I get asked this question all the time!
First and foremost, it’s something you enjoy doing, because that’s necessary for you to exercise regularly. It doesn’t matter if you occasionally have a crazy week or don’t feel well enough to exercise, but you should be aiming to exercise about 3 times a week for a total of at least 150 minutes a week, most weeks of the year.
So what counts as exercise?
Anything that gets you puffed or tired! Unless you’ve been ill or injured for a while, vacuuming probably doesn’t count, sorry. Find that sweet spot for you – any kind of movement that works you hard, but not so hard that you’re absolutely exhausted the next day. Especially if you’re peri menopausal or recently menopausal (periods stopped over a year ago) when your hormone levels are changing. There are estrogen receptors in many, many different parts of your body, including your muscles and joints, which is why so many women over 40 feel they take a bit longer to recover than they used to. Try to plan your exercise so you have a “recovery day” between workouts.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for a walk on your recovery days – a walk can loosen up tight muscles and the fresh air is good for our physical & mental health too.
Weight bearing exercise is ESSENTIAL
Everybody loses muscle mass as they age – after 30, women lose 3-8% per decade, until 60 when muscle loss speeds up if you don’t keep working your muscles.
Pilates is one type of weight bearing exercise that teaches you how to minimise wear and tear, by improving your alignment, helping you find/use your deeper postural muscles and reducing overuse of others. By improving your balance, flexibility and strength at edges of your ability, we also reduce falls and injuries. All good right?
Gaining fat is a very common complaint for women over 40. Reducing estrogen levels are partly to blame – our bodies respond to reducing estrogen from our ovaries by trying to make a weaker form, which is only possible in your fat cells. Women’s bodies respond by adding fat cells!
But women often reduce their exercise after 40, which means they lose muscle mass, which reduces their metabolic rate and usually means you gain fat as a result. A healthy body fat level for a woman in her 40s is 25-35%. For general good health, I recommend at least 2 sessions of weight bearing exercise per week (which could be 2x Pilates or a mix of other types) and at least one, “get-you-breathless” power walk a week. Of course, if you’re an athlete, have an injury, a chronic health condition or low bone density, it’s best to get personalised advice.
In the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, Sport Bay of Plenty has a great searchable directory of clubs and classes, including Pilates classes in Tauranga.
What type of Pilates is best?
Contemporary Pilates? Classical Pilates? Authentic Pilates? Fitness Pilates? Reformer Pilates? Mat Pilates?
Pilates jargon can be confusing!
Most people start Pilates in a Mat Pilates class, not realising there are other “types”. Mat Pilates classes are usually up to 15 people and include the use of small props. Hopefully the teacher is actually teaching and not just showing off at the front expecting you to just follow. It’s just not possible for even the best of teachers to provide individual guidance in a larger class, which is often called Fitness Pilates. You might get sweaty but you probably won’t learn much about how to use your body differently, to reduce wear and tear etc.
Reformer Pilates classes are usually smaller than mat classes. A Pilates “reformer” is a specialised piece of Pilates equipment. It uses springs to add resistance to challenge and support you where YOU need it. You might see some (so-called) “Reformer Pilates” classes advertised which have 10-20 people in a class!!! If you have a good level of aerobic fitness and aren’t looking to change your body or movement habits, this type of class might suit you. You might use a Reformer and the class might be called a Pilates class, but it’s probably more like a gym fitness class taught by someone with only a weekend certification.
With the right Reformer Pilates class, you will improve more quickly with Reformer Pilates than Mat Pilates.
As for Contemporary/Classical/Authentic? That’s a whole other story which is academically interesting if you’re a Pilates geek and probably TMI if you’re just starting out. Check the teacher has an internationally recognised qualification (Balanced Body, Polestar, Stott, BASI are well known globally), find out whether the class is tailored for individual abilities and whether you’ll get any individual coaching in the class. If your needs are quite unique, private lessons will be better for you.
So there is NO one best exercise for women over 40. Find something you like, can do regularly, which will strengthen your whole body and reduces wear and tear, so you can stay healthy and “up for” whatever rocks your boat.