Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Although they are both from the same species, their thoughts, desires, wants, needs, motivations, and expectations are very different. Although John Gray (the author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”) shed light on how men and women differ in relationships there are also significant differences when it comes to both health and wellness. Over the last two decade, there has been an increased awareness of women’s health issues and solutions tailored specifically for the needs of women.
TodaysFitnessTrainer.com is excited to have Cassie Findley, co-author of “Too Busy to Live” and the “Curves Fitness and Weight Management Plan”, share her thoughts and experience on the topic of women’s health and fitness. Not only is she a recognized health and fitness expert, with over 30 years of experience as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, and a current Faculty Member at Baylor University, her experience with Curves International lends to her credibility and insight in women’s concerns and solutions involving fitness and health.
1. Breast cancer is a growing concern for women around the world. How can exercise benefit women with breast cancer?
CF: The word Cancer is the number one most feared word in the world and for women; a breast cancer diagnosis can bring you to your knees. As we know, the key to all cancer is prevention. In the “calls to action” to intensify the search for new risk factors, I have found that if we only would act on information that we already have we could prevent thousands of cases each year. One known factor is exercise as a lifestyle choice.
As confirmation, the most recent research surrounding cancer prevention is occurring in three main areas: (a) genetics (b) lifestyle and (c) chemoprevention. For our conversation, I want to focus on the impact of lifestyle choices and exercise.
Exercise is defined as physical activity that is done in order to become stronger and healthier. So the basis of movement and exercise is directly linked to our health or the absence of illness and disease. In reviewing the literature on cancer prevention and the impact of exercise, I have had the review two recent articles. One study focused on exercise communication strategies that highlight efforts including young women in prevention efforts. The results suggest that narratives/stories/testimonies may be more effective in improving perceived physical abilities and involvement in physical activity, whereas informational messages seem to be more appropriate to convey the benefits and the absence of risks related to physical activity. The second study looked at short-term physical activity on symptoms and quality of life during a five-year study. This trial provided evidence that a supervised exercise program has positive effects on motivational outcomes that improve long-term adherence and health outcomes. The group dynamics pushes you to do more than you would by yourself and you get to maximize the energy and motivation of everyone around you. The value added in engaging in exercise can impact the outcome of the cancer directly through managing treatment, mindset and by re-building a healthy body to avoid relapse. These studies continue to validate that first the prevention messaging must be heard and lifestyle must be altered to avoid a breast cancer diagnosis and the validation that exercise not only impact the physical body but also impacts each individual socially, intellectually and emotionally.
2. Although men are said to have a higher risk of coronary heart disease risk, women are still affected. in women versus men (and reasons why).
CF: According to Harvard Medical School, gender matters! Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women and one of the most preventable. And to make matters worse, a survey conducted by the American Heart Association, revealed that about half of the women interviewed knew that heart disease was the leading cause of death in women, yet only 13% said it was their greatest personal health risk. So why if we know it is the number one risk factor…we as women seem to do nothing about reducing the risk or maybe we don’t understand why we are different so we avoid confronting the risk factors head on?
To dig deeper into the risk factors and the differences between men and women, let’s discuss five key variables. First, we need to address the differences associated with our blood profile. Before menopause, a woman has estrogen to help protect her from heart disease since estrogen increases HDL (good) cholesterol and decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol. After menopause, women have higher concentrations of total cholesterol than men do. In addition, high triglycerides are a big contributor to cardiovascular risk for women. Low HDL and high triglycerides appear to be the main factors that increase the risk of death from heart disease in women over age 65. A second variable is having Diabetes. Women with diabetes appear to have more added risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension, and as we mentioned high cholesterol. Although women usually develop heart disease about 10 years later than men, if she has diabetes this variable is erased. A third factor of significance is women and metabolic syndrome. According to the Harvard Medical School a study of patients undergoing bypass surgery and metabolic syndrome produced a greater risk for women than it did for men of dying within eight years. Smoking is the forth variable we need to address that impacts women differently than men. Women who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack as male smokers and women have a harder time quitting due to the impact that the menstrual cycle has regarding tobacco withdrawal symptoms. The fifth variable has to do with size. In heart disease “size” matters. Women have smaller and lighter coronary arteries than men. This makes angiography, angioplasty, and coronary bypass surgery more difficult, thereby reducing a woman’s chance of receiving a proper diagnosis and having a good outcome.
The good news is that according to a study conducted in 2013, 56% of women identified heart disease as the leading cause of death. As a result, the first step is becoming aware of symptoms and risks unique to women and the second step is to take action through diet, exercise and lifestyle choices to prevent heart disease.
