Much of women’s fitness information on the social media world does very little for the health and wellbeing of women. This might be an unpopular opinion but many (not all) Instagram fitness models thrive on women’s insecurities or perpetuate or create insecurities. We are seeing women ‘bouncing back’ to their pre-pregnancy physique, which is not realistic, getting breast implants post-breastfeeding, dedicating workout videos on how to grow your booty, how to eat to get ‘thic’ and what exercises will get women a #slimthick body.
How is the average woman expected to achieve those unrealistic ideals?
The intent of this article is to emphasise the overall health and longevity benefits of exercise, to shift our focus away from ‘needing’ to look a specific type of way, and rather celebrate and practice how movement is essential to our wonderful human bodies.
Skeletal muscle strength and cardio-respiratory fitness is crucial for healthy ageing. Skeletal muscle is necessary for supporting tissue structure and muscle contraction and as we age, muscle loss can contribute to diminished locomotor function, impaired balance and reduced quality of life overall. A sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity accelerates muscle mass loss and reduces aerobic capacity (a measurement of the heart and lung’s capacity to get oxygen to muscles), leading to increased mortality risk. Muscle accretion and strength is protective against cancer, cardiovascular diseases and improves the overall quality of life. Therefore, maintenance of muscle protein synthesis requires resistance training, adequate protein intake and muscle repair through rest.
We are all toxic in varying degrees, depending on where we live and work, our diet, our water intake, medical history and exposure to chemical cleaning products and skin/body products. We can excrete toxins through urine, regular bowel movements and sweat – exercising and sauna use increase mobilisation and excretion of toxins such as xenobiotics and BPA!
Over the last couple of years, studies are emerging on how cardiovascular fitness positively impacts gut health and enriches microbiome diversity which improves gut barrier functions and immune modulation, rebalances dysbiosis, and reduces the likelihood of obesity, metabolic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and colon cancer. A study showed lean but sedentary people that exercised for 6 weeks increased their levels of diverse gut microbes. But when they stopped exercising, their gut microbiota returned back to previous levels!
Bone mass peaks in our 30s and slowly begins to degenerate thereafter. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises strengthens and helps maintain bone mass as it pushes the body to work against gravity. Other exercises such as hiking, climbing stairs or steep hills and even dancing can help prevent bone loss and fractures when done regularly.
A combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) production which enhances brain health, structure and function and can enhance cognition and memory. BDNF is a neurotrophin in the brain. Neurotrophins are a family of chemicals that regulate the function, development and maintenance of the nervous system. BDNF has been described as having antidepressant effects on the brain, therefore stimulating BDNF levels through exercise is one pathway in which mood can be elevated.
Regular exercise is also a beneficial tool in stress management by lowering fight-or-flight mode reactivity, releasing endorphins which reduces anxiety, and releasing the beautiful love hormone oxytocin which is associated with empathy, compassion, generosity and trust.
Improving cardiovascular health through exercise has been shown to increase pleasure, arousal and orgasm in women and alleviate sexual dysfunction in men. The combination of improved cardiovascular health, mood, flexibility and body image through exercise enhances sexual satisfaction and sexual wellbeing. Regular yoga may also enhance female sexuality by improving arousal, libido, lubrication, orgasmic quality and emotional intensity during sexual intercourse.
Daily exercise is beneficial for so many aspects of wellness and finding what exercises work for you takes time, patience, a bit of trial and error and commitment. Optimal fitness is not required to experience the aforementioned benefits! A specific body shape is also not necessary to revel in good sex, a diverse gut microbiome and sturdy bones. Kindness towards our body and consistency is what will enable us to build an exercise regime that works for our individual needs.