By Curves

From the moment we could stand on our own two feet we couldn’t wait to run everywhere—forget walking! Soon we were riding bikes, playing sports and going to school dances. And though after our crazy 20’s came our calmer parenting years, we were still in constant motion–carrying our babies, chasing toddlers, hauling our teens everywhere. And we crunched all of this activity around all the rest of our responsibilities. By the time we reach middle age and the kids are off to college, many of us find ourselves in a new, slower rhythm of life. Phew! Rest at last.

Rest certainly is important—as in the 7 to 9 hours of sleep you need every night–but we’re not meant to put our feet up and relax. “We should become more active, not less active as we get older,” advises Russell Pate Ph.D., professor in the department of exercise science at the University of South Carolina and a member of the Curves and Jenny Craig Science Advisory Board. “But what happens to many of us is that as the demand for activity decreases with life changes, our fitness declines. And then even simple things like going up stairs become harder, so we take the elevator—we become even less active—and fitness declines further. It can become a downward spiral.”

Whether we’re 25 or 85, regular physical activity provides a wealth of health benefits, but a few take on greater significance in the second half of our lives.

1. Rein in weight
“Overweight and obesity are associated with just about every major disease,” Pate points out. Many of us find it more challenging to keep our weight where we want it post-menopause vs. pre. A slower pace of life is a likely factor, but also, as we age, we lose lean muscle tissue, which means resting metabolism slows and so do the number of calories we burn. Want to put some of that lean muscle back on? The Curves circuit will help you do just that. Bonus: you also get cardio in your 30 minutes.

2. Help avoid diabetes
One of the major diseases associated with obesity is diabetes. “We’re living in an era where a lot of things are going in the right direction, but sadly that’s not the case with diabetes,” says Pate. “The declining activity in the population as a whole underlies that. Regular physical activity provides good regulation of blood glucose and improves insulin sensitivity.

3. Potentially enjoy a healthy heart
Your risk for heart disease increases after menopause as estrogen levels drop and blood pressure and cholesterol tend to rise. Physical activity won’t give you a hormone boost but it can help lower blood pressure and improve HDL (good) cholesterol.

4. May help outsmart osteoporosis
As with muscle, we lose bone tissue as we age, especially if we are sedentary, but low estrogen levels post-menopause also up our risk of osteoporosis. One in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. “It is very important that older women know that maintaining bone density is greatly influenced by participating in weight-bearing, bone-loading activity,” says Pate. Though walking and running come quickly to mind as weight-bearing activities, resistance training like the Curves circuit also puts weight on your bones, stimulating the production of new tissue and shoring up density.

5. Turn the spiral upside down
But for all this talk of decline, remember this: With age comes wisdom. And even if you’ve never maintained a routine of physical activity outside of the day-to-day, it’s never too late to start. “You can derive a lot of benefit by increasing activity later in life,” says Pate. And no need to be shy about it either. “In the absence of some limiting factor, you can go as intensely as your capacity allows,” Pate says. As always, consult with your doctor regarding your exercise goals and the right type/intensity of physical activity for you.