a little more than 50 years ago, when it was essentially “coined” by Hans Selye. He discovered and documented that stress differs from other physical responses in that stress is stressful whether one receives good or bad news, whether the impulse is positive or negative. He called negative stress “distress” and positive stress “eustress.” In fact, he reported that when there is NO stress, you are dead. So, with this information and because we are motivated to living a high quality we need to spend some time determining how women and men deal with stress differently.
The hormonal differences in the “fight or flight” vary greatly within each gender. Because of the increase of oxytocin and the reproductive hormones, such as estrogen, women tend to nurture and reach out to others in an effort to both protect themselves and their young. Women focus on relationships. In fact, their self-esteem and identity are both dependent upon their feelings of adequacy in relationships.
However, men tend to be problem solvers. They are more compartmentalized and repress their emotions to either fight or run away. Males are invested in performance and competition. They instinctively don’t pick up many social cues and view eye contact as a challenge. New studies of brain scans show why men find it more difficult to read women’s emotions.
Stress management can be taught to both men and women, and more importantly, they can practice it together. Inner work, such as meditation and yoga, are effective in managing stress. Exercise, diet, and a normal sleep regimen are also effective in reducing stress.
9. What are the major factors that deter women from participating in a fitness program and/or proactively improving their health through exercise and physical activity?
CF: Besides being too tired, too busy, not in the mood, nothing to wear and we don’t want to ruin our hair and make-up…just to name a few. The bottom line is that too little time or no left over energy to participate in a fitness program are the two biggest factors… due to the demands of working outside the home, raising children, being a wife or partner and being involved in outside activities including church, politics and or volunteering at a local shelter etc.…“Time and Energy” seem to be the elephant in the room. However, if you take a step back and realize that men have the same responsibilities we still know that statically speaking women work out less than men. Why?
The facts are that there is a huge ROI physically, emotionally and spiritually by spending some time in the gym and adding more physical activity to our daily lives but why is there such a huge gap between knowing and doing? According to a recent study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, on average, men are nearly twice as active as women and tend to get at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. That’s particularly bad news for women, the researchers say, because their comparative inactivity puts them at greater risk for metabolic syndrome, a descriptor for a cluster of related conditions such as high cholesterol, extra abdominal fat and high blood pressure that often lead to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. It’s also associated with higher levels of depression, the researchers found.
The experts also say men and women workout very different…men tend to “conquer” their work out by “pumping iron” and women are happy to pull out the yoga mat. In both genders, what appears to be common knowledge is that there is not a one-size-fits all for fitness and there is a substantial difference in men and women not to mention that we are all missing the boat about why we need to work out…not to lose weight, though there is a benefit to that or to “look good” which is also a benefit. However, very rarely does anyone think about fitness like they should, which is just to be and stay healthy.
For more information or to contact Cassie Findley, click here.
Cassie Findley, MSEd, Faculty Member at Baylor University and co-author of “Too Busy to Live” and the “Curves Fitness and Weight Management Plan”, has over 30 years of experience as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor. She is also a contributing writer for TodaysFitnessTrainer.com.