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Stay Fit as You Mature

How can I stay fit and healthy as I mature?

Did you know people tend to gain weight as they get older? Many women notice they put on weight in the years leading to menopause—or when menstrual periods end—and that losing the extra weight is not that easy.

Overweight and obesity are major health problems for black women in particular. More than 80 percent of U.S. black adult women are overweight or have obesity.1

This web content is part of materials and a program called Sisters Together: Move More, Eat Better. The program encourages black women to improve their health by being more active and eating healthier foods. You may use the content to help you and other black women get healthy. It's never too early or too late to start making small changes to improve your health.

Why should I move more and eat better?

Being physically active and making healthy food choices may help lower your risk for a number of chronic health problems as you mature. If you’re overweight, have obesity, or are inactive, you may have a greater chance of developing

Besides improving your physical health, you also may reduce stress and become a role model for family members and friends.

Your family and friends can be a great source of support as you work to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Being healthy is important for them, too. Ask them to join your efforts. By making healthy choices together, you may find it’s easier to move more and eat healthier!

How can I add more movement to my daily routine?

Adding longer, brisk walks to your daily routine is one way most people can safely increase their physical activity level. However, if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity—or symptoms of a health problem, like dizziness or chest pain—speak with a health care professional before starting a more intense physical activity program.

Aim to move for 30 minutes a day

Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week. Moderate activities are ones that you can talk, but not sing, while doing, such as brisk walking or dancing. These activities speed up your heart rate and breathing.

The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend getting 150 total minutes of activity spread throughout the week. But any amount of moderate activity is better than none at all.

Start with 10

Fitting in physical activity is possible with some planning. However, if you don’t have the time or energy to do the whole 30 minutes at once, start with a 10-minute session three times a day—then move to 15 minutes twice a day.

You can work physical activity into your daily routine by taking a walk at lunch—if your job allows—or before and after work; parking farther from where you’re going and walking the rest of the way; and taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

Strengthen your muscles

Also, try to do activities to strengthen your muscles at least twice a week. You can use hand weights or a rubber exercise band—or even two full cans of food or bottles of water. Muscle-strengthening activities are especially important for older women—who tend to lose muscle and bone every year. Activities to strengthen your muscles may help prevent or reduce this loss.

Woman sitting on a yoga mat on her living room floor, leaning on a balance ball, with a pair of weights and water bottle next to her.
Try to do activities to strengthen your muscles at least twice a week.

Battle your barriers

Different people may have different reasons for finding it hard to get moving. If some of the barriers below sound familiar, try the tips recommended after each barrier to help you overcome them.

“It’s too late for me to get physically active.”

It’s never too late to start moving more. You can be active at any age, and physical activity may help you manage conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Being more active may also help you

  • stay flexible
  • improve your balance, which can help prevent falls
  • control high blood sugar, especially if you lose weight
  • keep living in your own home without help

“Physical activity is a chore.”

Physical activity can be doable and fun. Try to

  • figure out what you really like to do. The more enjoyable your activity, the more likely you are to stick with it.
  • change what you do each day to stay interested. Do yoga one day and take a bike ride the next.
Women working in an outdoor community garden.
Start a garden in your yard or in a community space.

“I spend time and money on my hair and don’t want to mess it up.”

Your hairstyle doesn’t have to stand between you and your physical activity:

  • Try a natural hairstyle, short haircut, braids, twists, locs, or wigs.
  • Wrap a scarf around your hair; when you’re done with your workout, remove the scarf and let your hair air dry.

“It’s too expensive.”

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a gym membership or fancy equipment to be active. You can use the world around you to stay healthy and fit for free or at a low cost:

  • Find a local park or school track where you can walk.
  • Walk around an indoor shopping mall.
  • Be active with your children or grandchildren—toss a softball, have a dance party, play hide and seek, 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 your 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 do a lot of sitting at work, walk around the block when you take your break, or climb stairs outside or inside your building if you’re able. Send documents to the printer farthest from your desk so you can walk a little farther to pick them up.

“I’m not an athlete, so why strength train?”

Strength training, or lifting weights to build muscles and make you stronger, is good for everyone, including older adults. Strength training may help protect your bones and also help you do daily activities, such as lifting children or carrying groceries, more easily.

How can I start to eat healthier?

Small changes, such as cutting back on salt and swapping water or unsweetened tea for sugar-sweetened juices and sodas, can improve your eating habits. Cutting back on saturated fats, such as butter or margarine, and eating more unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and other vegetable oils, is another step in a healthier direction.

Watch when you eat, how much you eat, and what you eat

Be mindful of food portions, serving sizes, and following a healthy eating plan.

  • Start every day with breakfast. People who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Try oatmeal, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, or a whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk. Put fruit spread or nut butter on whole-wheat toast. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast, too.
  • Choose healthy fats. Research has shown that eating healthy fat in small quantities, like the fats in nuts or olive oil, may also improve health.
  • Choose whole grains more often than refined grains. Whole-wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, and brown rice have more dietary fiber than white bread, white rice, and regular pasta. Dietary fiber helps keep you regular.
  • Make half of what’s on your plate fruit and vegetables. One quarter of your plate should include lean protein, such as fish or chicken without the skin, and the other quarter should include whole grains.
  • Don’t let sweets such as cookies, candy, or sugary sodas and fruit juices crowd out healthy foods.
Woman and man sitting at a table at home and sharing a meal.
Be mindful of food portions, serving sizes, and following a healthy eating plan.

