In South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Day to acknowledge the strength and resilience of women and their contribution to society and the country. There is something to celebrate in every stage of a woman’s journey, and we should be intentional about embracing, learning from and rejoicing in every chapter. When it comes to physical and mental wellbeing, how we engage with movement may change in the different life phases, but in every season, there’s a good reason to keep moving.
Throw, run, kick – like a girl.“My coach said I run like a girl. And I said if he ran a little faster, he could too.” – Mia Hamm
Before puberty, there are no significant differences between girls and boys in terms of speed, strength or any other sports performance-related parameters. In fact, girls are often stronger than boys pre-puberty. For the girl child, physical activity is not just important for its health benefits but, also, for how it boosts self-confidence, academic performance, and sense of belonging. Research shows that girls, in particular, closely emulate what their mothers do. Compared to their sedentary counterparts, active mothers are more likely to raise active teenage girls. Being active as a family is a great way to bond with your child and the best way to cultivate a life-long love of physical movement. The key is to make exercise a fun-filled activity that is enjoyable, encourages the development of a new skill or where personal progress can be demonstrated and celebrated. In these years physical activity enables healthy physical development while building social skills and fostering self-confidence.Go with the flow
The physical, mental and social changes that occur in teenage years can be confusing and challenging for adolescents and parents alike. Encourage your daughter to be aware of how her body changes with age and, once she reaches menarche, how she responds to hormone fluctuations throughout the month. Girls may feel strong and energetic or sluggish and bloated depending on where they are in their cycle. Understanding these shifts, adapting activity accordingly and being able to communicate this is valuable. During these years, adolescents also begin to struggle for independence as they increase their ability to think abstractly, plan and set goals. In order to foster physical and social ability, encourage your teenage daughter to take on new challenges, to vocalise their struggles, to think independently and to find healthy emotional outlets. In these years physical activity contributes to emotional regulation, body positivity, and reduced risky behaviour.
Colour outside the lines
The twenties present a whole new set of challenges and joys for women navigating relationships, careers and life. These are the years of social exploration, professional development, and career progression. In these years, we generally live life flat out: we work hard, we play hard, we love hard, and we fail hard. Remaining physically active in these years helps prevent depression, helps manage anxiety and makes us more likely to engage in positive behaviour – resulting in a better social life and improved productivity. Importantly, managing one’s diet, moderating alcohol consumption and staying physically active will help lower the costs of health care later in life.
I am who I am, and that is my super power
While the twenties are years of self-discovery, the thirties and forties are commonly years of self-actualisation. During self-discovery, one realises the dynamics of their personality, becomes more certain about their likes and dislikes and often starts to set boundaries. Self-actualisation is a progression from self-realisation and involves self-development and self-mastery. It happens when you start to realise your full potential. Numerous *studies have shown that in adults, higher levels of physical activity are related to higher scale scores of mastery, self-control and vitality. In this season, staying active will help you realise your full potential.
Exercise is medicine
By the time you’ve stumbled out your twenties, figured yourself out in your thirties and forties and crested into your fifties, if you haven’t been taking care of your health, the cracks soon start to show. Diseases of chronic lifestyle, cancer and mental illness tend announce themselves painfully in this stage. The good news is that numerous clinical studies have shown that physical activity can effectively reduce risk, improve quality of life, and lower complications in many chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular illness. When it comes to cancer, breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness are increasingly being used in various aspects of cancer management to alleviate the anxiety related to the diagnosis. Furthermore, various randomised control trials have demonstrated aerobic exercise improves anxiety, depression, fatigue, quality of life and physical function in cancer survivors.
One of the most important considerations for women, as they begin to age or reach post-menopause is losing bone mass, which puts them at risk of osteoporosis. Strength training and weight-bearing exercise can help with improving bone density and preventing bone loss as it encourages the osteogenic effect (bone growth). Other than a consistently well-balanced diet, this is one of the best ways to prevent age-related fractures and movement-related injuries in the future. In this stage, physical activity helps us better maintain health, manage chronic conditions and maintain mental wellbeing.
As we celebrate women this month, let’s also celebrate the opportunity to move in every season and how this enriches our lives in so many ways. Here’s to embracing every stage of our journey. To the trailblazers, the girls challenging stereotypes, the quiet and steady pillars of communities, to you and I – the ordinary women with extraordinary resilience, love and beauty – we salute you, we embrace you, we celebrate you, in every phase of every stage.