Stay Fit as You Mature
How can I start feeling fit and fabulous?
Did you know that people tend to gain body fat as they get older? Many women notice that they put on weight in the years leading to menopause (when menstrual periods end). They may find that losing the extra weight is not easy.
Overweight and obesity are also major health problems for black women. More than 82 percent of U.S. black women age 20 and older are overweight or obese. And over 58 percent of black women are obese. This brochure is part of a series of materials and program designed to encourage black women to move more and eat better. You may use this brochure and others in the Sisters Together series to help you and other black women become physically active and make healthy food choices.
Being physically active and eating well may help you to stay fit and feel fabulous over the years. If you are overweight or inactive, you may have a higher risk for these health problems:
- type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar)
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- certain forms of cancer
Why should I move more and eat better?
Being physically active and making healthier food choices are good for you. In addition to improving your physical health, moving more and eating better may also do the following:
- Reduce stress.
- Set an example for your family.
Your family and friends can be great sources of support as you adopt a healthier lifestyle. Ask them to join you in healthy eating and physical activity. Being healthy is important for them, too! By making healthy choices together, you may find it is easier to move more and eat better!
Battle your barriers
Several reasons may occur to you about why you find being physically active difficult. If some of the thoughts below sound familiar to you, try the tips after each comment to overcome things that may keep you from being active.
How can I add more movement to my daily routine?
Talk to your health care provider
You may have a chronic health problem that makes it difficult to move more in the ways suggested in this brochure. If so, talk to your health care provider about setting your own goals.
Aim to move more for 30 minutes a day
Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on most or all days of the week. Moderately intense activities, like brisk walking or dancing, speed up your heart rate and breathing. Getting 150 total minutes spread over the week is suggested. But even 60 total minutes a week of activity that is moderately intense may bring you health benefits.
Start with 10
Fitting in physical activity is not as hard as you may think. You don't have to do the whole 30 minutes at one time. Start with a 10-minute session three times a day, then move to 15 minutes twice a day.
Strengthen your muscles
Also try to do activities to strengthen your muscles at least two times a week. If you have weights or a rubber exercise band, they are good options to use. You can also lift canned food as weights for strengthening your arms and back. These activities are important because older adults—especially women—tend to lose muscle and bone every year. Activities to strengthen your muscles may help prevent or reduce this loss.
"It's too late for me to get physically active."
It is never too late to start moving more! Physical activity may help you manage your arthritis and osteoporosis (bone loss). Being more active may also help you do the following:
- Keep your body flexible.
- Help you to improve your balance.
- Control high blood sugar, especially if you lose weight.
- Let you keep living in your own home without help.
Tip: If you are over age 50 or have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, or obesity, talk to your health care provider before starting an intense physical activity program. In most cases, you don't need to talk to your provider before starting a less strenuous activity like walking.
"Physical activity is a chore."
- Physical activity can be fun once you figure out what you like to do. The more enjoyable it is, the more likely you are to stick with it. Walk or take an exercise class with a friend or a group. That way, you can cheer each other on, have company, and feel safer when you are outdoors.
- Start a small garden in your yard or in a community space.
- Break physical activity into short blocks of time. Taking three 10-minute walks during your day may be easier than taking one 30-minute walk.
- Vary what you do from day to day so you can stay interested.
- You may not like being active outdoors because of safety concerns. If this is true for you, join your local recreation or fitness center or go to a relative's neighborhood to walk.
"I spend time and money on my hair and don’t want to mess it up."
- Try a natural hairstyle.
- Wrap or pull hair away from your face when you exercise.
- Get a short or easy-care hairstyle.
- Try braids, twists, weaves, or locs.
- To remove salt that builds up in hair from day-to-day activities, shampoo with a mild, PH-balanced product at least once a week.
Tip: For more tips on keeping natural, relaxed, or braided hairstyles looking good during and after exercise, see Hair Care Tips for Sisters On The Move at https://harvard.edu/ (PDF, 2.23 MB) .
Talk with your stylist about hairstyles that fit your budget and your activity level.
"It's too expensive."
There are lots of ways to be physically active that are free or low cost.
- Find a local park or school track where you can walk.
- Walk around a mall.
- Be active with your grandchildren— take a walk, toss a softball, or ride bikes (don't forget the helmets).
"I don't have enough time."