Make healthy meals that taste good

Fried foods and fatty meats may taste good, but they’re not healthy for your heart. Try the following to add flavor to your food:

  • Bake, roast, broil, grill, or oven-fry chicken or fish—and season with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, or vinegar instead of salt.
  • Cook collard greens or kale with onions, garlic, chicken broth, or bouillon. Try olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Use broth, bouillon, and cured meats like turkey bacon or ham in small amounts because they’re high in sodium—or look for low-sodium versions of them at the grocery store.
  • Top baked potatoes with salsa or a small amount of fat-free or low-fat sour cream, plain yogurt, or cottage cheese.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money or time in the kitchen to eat well. Try these tips:

  • Buy frozen or canned vegetables, without added salt, and canned fruit packed in water or unsweetened juice rather than syrup. These foods are just as good for you as fresh produce. They also last longer on the shelf or in the freezer, and you can add them to your meals quickly and easily.
  • Cook enough for extra meals. Casseroles and a whole cooked chicken may last a few days. Be sure to freeze or refrigerate leftovers right away to keep them safe to eat.
  • Look for produce at a farmer’s market and in season, when it’s cheaper. Clip coupons and check the newspaper for grocery specials. Also, use store loyalty cards to buy healthy foods.

How can reading the Nutrition Facts label help me?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Nutrition Facts label appears on most packaged foods. The label tells you how many calories and servings are in a box, package, or can. The label also shows how many ingredients, such as fat, fiber, sodium, and sugar—including added sugars—are in one serving of food. You can use these facts to make healthy food choices.

Here are some tips for reading food labels:

Sample Nutrition Facts Label.
Photo courtesy: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Calories: All the information on a food label is based on the serving size. An FDA-updated food label lists “serving size,” “servings per container,” and “calories” in larger, bolder type to make it easier to see. In updating the label, the FDA revised the serving sizes of some products to more closely reflect how much people actually eat and drink. The FDA has information about the updated Nutrition Facts label.

% Daily Value: The % Daily Value, or % DV, shows how much a nutrient in one serving of food contributes to a total daily meal plan. Use the % DV to tell if a serving of the food is high or low in a nutrient and to compare food products. 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 by looking for low DV percentages for these items.

Oils, solid fats, and added sugars: Solid fats such as butter, shortening, and stick margarine can have high levels of saturated fats or trans fats, which are not heart healthy. Read the ingredients list on a food product and choose foods low in saturated fat. Instead of solid fats, choose fats such as oils that come from plants and are liquid at room temperature. Plant-based oils include canola, corn, olive, soybean, and safflower.

Keep track of the added sugars you eat. Added sugars may often be “disguised” in ingredients lists: for example, corn syrup is an added sugar. Choose foods with little or no added sugar, like low-sugar cereals. Limit sugar-sweetened drinks.

Sodium: Eating less sodium may help lower blood pressure, which may help lower the risk of heart disease. Aim for less than 2,300 mg—or less than 1 teaspoon—per day of table salt. This amount includes sodium already in foods you eat, as well as extra salt you may add at the table or while cooking. When comparing food labels, choose foods low in sodium.

Fiber: Dietary fiber includes insoluble and soluble types. Insoluble fiber, found in foods 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 blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Other sources of fiber are peas, lentils, fruits, bran, and nuts. Leaving the peels on fruits and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes can add extra fiber as well. Choose foods high in dietary fiber.

Calcium: Most black women need more calcium, which helps build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Not enough calcium can lead to bone loss. Choose foods high in calcium and low in fat, such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, milk, and cheese. You also can get calcium from

  • fruit juices and cereals with added calcium—choose items without added sugars
  • dark leafy vegetables such as collard greens and kale
  • canned fish with soft bones, like salmon or sardines

Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Choose foods high in vitamin D, such as low-fat or fat-free milk; and fresh, frozen, or canned salmon, shrimp, and light tuna. If you can’t digest milk, try soy milk with added calcium or lactose-free milk. Yogurt and hard cheeses like cheddar may also be easier to digest than milk. Be active outside in the sunlight (don’t forget sunscreen) to improve vitamin D levels naturally. Ask your health care provider if you should take vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 helps the body make red blood cells and maintain healthy nerve cells. Older adults often don’t absorb enough vitamin B12. Eat foods with added vitamin B12, such as cereals made from oat bran or whole-grain wheat bran. Ask a health care professional if you should take vitamin B12 supplements.

What should I do if I’m a vegetarian?

Many people are now getting more vegetables on their plates by skipping meat one or more days of the week or by becoming vegetarians. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get the nutrients you need 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, such as beans, lentils, or peas.
  • Try veggie burgers instead of hamburgers. Many different kinds are available, made with soybeans, vegetables, or rice.
  • To get enough calcium, try foods with labels showing they’ve been enriched with calcium, such as soy milk, tofu, breakfast cereals, and orange juice without added sugars.
  • 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.

How can I eat well when away from home?

Busy lives can sometimes make it hard to cook and eat meals at home. Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you’re away from home:

  • Use a small plate to keep you from overeating.
  • At restaurants, share a meal with a friend or take half of it home for the next day.
  • Order one or two appetizers or side dishes instead of a whole meal.
  • Ask for dressing on the side if you order salad and skip the basket of bread while you’re waiting for your meal.
  • Avoid fried foods and choose broiled, grilled, or boiled options instead.
  • Have water or unsweetened tea instead of soda or other drinks with added sugars.

I can do it!

Set healthy eating and physical activity goals—and move at your own pace to reach them. Ask family and friends for support. They can encourage you, help you overcome setbacks, and be there to celebrate your successes!

No matter what, keep trying—you can do it!


Clinical Trials

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.

January 2018

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