Strength training is a great way to build muscle and avoid weight gain. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Strength training is a great way to build muscle and avoid weight gain. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re like most women, you have a tough time getting back into a workout routine once you get out of the habit of exercise.

We think we are active enough with weekend activities, yard work and the occasional jog or bike ride. But as we get older, we realize this type of exercise routine isn’t quite enough, and we start to gain a few pounds each year.

Worse still, if we become more relaxed about our diet, the weight gain is even greater.

We might not notice until our clothes are suddenly a little too tight.

This may be the wakeup call we need to get our exercise mojo back.

So where do we begin? Let’s start with the basics of exercise.

Aerobic, strength, stretching

I like to focus on three types of activity: (1) aerobic exercise, where we get our heart rate up and keep it sustained for a given time; (2) strength training, to maintain and build muscle; and (3) stretching, to prevent injury and fatigue.

All three aspects are important to help maintain a healthy and strong body.

All three also play a vital role in helping you fit into the clothes you love.

Strength training is especially important for women as we age, because if we allow muscle mass to be lost, fat moves in between the muscle fibers, leaving muscles weak and flabby. When muscle mass drops, weight gain starts.

Men don’t often have the same issues as women when it comes to weight gain. They tend to keep weight off more easily for many years because they start with more muscle mass and naturally express more testosterone.

Women who keep their muscles toned by doing interval training, weight lifting, resistance training and incline training can keep the weight off more easily as well.

You may be shaking your head and thinking all this exercise sounds way too difficult, but it’s much easier than it sounds.

Choose it

First, make sure whatever type of workout you pick is something you like to do. For example, I like to swim—I participated on the swim team in high school. I also like to lift weights, and I learned the proper way to lift from my roommate in college.

One of my other favorite forms of exercise is yoga. I do it twice a week at home . As you can see, if you find something you enjoy doing, you can make it work. If I’m pressed for time, I lift weights and do yoga without ever leaving my home.

Fortunately, there are many different forms of exercise—you just need to find the right one for you and your lifestyle.

If you don’t like yoga, try a Zumba, body pump, or kickboxing class. Pilates, Tai Chi, or aquafit classes are also good options. Even better, mix it up and try several types of workouts each week.

To help build muscle, add in some weight-lifting exercises either at a gym or in the privacy of your own home if you have some weights.

If you need a little help getting started, check out one of my favorite health books, Body for Life for Women by Pamela Peeke, MD.

You’ll find some simple strength-training workouts for the upper and lower body in the back of the book. Even if you do the book’s lower-body workout two or three times per week, you can maintain—and possibly even increase—muscle mass. I think you’ll find the exercises and the entire book helpful.

Schedule it

In addition to the type of exercise you choose, you also need to determine a time when you’ll actually do the exercises each day, or at least several times per week.

I prefer to do my workout at night, when I’m too drained to do other work such as paying bills or writing.

When I have finished helping my kids with their homework and my kitchen is cleaned up after dinner, I head to the exercise bike or yoga mat—usually around 9 p.m. This allows me to get in a good workout, clean up and head to bed before it gets too late.

This routine works well for me and allows me to de-stress from the day. I know I don’t have time to exercise in the morning, so I don’t plan on it. Many women, however, see morning as the best time to do their workout—they’re then done for the day, and they know there’s no way they would do it at night.

After you’ve chosen an exercise and a time frame, you need to put it on your calendar. You may think you don’t need to schedule your workouts, but it really does help you stick to your plan.

Here’s what I recommend: On Sunday night, plan out your week. Start by listing your priorities: work, kids’ events, appointments, exercise. The rest of your day should be planned around these scheduled priorities.

As I look at each day, I plan a longer workout, such as swimming, when I have more time. On days when I’m pressed for time, I schedule a shorter workout, such as the legs and core session from Dr. Peeke’s book.

There is usually one day each week when I simply have no time to fit in a workout, and that becomes my day off. So when the day comes, I have already planned to take it off—no guilt.

Do it

So what are you waiting for? Create your exercise plan today!

Usually by day five of my routine, I’m feeling so good that I’m choosing to exercise instead of making myself do it.

If you can get into a regular routine, add some strength training, and cut down on your carbohydrates intake—especially after 3 p.m.

The results will soon follow.