Some of the biggest threats to women's health — such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer — are often preventable with a healthy lifestyle. For both genders, this entails eating a nutrient-dense diet and exercising regularly.
Surveys generally show that older women are usually less physically active than men of the same age, which is unfortunate considering that exercise is associated with a reduced risk for many common health problems.
For example, a daily routine that includes musculoskeletal exercises — those that involve the bones and muscles, which together support the structure and mobility of the body — can help aid in weight management, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, mental health, and much more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 percent of U.S. women do not meet exercise recommendations, and at least 25 percent are not active at all (this number rises to over 60 percent among women over 75). This means that for many women, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
How Musculoskeletal Exercise Prevents Women’s Health Issues
Regular exercise has been shown to have beneficial effects on most, if not all, organ systems in the human body, plus adults who are moderately active typically have lower mortality rates than those who are sedentary.
Among adult women, staying active offers protection against five major chronic conditions that account for high rates of doctors’ visits: diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer, and arthritis, as well as other deadly conditions like respiratory disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's.
Here are some of the many ways that physical activity (including aerobic and strength-training exercises) benefits women's health:
Assists in healthy weight maintenance — While exercising more may not be enough to make you lose weight on its own, it can certainly help when combined with a healthy diet. Physical activity can help with energy balance and support a healthy metabolism by reducing body fat and boosting lean muscle mass.
Aids in metabolic health — Losing excess pounds with help from exercise is a great way to lower your risk of developing metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes, and to help maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Fights stress and boost your mood — Exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and lead to improvements in mood, feelings of well-being, and sleep quality. There’s also a link between physical activity and improved mental performance, capacity for learning, and memory.
Helps balance hormones — Because it helps with weight management and insulin sensitivity, exercise can ward off a common hormonal problem called PCOS. It may also enhance the effects of estrogen replacement therapy.
Supports cardiovascular health — Exercise can lower one's risk for developing heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Promotes a healthy immune system — Physical activity offers protection against infections and other illnesses by boosting circulation, promoting lymphatic system detoxification, and reducing stress. It might also lower a woman’s risk of certain types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer.
Assists in mobility and reduces pain — Staying active helps women to maintain muscle strength, joint structure, joint functioning, and bone health. Strength-training slows down the decline in bone mass and protects against osteoporosis. Active women also have less risk of falling and reduced risk for arthritis symptoms such as stiffness.
The Best Exercises for Women
If you’re currently not as active as you'd like to be, here’s the good news: exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be strenuous to confer benefits. The key is to make physical activity an integral part of your daily life, as well as a habit that you actually enjoy keeping up with.
A general recommendation for women is to engage in regular "moderate" physical activity for at least 30 minutes most days per week. If this seems like too much, aim for 15 to 20 minutes per day at first.
You can also break out activity into shorter segments; it all adds up! Boosting the intensity is another time-saving strategy, since just 20 minutes of vigorous activity, at least three times per week is linked to health benefits.
Keep in mind that you shouldn't require much equipment to get going — you likely just need a good pair of sneakers, a yoga mat (or soft surface), and if you’d like more options, a pair of dumbbells and stability ball.
Here are some simple exercises women can focus on to improve their overall health:
Walking outdoors. Brisk walking is recommended for women of all ages and shapes, so find a local trail or simply roam your neighborhood.
Free on-demand workout videos. There are loads of options available online.
Bodyweight exercises. You can do these anywhere, including at home, the gym, or outdoors. See our blog post for some ideas.
Swimming, cycling, or using a stationary bike.
Strength-training. Either at home or at a gym.
Tai chi, a martial art that can help with balance, mobility, and stress-reduction.
Zumba or other dance classes.