No matter how busy you are, there are ways to fit in 30 minutes or more of physical activity each day:
- Spread exercise throughout the day, rather than doing it all at once.
- Set aside time to be active. For instance, make it part of your daily routine to walk after breakfast or dinner.
- Get up and move. Take breaks from sitting at the computer or watching TV.
- If you have a job that requires a lot of sitting, walk around the block when you take your break. Send computer files to the printer farthest from your desk so you can move around a little more.
"I'm not an athlete so why strength train?"
Activities to build strength are good for everyone, including older adults. For example, lifting weights may help protect your bones. Strength training may also help you perform your daily activities with more ease. In addition to weight lifting, there are many ways to become stronger.
- Use canned foods or filled water bottles as weights to work your arms, shoulders, and back.
- If you are able to, walk up stairs—lifting your body weight strengthens your legs and hips.
Tip: To avoid injury, it is important to use good form when you do strengthening activities. You can learn about proper form in Go4Life, a physical activity program for older adults. Refer to the For More Information section for more information.
What are some simple ideas for eating well?
- Start every day with breakfast. Try oatmeal or a whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk. Smear fruit spread or fat-free or low-fat yogurt on whole-wheat toast. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast, too.
- Make half of what's on your plate fruit and vegetables.
- Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese instead of full-fat dairy products.
- Choose whole grains more often than refined grains. Whole-wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, and brown rice have more dietary fiber than white bread, rice, and pasta. Dietary fiber helps keep you regular.
- Don't let sweets like cookies, candy, or sugary sodas and fruit juices crowd out healthy foods
Tip: Most Americans need more calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth. If you can't digest milk, try lactose-free milk that is fat-free or low-fat. Fat-free or low-fat yogurt and hard cheeses like cheddar may also be easier to digest than milk.
You can also get calcium from fruit juices, cereals, and soy beverages that have been enriched with calcium. Eating dark leafy vegetables can also help you meet your body's calcium needs. Good sources include collard greens and kale. Canned fish with soft bones like salmon or sardines are also a good source of calcium.
Make healthy meals that taste good
Fried foods and fatty meats may taste good, but they are high in saturated fat, which is not healthy for your heart. There are other ways to add flavor to your food.
- Bake, roast, broil, grill, or oven-fry chicken or fish - season with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, or vinegar (but not salt).
- Cook collard greens or kale with onions, garlic, chicken broth, or bouillon. Try olive oil instead of butter, margarine, or high-fat meats. Use broth, bouillon, and cured meats like turkey bacon or ham in small amounts because they are high in sodium (salt). Or you can buy low-sodium versions.
- Top baked potatoes with salsa, a small amount of fat-free sour cream, or low-fat cottage cheese.
Save time and money when you cook
You don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or a lot of money to eat well.
- Cook enough to last. Casseroles and a whole cooked chicken may last for several days. (Be sure to freeze or refrigerate leftovers right away to keep them safe to eat).
- Buy frozen or canned vegetables (no salt added) and canned fruit packed in juice rather than syrup. To reduce the amount of salt in canned vegetables, rinse them in plain water. These foods are just as good for you as fresh produce. They also last longer on the shelf or in the freezer and make quick and easy additions to your meals.
- Check the grocery newspaper advertisements for specials, clip coupons, and look for produce in season (when it is cheaper) and/or at a farmers market.
Tip: Visit the "Food and Nutrition" section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website for tips on a number of topics related to healthy food, shopping, and affordable meal planning. See https://www.usda.gov and the Resources section at the end of this brochure for more information on federal dietary guidelines.
How can reading the Nutrition Facts label help me?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nutrition Facts label appears on most packaged foods. It tells you how many calories and servings are in a box or can. The label also shows how many nutrients like fat, fiber, sodium, and sugar are in one serving of food. You can use these facts to figure out how many calories you are eating and to make healthy food choices. Here are some tips on how reading food labels can help you make healthy food choices:
Calories: All the information on a food label is based on the serving size. Be careful - one serving may be much smaller than you think. If you have two servings, you will be eating two times the calories and nutrients noted in the label.
% Daily Value: : The % Daily Value (% DV) is a general guide to help you get the right amount of nutrients in your diet. This number tells you whether a food is high or low in nutrients. Foods that have more than 20% DV of a nutrient are high in that nutrient. Foods that have 5% DV or less are low in that nutrient. Limit the amount of cholesterol and sodium (salt) by looking for low DV percentages for these items.
