Exercise isn’t a one size fits all package. As health specialists, we know exercise needs to be prescribed on an individual basis. We take into account current fitness levels, time, past injuries, goals, and facilities, etc. Alongside these factors, we also need to consider what stage of life our client is at. In this article, we’re going to focus on the different stages of a woman’s life, and what exercise considerations need to be made.
Importance of Understanding the Different Stages of a Woman’s Life
A woman’s life can be divided into several stages; young female, perimenopausal, menopause, postmenopause, and retirement. In addition, pre and postnatal stages may feature. As we know, biological and physiological changes occur throughout the different life stages. These changes are important to understand when prescribing exercise. But, what’s not often considered is mental and social change throughout a woman’s life. These factors also need to be considered so we can prescribe effective, achievable exercise plans for our female clients. Again, it’s important to note the importance of individuality. Although there are common themes throughout life stages, everyone does not fit into that box. Yet, we need to be aware of these common themes so we can keep an eye out for considerations when prescribing exercise.
Different Stages of a Woman’s Life
As mentioned, a woman’s life can be broken down into young female, perimenopausal, menopause, postmenopause, retirement, and possibly pre and postnatal. We’re going to highlight the common changes that occur at each stage, and what exercise considerations need to be made.
Young female refers to clients going through puberty or adolescence. This typically corresponds to students from high school to university. Girls in this category will experience changes in body size and shape, menstruation, and sex drive as a result of hormonal changes. Hormonal changes will also influence your client’s brain. Emotions can be sporadic as she tries to figure out her identity and explore independent relationships. Psychologist Erick Erikson stated identity is established during this stage through repeated conflicts between the pursuit of ideals and various disappointments.
During this stage, your client will be growing and developing physically, mentally, and socially. Therefore, it’s important to act as a guide for your client and help them develop their own sense of self while giving them the tools to live a healthy life. In regards to exercise, we want our clients to develop a healthy relationship with exercise so they are more inclined to stick with it throughout their life. Work with the client to give them a say in what exercise they would like to do, and what they want to achieve from exercising. It’s then our responsibility to teach them the tools to exercise independently without creating health problems. During this stage, team sports are typically recommended to help with a young female’s social development. In addition to exercise, practices such as mindfulness, and good sleep hygiene can help keep stress at bay.
Pre and Postnatal
During the pre and postnatal stage of life your body peaks physiologically. Some women choose to go through childbirth, others may opt-out. Whichever your client chooses, it’s important to also recognise other life stressors they may be experiencing. Relationships and careers are extremely prominent throughout this stage. Free time becomes incredibly limited and our routines change dramatically. During this stage, clients should focus on maintaining a consistent routine with their exercise and nutrition. We must also recognise the effects of hormones from menstruation and pregnancy. Hormones affect us mentally and physically, recognising how will largely influence lifestyle advice and training plans.
Additional consideration should be made for clients experiencing pregnancy. We need to identify how pregnancy affects our clients’ different identities. How does it affect their work, home, and social lives? How can we work with them to ensure a healthy lifestyle is maintained?
Throughout the perimenopausal stage of life, women are often balancing multiple roles. Many are working professionals, parents, and caregivers. They are no longer their number one priority. During this stage, it’s common for physical, mental, and social health to deteriorate. Hormones are also changing during the perimenopausal stage. They can lead to mood swings, fatigue, changes in body composition, and sleep problems. Hormonal changes and demanding roles increase the risk of burnout and self-neglect. This can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, increased alcohol consumption, affairs, or self-harm. Clients should focus on protecting their mental health through good sleep hygiene, mindfulness, and journaling. Encourage clients to prioritise time for exercise and self-care by scheduling activities into their diaries and using time efficiently.
Menopause and Postmenopause
Similar to the perimenopausal stage, the menopausal and postmenopausal stages are heavily influenced by hormones. Changes in hormones can lead to night sweats, hot flushes, sleep problems, fatigue, mood swings, aches, and pains. Again, women are often trying to balance multiple identities. However, with age, we must also consider the increased health risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and thyroid problems. Prioritising time to exercise, nutrition, and mental wellbeing can keep these risks low and help with mental and physical life stressors. Exercise should focus on moderate-intensity cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercises to protect bone and heart health.
Retirement can be exciting and scary. Women go from having many responsibilities in their home and work lives, to complete freedom and independence. This dramatically affects one’s daily routine, identity, and priorities. Loneliness, isolation, and boredom are all concerns during this stage. Clients should be encouraged to take up a new or old hobby. This will help keep them socially and physically connected to something they enjoy and love. Health conditions also become a concern during this stage. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, osteoporosis, and obesity are all high risks. In later life, many health conditions are being lived with rather than treated. Exercise should focus on functional activities to ensure women can continue to live a high quality of life without having to worry about getting up out of a chair or opening a jar. If possible, exercise should be performed in a social environment with others in the same life stage to prevent loneliness.
In conclusion, it is important to assess your female client’s stage of life and consider the factors discussed within this blog to tailor the exercise programme’s intentions, content and goals. Taking into consideration the whole person and their stage of life will enhance the client experience and improve your success of helping them to make, or continue to make, exercise part of their lifestyle.