Editorial note: Having good health in our middle and later stages in life means changing our mindset around how we approach physical and mental health when we are young. This two-part series explores how we can set ourselves up for success by talking with Transformative Coach & Advisor Danielle LoDuca. Click here to read Part 1.
Let’s face it. For a decent number of us, we enjoy relatively good health and fitness in our youth through our 20s and maybe into our 30s as well. We seemingly eat whatever we want, abuse our bodies in a multitude of ways, we probably don’t prioritize sleep and so on.
And then the middle and later ages of life come for us with a vengeance.
When I entered my 50s, I had already established some regular exercise routines, but I knew I could do better. My diet had been up and down for decades, and I knew that had to be taken seriously. And my mental health had taken a beating due to years of unhealthy situations and practices - some of which I didn’t realize I was doing to myself.
To an extent, those who are entering their adult life now are better informed about setting boundaries, engaging in practical stress management skills, exercising on the regular and establishing better physical and mental health practices. We all, though, can use some guidance as to what exercise routines and stress management techniques we can follow to set ourselves up for a stronger second half of life.
I spoke with Transformative Coach & Trusted Advisor, Danielle LoDuca, about proactive steps my Muslim sisters can undertake in their “youth” to gear up for middle age and beyond. In Part 1, Danielle offered rich insights on how to empower women to navigate middle age through holistic approaches. In this post, Danielle discusses do-able exercise options and stress management techniques.
Exercises That Reduces Stress
Layla: Given the myriad of health concerns and the often overwhelming options of exercise routines and physical activities available, I asked Danielle to pinpoint the most effective ones that are particularly beneficial for women in this age bracket to sustain their physical health and overall well being.
Danielle: The fact that our bodies were created to move and thrive with movement and exercise is easily lost on us these days, as we drive to and from work and “go shopping” from our smartphones. Modern life involves a LOT of sitting.
However, everything inside us only gets stronger with use. After your 20’s, you either use it or lose it when it comes to muscle, and while most of us are familiar with the fact that working a muscle makes it stronger, this principle applies much more deeply as well.
Exercise improves the health of our arteries and entire cardiovascular system. Exercise and movement improve brain health, memory and hormonal balance – especially important as we reach perimenopause and menopause
. It’s true that exercise reduces risk of disease, heart attacks and strokes, but it also improves mood and emotional well being. If you exercise, you’ll be happier and more resilient.
Exercise doesn’t have to be hard; you don't need to go to crossfit or lift 140 lbs to be in good health. In fact, when it comes to exercise for women – especially as you enter middle age and beyond, I am a huge advocate of stress-reducing exercise versus stress inducing exercise. Women are often taking on too much stress as it is, and must be very careful not to overdo it when it comes to adding in physical stress via exercise.
Activities like yoga and walking are wonderful to incorporate into your routine because they are inherently stress reducing. You should feel better after exercise, not like you need to stay in bed for three days.
Regarding strength training, which keeps your bones strong among many other benefits, I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to work with your body, not against it. We need to progress carefully, only increasing weight and intensity as tolerated.
Image source: Pexels; photo by Ron Lach
When you first start an exercise routine, don’t get influenced by what other people are capable of doing around you. Instead, choose to respect, honor and work with your body and its current abilities. That’s the only way to increase in strength and stamina – to understand that you can only be where you are right now and the only way to improve is step by step, little by little from where you are.
To work at what I call “the edge.” Your body is your ally in this life. Embrace it and team up with it for the best results.
Stress Management is a Crucial Piece of Well Being
Layla: In today’s fast-paced world, managing stress and maintaining mental well being are crucial, especially for women between 30 to 50, who often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. This age group faces unique challenges and pressures, ranging from career advancement to familial obligations, potentially impacting their emotional health significantly. We asked Danielle, a seasoned expert in mental well-being and stress management, for her insights on how women in this age bracket can preserve their emotional health.
Danielle: Ah, stress. You may not even realize you are operating in chronic stress- mode. This means your sympathetic nervous system is activated for sustained periods when it is only intended to be activated for short periods.
If you’ve ever watched a nature documentary, you may have seen a prey animal be chased by a lion. While the lion is in pursuit, the prey animal’s sympathetic nervous system is activated in order for the prey to get to safety. Have you ever noticed what they do once they make it to safety? They will often literally “shake it off” and go back to their normal lives, entering into the parasympathetic nervous system mode, otherwise known as rest and digest mode.
The problem with our modern lives is that we often enter into the sympathetic, aka “fight or flight” mode, because we can’t find our keys, we get cut off on the highway or the kids are late for practice or won't put on their shoes fast enough to get to the school bus on time. This stress response gets activated so many times in a normal day and for many of us we hardly ever get out of this mode.
Danielle LoDuca engaging in an activity that helps her with stress management.
This is a terrible thing, because your normal bodily functions suffer, as does mental health. Stress is an important component of our nervous systems but it must always be deactivated when the stressful situation subsides. The problem is, for many of us stressful situations don’t subside like they do for a prey animal. We are faced with one stressful situation after another. Some of us can even become addicted to running on adrenaline.
You might feel like you’re thriving under pressure, but once you get a break you immediately get sick – that’s an important message from your body that you have been operating in chronic stress mode.
That’s why becoming acutely aware of ourselves, how we react to things in our experience and how we feel in our bodies, is key. Like a zebra, we must actively shake it off, allow ourselves to get back into our parasympathetic rest and digest mode often, and eventually make that restful state our norm.
Women often neglect making sure that they have activities that light them up and help them relax and enjoy life. Slowing down to pray and be really attentive in our prayers, reading, resting, sleeping adequately, having a thriving social circle and also seeking the support of coaches, counselors or therapists all make a huge difference in overall health and well being.
We can’t allow ourselves to be isolated and hopeless; we must take the initiative to ask for help, seek good company and experiences that enhance our quality of life.
I have my clients do an energy audit where they explore what’s draining them and what’s energizing them. Then, I help them eliminate, one by one, the drainers, and one by one, include more energizers. This practice alone can go a long way towards improving mental and emotional health. For even better results, each woman needs to understand her worth and value, her strengths and the value she brings to the world just by being herself.
If you’re a woman who can help with that, consider this: How much stronger would your family, community, society, and beyond be if you believed in yourself a little more? If you cared for yourself and were able to be strong and healthy? I suggest envisioning your best self and your best life every day.
Be open to possibility and be willing to grow and change. God willing, you will see amazing changes not only in your own health but in the people and world around you as a result. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I see it daily with my clients. You can make the world a better place simply by taking better care of you.
How much stronger would your family, community, society, and beyond be if you believed in yourself a little more? If you cared for yourself and were able to be strong and healthy?
Middle age and one’s golden years can indeed be either harrowing or empowering; the experience is significantly shaped by individual perspectives, decisions, and preparations. It’s all about how one decides to enter this stage of life. Prioritizing health, both mental and physical, is pivotal to embracing this phase with grace and vibrancy. Investing time in regular exercise, mindful eating, stress management and nurturing social relationships can build a solid foundation for a thriving and rewarding future.
To age is inevitable, but to age with resilience, vigor and a sense of fulfillment is a choice. Equipping oneself with the right knowledge, maintaining a positive outlook and adhering to healthy habits can significantly contribute to realizing a vision of health and gray success during middle age, turning it into a period of rejuvenation and self-discovery.
So, prep wisely and step into your golden years with confidence and zest.