Women are not men. Sure, women can run for president, fight in wars, hold the same jobs as men. But when it comes to health, they’re different.
“No. 1,” says Katherine Coyner, an assistant professor in orthopedic surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, “understand the genetic difference between men and women. From a hormonal level, there’s the difference of men having more testosterone and women having more estrogen.”
That translates to a couple of givens; namely, that men have an easier time building muscle and bulk. Women have more body fat and a harder time losing those last few pounds.
On the food side, observes Angie Russell, certified trainer, women “tend to underestimate their calories and overestimate protein.”
They also need more vitamin D and calcium than they often get, says Lona Sandon, an assistant professor in the department of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical School.
Russell, Sandon and other women health experts gave 10 tips — five about exercise and five on nutrition — that women need to be their healthiest.
5 MUST-DO EXERCISE MOVES FOR WOMEN
Why? “Studies have shown one of the first muscles we as women start to lose are triceps,” says Michelle De La Valdene, a certified personal trainer. Pushups not only work those annoying back-of-the-upper-arm muscles, they also help your core, chest and shoulders.
How to do them: Lie on your stomach, elbows bent, palms face-down and slightly wider than your shoulders. If you haven’t done them before or in a while, start on your knees. Push off from the floor, then lower yourself till your chest almost touches. Keep your hips lifted and core engaged.
Try to make it to eight; build up to three sets of eight. If you have trouble, you can do them against a wall. Want a challenge? Check out hundredpushups.com.
Why? Here’s that word again: Core. Having a strong one is essential to posture, balance and doing everyday activities.
How t do them: Start in the same position as a pushup, but when you’ve pushed yourself up, hold that position with elbows bent or straight for as long as you can. Start with 15 seconds; progress to 30, to 60 and more. For reverse planks, lie on your back. With elbows bent and palms facing forward, lift your chest and hips up. For side planks, alternate balancing on each side.
Other body-weight exercises, which Russell advocates because they can be done just about anywhere, include lunges and crunches.
3. Combination exercises
Why? “We multitask the rest of our lives,” Russell says, “so why not multitask here for efficiency’s sake?” They “challenge coordination and are time-efficient.”
How to do them: Basically, they entail doing more than one thing at once, so can include a whole host of options. For example, hold a weight in each hand while doing lunges or squats. Each time you bend your knees, bend your elbows. Stand up; straighten your elbows.
4. Hip-flexor stretches
Why? “One hundred percent of the time, my women-clients are dealing with hip or back issues,” Russell says, which stem directly from tight hip flexors. This set of muscles [technical name, iliopsoas] helps stabilize the spine and pelvis. “We sit, we drive, we sit some more. This gets tight.”
How to do them: One of the more-simple ways is, whenever you’re standing, hold on to a chair or table and alternate moving your legs in circles, first clockwise, then counterclockwise. “How many do you do? As many as you want,” she says.
5. Balance exercises
Why? Balance, quite simply, is imperative to walking, sitting, standing, running — plus it will help prevent falls.
How to do them: These can be as easy as “standing on one foot and trying to hold it,” De La Valdene says. In one of the classes she teaches, “I have them use light hand weights to do bicep curls and different arm exercises, all while balancing on one foot.”
5 MUST-HAVE FOODS FOR WOMEN
1. Low-fat milk
Why? “One of the biggies women tend to miss out on are adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium,” Sandon says.
Know this: If you prefer soy or almond milk, make sure it’s fortified with vitamin D and calcium, she says.
Why? “It has good lean protein, good fiber,” Sandon says. Use it as a dip for vegetables, a spread for sandwiches.
Know this: Make your own so you know exactly what’s in it. Dump a can of chickpeas into the blender; add some garlic and olive oil, and voila. Russell adds a little lemon juice, cumin and tahini to hers.
Why? They’re a healthy fat, and sometimes — this probably won’t come as a huge surprise — women tend to skimp on fats.
Know this: “Fat is what gives us our energy,” says Nancy Addison, a certified sports nutritionist and author of How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian (Organic Healthy Lifestyle Publishing; $29.97). “When we have healthy fats in our diet, they help you process protein and carbohydrates more effectively.”
Plus, she says, they’re essential for brain health.
Why? “I think women tend to be low on protein,” Russell says. “They do strength training and then wonder why they don’t have enough energy.”
Know this: Eggs have relatively few calories — about 75 — and keeps you feeling full longer, Sandon says. Plus, eggs provide those essential fatty acids (see No. 3) and the yolks have vitamin D and lutein, which keeps eyes healthy.
5. Greek yogurt
Why? High protein, low fat.
Know this: “Throw in some walnuts and that adds more protein and healthy fat,” Sandon says. “I’m stuck on Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa like you’d use in baking, walnuts and Craisins and a hint of maple syrup to give that hint of sweetness.”
Gender differences in fitness
We asked the experts for the rundown on how men and women take different approaches to fitness and nutrition. Here’s what we learned:
Men: More likely to lift weights than do cardio.
Women: More likely to do cardio than lift weights.
— Katherine Coyner, orthopedic surgeon
Men: Have few inhibitions at the gym and go all out.
Women: “We sell ourselves short. We’re taught to give it enough, but not all we have.”
Men: Tend to work out alone.
Women: More likely to be group exercisers (think classes; how often is there more than a token man or two in a group exercise class?)
— Angie Russell, certified personal trainer
Men: Have an easier time with pushups than women.
Women: Have an easier time with planks than men.
— Michelle De La Valdene, certified personal trainer
Women: Skimp on vitamin C, calcium, protein, calories.
— Lona Sandon, registered dietitian