Mental health benefits of exercise for women over 40. Hutton Health

Mental health benefits of exercise for women over 40

13th October 2023

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Mental health issues are common in the UK and across the world. It is estimated that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

With the many stresses and pressures that women over 40 face each day, it’s no surprise that many women struggle with their mental health. Juggling work, family, house and caring responsibilities, women often find their own health, fitness and wellbeing at the bottom of their priority list.

Exercise offers numerous mental health benefits for women over 40, just as it does for individuals of all ages.

Here are some of the specific mental health advantages of regular exercise for women in this age group:

Stress Reduction:

Stress can negatively affect your health in a number of ways. Find out how stress can affect your health in this blog.

Exercise can serve as a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with life's stressors. It provides a constructive outlet for pent-up emotions and can help women better manage the demands of daily life.

Exercise can help reduce stress by promoting the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Regular physical activity can also lower the levels of stress hormones in the body, leading to a calmer and more relaxed state of mind.

Regular exercise can also help reduce stress levels by lowering the production of stress hormones like cortisol, this can lead to a calmer and more relaxed mood.

When I start to feel stressed or overwhelmed, I head outside to walk in nature, effectively combatting the rising stress levels. The combination of exercise and the connection with the natural world not only alleviates stress but also significantly enhances my mental health, promoting a sense of tranquility and clarity that allows me to regain focus and balance.

Stress Reduction

Mood Enhancement:

Exercise has been shown to improve mood and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also help women over 40 manage the emotional challenges that may come with aging, such as changes in hormones and life transitions.

Exercise can boost energy levels and overall vitality while nurturing a profound sense of happiness and overall wellness. When you feel more energetic, you may be more motivated to explore new activities and experiences, leading to increased self-awareness.

Mood Enhancement

Cognitive Function:

Physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive function and can help maintain mental sharpness as we age. Exercise has several benefits for cognitive function:

  • Enhances memory
  • Improves attention
  • Enhances problem-solving abilities
  • Reduces the risk of cognitive decline.

Read more about the many ways that exercise can change your brain in this previous blog.

Cognitive Function

Sleep Improvement:

Many women experience sleep disturbances as they get older. Regular exercise can promote better sleep by regulating sleep patterns and improving sleep quality:

  • Regulates Sleep-Wake Cycle: Exercise helps regulate your body's internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. Regular physical activity can signal to your body that it's time to be awake during the day and restorative sleep at night.
  • Reduces Stress: Physical activity is an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. When you're less stressed, it's easier to relax and fall asleep. High stress levels can often lead to insomnia or disrupted sleep.
  • Promotes Relaxation: We already know that exercise can trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. These endorphins promote a sense of well-being and relaxation, which can also make it easier to fall asleep.
  • Enhances Sleep Quality: Regular exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. People who engage in physical activity often report experiencing deeper and more restorative sleep cycles.
  • Reduces Insomnia: Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of insomnia. While exercising too close to bedtime may be stimulating, moderate-intensity exercise earlier in the day can improve the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Boosts Melatonin Production: Exposure to natural light during the day, which often accompanies outdoor exercise, helps regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep-wake cycles.
  • Improves Sleep for Individuals with Sleep Disorders: Exercise can be particularly beneficial for individuals with certain sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnoea. It can help alleviate symptoms and improve sleep quality.
  • Enhances Sleep Duration: Some studies suggest that regular exercise can lead to longer sleep duration. People who are physically active often report needing less time to fall asleep and waking up less frequently during the night.

Adequate sleep is essential for overall mental health and wellbeing.

It's important to note that the timing of exercise can affect its impact on sleep. Exercising too close to bedtime (within a few hours of going to sleep) may have a stimulating effect and make it harder to fall asleep. It's generally recommended to finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime to allow your body to wind down.

The type and intensity of exercise can also play a role. While regular, moderate-intensity exercise is generally beneficial for sleep, overly intense workouts or exercising too close to bedtime may have the opposite effect.

It's essential to find a balance that works for your body and sleep patterns.

Sleep Improvement

Boosting Self-Esteem and Confidence:

Engaging in regular exercise can improve self-esteem and body image. It helps women feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin, which can positively impact their mental health.

Women over 40 may find that regular exercise helps them feel more confident and comfortable in their bodies, leading to a more positive self-perception.

Exercise often presents physical and mental challenges. Whether it's pushing through a tough workout, conquering a difficult hike, or completing a fitness class, overcoming these challenges can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of achievement.

I find wearing exercise clothing that fits well helps improve my confidence while working out. Sweaty Betty clothes fit me brilliantly, stay in place when I am exercising and look great!

Check out this blog, What to wear when you workout.

Boosting Self-Esteem and Confidence

Social Interaction:

There is a correlation between feeling connected and having a sense of belonging and mental health.

Participating in group exercise classes, sports, or fitness activities can provide opportunities for social interaction and the formation of supportive friendships. Social connections are crucial for mental wellbeing, especially as women age.

Some of my closest friends over the years have come from sports teams that I have participated on. I still love meeting friends for a run or walk!

Social Interaction

Sense of Achievement:

Celebrate each time you lace up your shoes and head out the door to exercise. Smile each time you intentionally move your body and each time you take a step toward improving your health and fitness. 

Exercise allows women to set specific fitness goals, such as running a certain distance, lifting a certain weight, or mastering a particular yoga pose. Achieving these goals provides a tangible sense of accomplishment and progress.

Setting fitness goals and working towards them can teach valuable lessons about perseverance, determination, and self-discipline. Achieving these goals can boost self-esteem and self-awareness.

Setting and achieving fitness goals can boost self-efficacy and provide a sense of accomplishment. This can translate into improved mental well-being, as it reinforces the belief in one's ability to overcome challenges.

Over time, regular exercise can lead to noticeable physical improvements, such as increased strength, flexibility, and endurance. Witnessing these changes in their bodies can be highly rewarding and affirming.

Maintaining a regular exercise routine requires discipline and consistency. Women who prioritize exercise in their daily or weekly schedules often feel a sense of pride in their ability to stick to their commitments and make time for self-care.

Regular exercise can boost energy levels and vitality. Women over 40 may feel a sense of achievement simply by having the energy and motivation to engage in activities they enjoy, both inside and outside the gym.

Download Hutton Health’s free Goal Setting Workbook to ensure you are setting effective health and fitness goals to help keep you motivated and on track with your exercise programme.


Sense of Achievement

Hormone Regulation:

Regular exercise can help balance hormones, including oestrogen, which can be particularly important for women over 40 as they go through perimenopause and menopause. Hormone imbalances can affect mood and mental health.

Exercise can have a positive impact on hormone regulation for women over 40 by influencing various hormonal systems in the body. Hormonal changes are a natural part of the aging process, and exercise can help mitigate some of the associated challenges.

Hormone Regulation

Enhanced Body Awareness:

Engaging in physical activity can help women become more in tune with their bodies. This increased body awareness can lead to better self-care and a deeper understanding of one's physical and mental needs.

Exercise encourages a stronger mind-body connection. As women over 40 engage in physical activities, they become more attuned to their bodies, sensations, and movements. This increased awareness can translate into a greater understanding of their physical capabilities and limitations.

Enhanced Body Awareness

It's essential to note that the type, frequency, and intensity of exercise can vary depending on individual preferences and fitness levels. Women over 40 should consult with a healthcare provider or fitness professional to create a personalized exercise plan that aligns with their goals and physical capabilities. Additionally, combining exercise with other mental health strategies, such as mindfulness and stress management techniques, can further enhance overall well-being.

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