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As we age and enter new stages of life, how we approach exercise and a healthy lifestyle also changes. Princeton Club's senior health coordinator, Carol Wilkes, says mobility and flexibility are vital to one's health as we age and are important factors in how fit we feel. "It's about keeping your joint health and core strong so you can continue doing the activities you love, like biking, swimming and tennis," says Wilkes.
Wilkes teaches classes at Princeton Club specifically designed to focus on improving and increasing flexibility, mobility and strength as we age. "A lot of exercises I teach are ‘functional fitness' exercises, which will help you every day of your life," says Wilkes.
A common misconception Wilkes sees is people thinking they need to lift lighter weights as they get older. "Your body naturally starts to eat away at your muscle at about age 30 to 35," says Wilkes. "When someone hits 50 — and they used to lift 5- and 10-pound weights — they sometimes think they only need 3-pound weights now. If you don't put muscle on, you are going to have a higher amount of fat than what is healthy. My classes incorporate balance, resistance training, posture and cardio so you can accomplish day-to-day tasks with confidence and continue partaking in the activities you love in life."
In order for women in their 50s and older to stay strong and active, the most important component to exercise is you must be consistent, says Wilkes. "When it comes down to seeing results, consistency is the most important," she says. "We're often looking for physical results, but when you're over 50, it's about how you feel on the inside — your endurance, your mobility, your energy levels. You'll notice those results more."
SSM Health knows that as you age, staying active and maintaining healthy relationships are keys to longevity.
"The most important things women can do for themselves as they get older are to stay active, stay connected and eat a healthy diet," says Dr. Virginia McKenna, Family Medicine physician at SSM Health. "Fad diets can be tempting, but in general, choosing a colorful diet of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein will keep your body satisfied while meeting your nutritional needs."
Dr. McKenna says she is seeing more women older than 50 staying active compared to previous generations. "More women are joining gyms and participating in sports and exercise classes than in previous generations," says Dr. McKenna. "Women over 50 are also more likely to take a holistic approach to their health, working on mindfulness techniques such as meditation, yoga and journaling, in addition to exercise and healthy diet."
In an age when food has become more processed and portion sizes have increased, Dr. McKenna says taking preventive steps will help prevent increased rates of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. "Find a workout partner to walk with in order to stay motivated," says Dr. McKenna. "Cook your own foods and minimize processed food and fast food."
On top of eating balanced meals, regular exercise and getting preventive screenings are important. "The aspects that are most important for women over 50 include continuing to get regular physical exams and preventive screening tests," says Dr. McKenna.
Dr. McKenna also says breast cancer risk increases with age, so mammograms either yearly or every other year are important for women older than 50. Colon cancer screening should start at age 50 for average-risk women, with either colonoscopy or the Cologuard stool test. SSM Health — providing services throughout southern Wisconsin, including SSM Health Dean Medical Group and SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Madison — offers several types of preventive screenings.•
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