Women's health: Staying fit at any age

by Anna Gaynor
May 10, 2011

Yoga, Zumba, running. What’s the best way to work out and stay healthy?

Women’s confusion about exercise choices was the subject of a lunchtime lecture at Northwestern Women’s Prentice Hospital Tuesday.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be painful,”  Dr. Ellen Casey said. “And if it is painful beyond the normal aches or muscle soreness, then go see somebody that has specialized training in sports medicine.”

Casey is an attending physician at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Her lecture was based on the life of a fictional person, Annie, who encounters many of the issues women face throughout their lives. She stressed the importance of a healthy lifestyle in her teens, when pregnant and in old age. She recommended women look at their own lifestyle and needs when making decision. If they’re busy working and raising kids, they can work out for ten minutes at a time.

After the lecture, Casey said that women have misconceptions about how long and how hard they need to work out. Some believe that exercise requires running at top speed for a long time, but it can mean a number of activities. She can do 30 minutes exercise nearly every day and do strength training two days a week. Sixty percent of women don’t meet those guidelines.

 “I think it’s a combination of lack of time, the idea that if you don’t have a full hour to dedicate you just don’t do it at all and cost of equipment or the gym,” Casey said. “I think a lot of women because they’re caregivers, they put themselves aside,” she added.

Sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Health Research, the lecture was a part of a monthly series about women’s health. During the 40-minute presentation, Casey discussed the activity guidelines for every stage of a women’s life and the special needs they need to keep in mind.

“By informing people of all the opportunities that are out there, it allows people to tailor it to where they are in their lifespan,” she said.

Two issues that come to Casey’s attention concern to two types of women, the very athletic and the very pregnant. While sports can lead better self-esteem and grades, young women can often suffer from female athlete triad, a syndrome that can result in eating disorders, loss of menstrual period and bone loss. The symptoms can be relieved through better nutrition.

Casey also sees pregnant women worry about harming their baby, so they forego exercise.

Sharon Green is the executive director of the institute and helps organize the monthly lectures. She said the number who attended this week was typical, but the event does not usually have booths from women’s groups. Outside the lecture room, a variety of nutrition groups and sports centers were speaking to attendees about living healthier.

“We just wanted to do something special for Women’s Health Week,” Green said. “I thought it would be nice to invite these people here and give people the opportunity to find out about resources they can actually do at their lunchtime.”

One of these booths was the Northwestern Women’s Center, which helps female students, the faculty and staff at Northwestern University and Hospital.

“We’re sort of a full-service women’s center, so we exist to serve all the needs of all women, students faculty and staff,” said Cara Tuttle Bell, the director of programs. “We are lucky to have a med school here and an affiliated hospital, so we can really put an emphasis with them onto women’s health.”

The Women’s Center has been working to encourage more faculty and staff to work-out. The center offers yoga and Pilates classes at convenient times for the staff at the hospital. Bell is still working to increase the number of Northwestern faculty members, who have more unusual schedules. She thought the lecture was encouraging.

 “It’s not rocket science,” Bell said. “It’s not anything that maybe women haven’t heard before, but it’s a matter of you have to be ready to actually apply it to your life. And so, they gave us great tools for that. I thought she did a nice job in balancing the med talk for the doctors with making it accessible for the non-doctors like me,” she added.

The June, the lecture features Dr. Beatrice Edwards on osteoporosis.

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