Women’s nutrition and exercise: It just got easier

 BY LAURA MURRAY

Eat right and exercise…If this is the root of all the complicated advice on staying healthy, it sure sounds simple enough. But our skipped breakfast and our huffing at the top of the stairs show just how difficult we find those things to fit into our busy schedules. 

Whether we like it or not, we’ve lost all of our excuses. From pole fitness to fresh recipes, local sources have provided us with a variety of ways for women to stay healthy through nutrition and exercise at every stage of our lives.

Maybe being healthy really is as simple, and fun, as it sounds.

Eating right

According to Angie Moeding, a registered dietitian at University of Minnesota Medical Centers, Fairview, eating sensibly is a straightforward, overlooked habit we should all make a part of our lifestyle.

“What we eat affects every single cell in our bodies,” she said. When we eat well, we tend to feel well.

Moeding recommends the acclaimed DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to anyone wanting to improve her nutrition. The DASH diet, endorsed by the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic, stresses the importance of fruits, vegetables and grains.

Likewise, while many fad diets focus on cutting foods out, Moeding takes the opposite approach in her suggestions for healthy eating. Rather than eliminating a food, she said, “Look at it and think, ‘What can I add to make it more nutritious?’”

Some of Moeding’s important additions for a healthy diet:

Balance. “The idea of eating healthy all the time can be more of a deterrent than anything else,” Moeding said. Trying to “only” eat healthy foods can lead to deprivation—and overeating of unhealthy options.

Variety. “We can get into a rut of eating the same things,” Moeding said. She encourages sampling new foods as well as exchanging old standbys for different tastes and nutrients, such as farrow instead of oatmeal.

Still, don’t feel like you have to run out and buy the latest “superfood,” she said. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are as good (or better) for us as pomegranates.

Color. One of the best ways to get variety in our diet is to eat foods of all colors, such as green, purple, yellow and red. “The deeper the food’s color, the more nutrients it has,” Moeding said, adding that each color offers its own benefits. Don’t forget about important white foods like onions and potatoes.

Breakfast. Besides speeding up our metabolism, breakfast energizes us for the day ahead and sets us up for eating right all day long.

Water. We don’t need to worry so much about drinking eight glasses a day as much as drinking when we’re thirsty. Otherwise, Moeding said, our metabolism can slow down by 3 percent.

Whole grains. Moeding can’t say enough about the importance of whole grains in our diets. Try quinoa, buckwheat, barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), flaxseed and amaranth. Make grains tastier and even more nutritious by adding color, such as avocado or tomatoes.

Whole and plant-based foods. As much as possible, we should avoid those processed, packaged foods and eat fresh instead. To keep from grabbing junk during a busy day, it pays to have food with us for on-the-go—try a banana or a bag of almonds.

Mindfulness. With all of the super-sizing we’re used to, portion-sizing is something to remember, whether at a restaurant or having a snack. Snacks should be filling and satisfying, and Moeding recommends portioning the snack out on a plate or bowl and putting the rest away before eating.

Women also have different nutritional recommendations than the rest of our families. For example, we generally require more calcium and iron and fewer calories than men.

Organization. As a new mother, Moeding knows that eating healthfully takes planning. “When you’re making dinner, make double and throw some in the freezer,” she suggested. “Or make lunch for next day since you’re already doing all the prep work.”

Taking a half hour each week to plan menus and write grocery lists keeps us on track and in control of healthy meals during a busy week, she said. Websites, such as Pepperclip.com and Eatingwell.com, can be helpful resources for recipes and groceries.

Enjoyment. Food is delicious! Taking the time to slow down and savor what we’re eating is the key to satisfaction and satiety, said Moeding.

Exercise

From better skin to a happier disposition to a longer life, it seems as if there’s no end to the benefits that exercise can offer us.

A look around the local area shows just how many options are available to help us accomplish whatever our fitness goal may be: to get into shape, to find a welcoming exercise community, to lose weight or to find a challenging new workout.

Something for everyone

Bodyblast Studio in Eagan is not your typical gym—and that’s how co-owner Teri Dale likes it.

