Time is the number one reason that women don’t make their own health and fitness a priority. At least that’s what was reported by the majority of the more than 2,000 women who participated in a recent study looking at health, fitness, and nutrition habits. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis reported that age, ethnicity, or socio-economic situation didn’t matter as much as time.
Part of the problem, they concluded, is that women often think they have to be able to run a marathon or take a 60-minute step class every day. But that’s not the case. Taking three 10-minute walks a day can improve fitness. Or consider this type of interval workout: Warm up for five minutes doing your preferred aerobic activity—walking, cycling, running, swimming, etc.—then alternate maximum effort bursts of one minute with two to three minutes at your normal pace. Alternate for 10–12 minutes, and finish with a five-minute cool down.
Don’t Skip Weights
Women need muscle just as much as men do. Yet many women avoid lifting weights for fear of bulk. But unless you’re lifting very heavy weights and devoting several hours a week to strength training, it’s just not going to happen. Adding lean tissue (aka muscle) increases your resting metabolic rate, so you burn more calories day in and day out. Strength training also improves bone health, reducing your chances of developing osteoporosis.
Beginners Strength Training
This workout requires a slight monetary investment—about $20 for a couple of sets of dumbbells and a small weight plate. But all it takes is two half-hour sessions each week. Start with one set of eight to 12 repetitions for the first four weeks; the last two or three repetitions should be very difficult. Increase to 12–15 repetitions for the next four weeks. When performing 15 repetitions is easy, add a second set (maintaining the same number of reps), or use a heavier weight. If you switch to a heavier weight, you may need to reduce the number of reps.
1. Dumbbell chest fly (targets chest)
Lie on your back with a firm pillow under your head, shoulders, and upper back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (start with 2–5 pounds). Push your arms straight up until your elbows are almost straight, palms facing each other. The weights should be directly above your shoulders. Inhale, and slowly lower your arms out to the sides, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Continue to lower until your elbows are slightly below your shoulders. Pause, exhale, and slowly close your arms back to the starting position.
2. Dumbbell overhead triceps extension (targets triceps)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell (start with 2–5 pounds) in each hand with your arms extended overhead. Without moving your elbows, inhale and slowly lower the right dumbbell behind your neck, pause, and then lift it to the starting position as you exhale. Repeat with the left hand.
3. Wrist roll (targets forearms)
Attach one end of a three-foot rope to a two-foot dowel (or use a sawed off broom handle). Fasten a 2-pound weight plate (available at any sporting goods store) to the other end of the rope. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the bar away from your body with an overhand grip. Rotate your hands so the rope rolls up, raising the weight toward the bar. Then rotate in the opposite direction to lower the weight. Be sure to breathe naturally through the exercise.
4. Dumbbell shoulder press (targets shoulders)
Sit on a chair with back support, and put your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (start with 2–5 pounds), and bend your arms so the weights lightly rest on your shoulders, palms facing forward. Inhale and as then as you exhale, push the weights up until your arms are straight, pause, and slowly return to the starting position.
5. Back extension (targets lower back)
Lie flat on your stomach with your elbows out to the sides, your hands on top of each other, and your forehead resting on your hands. Exhale, and use your back muscles to lift your head, neck, shoulders, and chest off the floor. Keep your feet on the floor. Stop when you’ve raised your chest about four or five inches, pause, and slowly lower to the starting position.
6. Single-leg squat (targets buttocks, quadriceps, and calves)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms out to the side, raised to shoulder height. Inhale and lift your right leg out in front of you and slowly squat down, stopping when you feel like you’re losing your balance. (If you need help balancing, brace yourself by placing one hand on a wall.) Exhale, contract your leg and buttocks muscles to push yourself back to the starting position. Complete repetitions, switch legs, and repeat.
7. Cross-over crunch (targets abdominals)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, elbows comfortably out to the side, and keep your neck relaxed. Exhale, and then as you curl your head, neck, and shoulder blades off the floor, rotate your torso, pulling the left side of your rib cage toward your right inner thigh. Pause at the top, inhale, and slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat in the opposite direction, alternating until you complete the repetitions.