3. How can regular exercise and specific lifestyle choices improve symptoms for women facing perimenopause/menopause?
CF: Regular physical activity is crucial for women facing menopause. The benefits of exercise are many. One of the most important is maintenance of muscle mass that impacts bone density and strength. Therefore, the exercise program for perimenopause/menopause and postmenopausal women should include cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercise.
Cardiovascular exercise includes activities such as walking, swimming and jogging. Strength and endurance training can be done at a gym lifting weights or using resistance equipment or can be done at home using your own body weight as resistance for exercises like walking lunges, sit-ups and push-ups. The stretching and flexibility exercises include Yoga and other relaxation stretching exercises to help manage stress and other menopause-related symptoms. In regards to duration and number of times to exercise, I encourage you to exercise on most days of the week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
In a nut shell, exercise can benefit you by increasing cardiorespiratory function, prevents weight gain that increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of breast cancer, offsets the decline of bone mineral density and prevents osteoporosis, reduces low back pain, reduce stress and can boost your mood and some studies suggest it may help reduce hot flashes.
In short, exercising through menopause is the ONLY noncontroversial and beneficial aspect of lifestyle modification that impacts perimenopause/menopause and postmenopausal women.
4. There have been several studies documenting the benefits of regular exercise and diet/nutrition choices for chronic depression. What types of exercise are most beneficial and why?
CF: Individuals suffering with chronic depression can benefit from proper nutrition, minimum exposure to toxins and exercise. Today we will focus on the exercise variable. Exercise certainly isn’t a depression cure-all, but a new study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that heart-pumping, endorphin-boosting workouts actually promote happiness. The antidepressant effect of exercise has been systematically recognized in a number of studies. However, in one new 12-week study, of 27 adults, exercise intervention was used for depressive symptoms with intellectual disabilities. The Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale was administered at baseline, after 6 wk. and at the end of the intervention. There were statistically significant reductions in scores for the exercise group compared with the control group validating the positive impact of exercise.
In addition, David Muzina, MD, the founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research, “Exercise stimulates the release of many of the brain chemicals thought to be in low supply when someone is battling depression.” When asked what is the best type of exercise, he validates that the strongest evidence seems to support aerobic exercise. Second to cardio training is strength training. A recent study of 45 stroke survivors with depression found that a 10-week strength-training program helped reduced symptoms of depression. Why? “Strength training is about mastery and control,” says Leslie Seppinni, PhD, a clinical psychologist and family therapist in Beverly Hills. “It requires full attention and concentration. More importantly, people can see the results, the outline of the muscles forming, from dedication and training.
Exercise and movement has been proven to be a useful tool for preventing and easing symptoms associated with depression. An exercise program filled with aerobic and strength training that is both flexible and fun to the individual has the best chance for long-term success in combating depression.
5. Group fitness has always been dominated primarily by women. What is it that group fitness offers that appeals to women and not men?
CF: It appears that everyone acknowledges that exercise is good for you. However, there seems to be a distinction between the ways men exercise and how women exercise. Men tend to “go it alone” and are mainly found in the weight room. Women tend to work out in groups in the group training classes or in a circuit in the weight room. The question is why? Why are women drawn to group exercise more than men. Is it really about being from different planets? Are women from Venus and men from Mars? There seems to be a growing awareness among researchers and fitness professionals that working out in groups can provide additional benefits. So this might imply that women are smarter than men…. OK, Stop, we will not go down that road. Let’s stay focused on the domination of women in a group environment.
First we need to address some differences between men and women. Women tend to communicate more effectively than men, focusing on how to create a solution that works for the group, talking through issues and utilizing non-verbal cues such as tone, emotion and empathy whereas men tend to be more task-oriented, less talkative, and more isolated. Men tend to use the left side of the brain while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. This difference explains why men are generally stronger with left-brain activities and approach problem solving from a task-oriented perspective like lifting weights without chorography while women typically solve problems more creatively. Women typically are more in touch with their feelings and better able to express them, which promotes bonding with others in a group activity.
With this understanding, we can conclude:
- Women tend to take part in group activities because they’re interested in the social aspects of group activities and they feel more comfortable in a gym environment when they’re with other people, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
- Women are good at following instruction and can problem solve and adapt to cues in creative ways. They find joy, happiness and satisfaction being with others while engaging in movement and physical activity as it relates to exercise.
- Women thrive in creative and social environments. They like to dance using their mastered rhythm skills.
- Women like to test themselves against a peer group and in a group exercise class, doing activities they excel at, especially when it is in front of a group of strangers.
- Women thrive in a group activity especially when there is not a specific “right or wrong” way to achieve the given task.
In the next article, “Ask the Expert – Women’s Health and Fitness (Part Two)”, Cassie will provide her thoughts on:
- Exercise and pregnancy
- Ways fitness clubs can adapt to the needs of their female members
- Stress management for women
- Why women stay away from exercise
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.