Written By: Super Clinic Physiotherapist, Claudia Wharton.
Mother’s Day is fast approaching and we want to remind women how important exercise is for their physical and mental health. Physical activity is vital for keeping you happy, healthy and strong.
Benefits of exercise for women’s health
The value of exercise cannot be overstated when it comes to women’s health. Here are five reasons to make exercise a priority in your life:
It reduces your risk of dementia
Dementia is the single biggest killer of Australian Women (AIHW, 2022). A recent report released by the World Health Organisation suggested that exercise is one of the most powerful tools in reducing your risk of developing this debilitating condition.
It is great for reproductive health
Exercise is beneficial for those trying to fall pregnant, as well as during and after pregnancy. Being active and living a healthy lifestyle helps to manage your weight, and those who are a health weight have less difficulty conceiving. Exercise, when prescribed by a qualified professional, is both safe and beneficial during pregnancy.
It reduces your risk of breast cancer
It’s estimated that almost 20,000 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 (AIHW, 2022) There’s strong evidence that being insufficiently inactive increases your risk of developing breast cancer. (National Breast Cancer Foundation, 2023)
It improves your mental health
Exercise also improves mental health and helps to protect women from conditions like anxiety and depression. Currently in Australia, as many as 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety in their lifetime (Beyond Blue, 2018). Being active serves as a powerful tool for both preventing and managing symptoms associated with this condition.
It protects against cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects over half a million Australian women each year, and killed over 22,000 women in 2016. Despite these scary statistics, CVD is mostly preventable through a healthy lifestyle – including regular physical activity.
How much exercise is enough?It is recommended by the Australian physical activity guidelines that women undertake 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity each week. This can include biking, walking, swimming or jogging to name a few.
It’s also recommended to fit in at least two strength sessions every week, and limit long periods of sitting. Intensity of exercises can be easily measured by using the talk test. When exercising can you:
- Talk comfortably and sing comfortably? You’re probably exercising at a light intensity.
- Talk comfortably but not sing? This is likely to be moderate intensity exercise.
- Neither talk nor sing comfortably? You’re working hard at a vigorous/high intensity.
Consistency is key! Try to be physically active on most, if not ALL days. For beginners it is ok to start with 10 minutes of light activity, slowly boosting exercise intensity as it becomes easier!
Exercising while pregnant, does anything change?
Once given the all clear by your doctor it is recommended pregnant women still aim to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity activity over a week, using the ‘talk test’ to measure intensity.
Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits. Physiotherapists are trained to prescribe safe and suitable exercises throughout your pregnancy. You should also complete pelvic floor muscle training on a daily basis to reduce urinary incontinence both during and after pregnancy.
Modifications to consider
Pregnant women who experience light- headedness, nausea, with exercising in supine (on your back) should modify the position. Exercising in high heat and humidity should be avoided particularly in the 1st trimester. Remember to stay hydrated, eat enough food prior to exercise and wear loose clothes in order to keep cool.
(Always listen to your body, as you know it best; being aware of any adverse symptoms including dizziness, bleeding or leaking of amniotic fluid, decreased foetal movement, headaches, unusual swelling, nausea or vomiting. Ensure to seek immediate medical attention if you do experience any of the above mentioned).
Aches and pains of motherhood
Time to loosen up!
Lower back, thoracic, neck and postural related pain can develop as your body changes shape while pregnant. Thoracic pain can also be experienced as breast size increases and with spending longer time in one position feeding bub. Whilst feeding, using a pillow to support bub, alternating side and being mindful of your posture can assist. After feeding, some gentle mobility and stretching exercises may help to reduce muscle tension and reduce stiffness.
Pregnancy Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
During pregnancy hormones cause you to retain fluid, they also soften the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel in your wrist. When this happens, the nerve running through the tunnel may become squashed which can cause symptoms like pins and needles, numbness and stiff painful hands.
To help manage symptoms avoid activities which make symptoms worse such as repetitive tasks or heavy lifting, wear a compression bandage or night splint to keep the wrist in a neutral position, apply ice and consult your GP and physiotherapist for simple exercises to manage swelling.
Resources to refer to;
Exercise & Women's Health eBook (mailchi.mp)
Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia (who.int)
Breast cancer in Australia statistics | Cancer Australia
How Fitness & Exercise Can Benefit Breast Cancer | NBCF
Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care
Prioritise your health at Super Clinic Physio! Book an appointment with Claudia Wharton HERE.