Maybe it’s the poles sprouting from the floor, or maybe it’s the resistance bands hanging down from the ceiling. But for Dale, the difference is all in the goal.

“We’re geared toward fitness but also toward doing something fun and creative,” she said. “We’re trying to transform women physically and mentally.”

Theresa Sorensen, studio manager at Bodyblast, said a crucial part of that transformation is discovering how to feel sexy. “Women are wired to be sexy,” she said. “When you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, you feel more confident and better about yourself.”

Bodyblast welcomes both men and women, but classes such as pole fitness are women-only.

From Kettlebells to yoga to Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX) to its B-Fit Challenge, Bodyblast gives women a unique workout facility by offering a mix of the traditional and the progressive.

All skill levels are welcome to try out a class, Dale said, adding that beginner pole fitness participants begin in tennis shoes before graduating to high heels in the more advanced classes. Registration for several classes, including beginner pole fitness, does not require a membership.

“The fun factor keeps women coming back,” Dale said. Laughing with old and new friends is as much a part of the class as the workout itself.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are. You can do classes, you can feel sexy, and you can get results at any age.”

Other local gyms, such as the Minnesota Valley YMCA in Burnsville, also emphasize the importance of exercise at all ages.

In addition to its regular fitness classes that include Zumba, Turbo Kick, spinning and water aerobics, the YMCA offers classes especially for adults who are 55-plus.

“The body is different at age 61 than it is at age 21,” said Sarah Dickhausen, the active older adult coordinator for the Minnesota Valley YMCA. “But there is no end limit for fitness.”

Area YMCA’s have instructors specifically trained in osteoporosis, Type II diabetes and other conditions we’re more likely to face as we age. The Minnesota Valley YMCA offers classes such as tai chi and Zumba for older adults, along with aerobics geared toward participants who might have arthritis or joint replacements.

The YMCA’s popular cardio circuit class, SilverSneakers, is part of a national incentive program, but members don’t need to be a part of the insurance program to participate.

Water exercise is also a great option for all ages, said Lori Rieffer, senior aquatics coordinator at the YMCA.

“Water aerobics provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout,” she said, which makes it ideal for staying fit and losing weight without stressing our joints. Arthritis classes are also offered in the YMCA’s warm-water pool.

According to Dickhausen, older adult classes improve flexibility, muscle strength and conditioning, and are still a good challenge.

A few of the regular participants are in their nineties, which Dickhausen said is especially impressive when compared to the fitness of the younger general public.

“You really can keep active and keep moving at any age.”

Getting outside

Even during a Minnesota winter, exercise doesn’t have to be limited to the gym.

The Dakota County Parks Department maintains trails, provides equipment rental and hosts educational classes, making it more fun than ever to play outside.

“Our programs really encourage women to get moving and be active outdoors,” said Beth Landahl, manager of park operations and education.

Besides providing activities for the whole family, and trails for hiking, biking, inline skating and walking, the parks department also hosts women-specific programming.

You’ll find equipment rental and training for winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and summer activities such as kayaking and geocaching. After a quick tutorial, why not try out a new seasonal sport like kicksledding or paddleboarding?

At 2000 acres, the Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan is the largest park in the county system and the location of the visitor’s center and equipment rental. To accommodate an increasing interest in evening activities, the center hosts events like last winter’s Full Moon Snowshoe for women.

“It’s beautiful to be outdoors snowshoeing under a full moon,” Landahl said. “We want to make that more accessible to people.”

Look for more information on the parks’ activities, courses and equipment rental on the Dakota County website.

Landahl hopes that all ages and skill levels will come outside to enjoy nature, be a little adventurous and get some exercise at the same time. “It’s a great way to get your feet wet and try something out.”

Unexpected benefits

The benefits of making nutrition and exercise a regular part of our lives might turn out to be more than we expected—and we may surprise ourselves with discoveries of what we’re capable.

Whether it’s tasting quinoa, strapping on snowshoes or attending a pole fitness class, trying something new can be empowering.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Dale said. “It gets you thinking, ‘What else can I do?’”

Laura Murray is a freelance writer and contributer to FOCUS Magazine.