Oils, Solid Fats, and Added Sugars: Solid fats like butter, shortening, and margarine can have high levels of saturated or trans fats, which are not heart healthy. You can read the ingredients list and choose foods that are low in saturated fat (5% DV or less per serving). Instead of solid fats, choose liquid fats or soft margarines. Good sources are plant-based oils like sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, and safflower.
Keep track of the added sugars that you eat. Added sugars may often be "disguised" in ingredients lists (for example, corn syrup). Choose foods with little or no added sugar, like low-sugar cereals. Limit drinks sweetened with sugar.
Trans Fat: This type of fat is created when liquid oils are changed into solid fats, like shortening and some margarines, so they will last longer without going bad. This type of fat may be found in crackers, cookies, and snack foods. Trans fat raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol. Try not to eat much trans fat.
Sodium (Salt): Salt contains sodium. Eating less sodium may help lower blood pressure, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Eat less than 1,500 mg per day, or about 2/3 of a teaspoon of table salt. This includes sodium within foods you eat as well as extra salt you may add at the table or while cooking. When comparing food labels, choose foods that are low in sodium (5% DV or less per serving).
Fiber: There are different types of dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber, found in food like whole grains and vegetables, helps with digestion and keeping you regular. Soluble fiber, found in foods like oatmeal and beans (such as navy, black, and pinto beans), may improve your cholesterol and blood sugar. Other sources of fiber are peas, lentils, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bran, and nuts. Leaving the peels on your fruits and vegetables, such as apples and tomatoes, can add extra fiber as well. Choose foods that are high in fiber (20% DV or more per serving).
Calcium: Lack of calcium can lead to bone loss. Choose foods that are high in calcium (at least 20% DV) and low in fat.
Vitamin D. This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium. Choose foods high in vitamin D, like fresh, frozen, or canned salmon, shrimp, and light tuna. Be active outside in the sunlight (with sunscreen) to improve vitamin D levels naturally. Ask your health care provider if you should take vitamin D.
Vitamin B12. This vitamin helps the body make red blood cells and maintain healthy nerve cells. Older adults often have difficulty absorbing enough vitamin B12. Eat foods with added vitamin B12, such as cereals made from oat bran or whole-grain wheat bran. Ask your health care provider if you should take vitamin B12.
What should I do if I'm a vegetarian?
Many people are now getting more vegetables on their plates by enjoying "meatless Mondays" or becoming vegetarians. If you're a vegetarian, you can get the nutrients you need in a vegetarian diet by eating a variety of foods. Just make sure you watch your portions and work within the calorie guidelines based on your sex, age, and activity level.
Here are some ideas for people who prefer to eat mostly plant-based foods:
- Build meals around sources of protein that are naturally low in fat, like beans, lentils, or peas.
- Try veggie burgers instead of hamburgers. Many different kinds are available, made with soybeans, vegetables, and/or rice.
- To get enough calcium, try foods with labels showing they have been enriched with calcium, such as soymilk, tofu, breakfast cereals, and orange juice.
- If you don't eat any animal products at all, choose foods that are high in iron, like spinach and lentils, and foods with added vitamin B12 (check the Nutrition Facts label
- Use oils or soft margarine (margarine in tub or liquid form) instead of butter. Choose a soft margarine that has less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and has 0 grams of trans fat. "Liquid vegetable oil" should be first on the ingredient list. (American Heart Association)
- Try keeping a food diary. Write down what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel when you eat. Keeping a diary can help you understand your eating habits. You may be able to see ways to make your eating habits healthier.
How can I eat well when away from home?
In real life, you can't always cook your meals. Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you are away from home:
- Use a small plate to help keep you from eating too much.
- At restaurants, share a meal with a friend or take half of it home.
- Order one or two appetizers or side dishes instead of a whole meal.
I can do it!
Set goals and move at your own pace to reach them. Ask your family and friends to help you. They can encourage you, help you with setbacks, and be there to celebrate your successes!
No matter what, keep trying—you can do it!
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research into many diseases and conditions.
What are clinical trials, and are they right for you?
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.
What clinical trials are open?
Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
The NIDDK would like to thank: Carla Miller, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Ohio State University.