Women's Health: We Only Get One Body, Care for It (cont.)

During your challenges, what you're trying to do through the healthy lifestyle, is minimize body fat. Why? Because excess body fat increases a woman's risk for breast cancer. And if the body fat is located primarily deep inside her tummy under the abdominal muscle wall, which occurs very frequently after the age of 40, then she will also increase her risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which also includes colon cancer. So body fat is the key here, not total body weight.

Also, a woman needs to hold on to that muscle which will keep her strong and able to continue her caregiving well into her 80s and 90s. But she can't do that if the muscle is weak. Therefore, paying attention to strengthening muscle and maintaining that is essential. Here is the great news: Everything she does to strengthen her muscles strengthens her bones, so you get a real triple win. You get a minimizing of body fat and saving her life, optimizing her muscles as best she can to stay strong and independent throughout her life and maintaining those bones that are so precious so that she can continue to live well.

MEMBER QUESTION: You talk about strength training in the book. I was always told not to lift weights, that it would hurt me internally.

PEEKE: Strength training is absolutely essential to a woman's overall mental and physical well-being. The stronger a woman is physically, the stronger she is mentally. It's a beautiful mind-body connection.


"How can you calculate how much exercise it takes each day to lose weight?"

Current science clearly shows that strength training is nonnegotiable and essential to maintaining and optimizing a woman's body composition. She needs this to be able to decrease the risk of falling and breaking precious bones, especially after the age of 50, with all of the subsequent problems. She also needs this to be able to fend for herself and at the same time she needs strength training to increase bony strength and integrity so that she can continue to ambulate, mobilize and caregive throughout her life. Therefore, there is absolutely no evidence what so ever that strength training is deleterious.

MEMBER QUESTION: A question about stress and cortisol and weight gain around the middle -- what can help with this?

PEEKE: I have spent most of my career studying the stress-fat connection. It was actually the topic of my first book, Fight Fat After 40 , and I expand on that in Body for Life for Women .

The bottom line is that women tend to hold on to stress deeply and find it difficult to let go. When they do this, they maintain chronic elevation of cortisol levels. What does this do? It stirs up an appetite for the stress fuels, which by the way are never tuna on a bed of greens. It's always fat and carbohydrate; it's that big spoon and pint of ice cream you have sitting with you in bed late at night.

How to get around this? No. 1, something is not stressful unless you agree it is stressful. So you have to learn stress resilience, which means learning to, as I said in my book, embrace adversity, which is the first "power mind principle," and then continue on, as you learn stress resilience, to become a "master regrouper," which is "principle eight." What does this mean? That means that no matter what happens to you in life, that you are able to show flexibility, to work with it, to negotiate. If plan A doesn't work, plan B, C and all the way through Z. How creative can you be? Women are superb at doing this for other people but when it comes to themselves, they don't want to put out that effort.

Please put out the effort to take the time to learn how to be able to see life for what it is, embrace that adversity, and say, "Yeah, I accept it." Then use all of the tools and resources that you have in your wonderful and complex lives to be able to create new plans of attack, new ways to be able to navigate the challenges of your life. When you do this, your cortisol levels are lower, remain more stable, and therefore stress-overeating becomes a thing of the past.

MEMBER QUESTION: Doesn't exercise help reduce stress by releasing endorphins?

PEEKE: One of the tools that you will be using to increase stress resilience is physical activity. It doesn't even have to be a gym business. Instead, get up, take a walk wherever you may be, even if it's around the building at work -- because it works. You could make this a walking meditation. Simply allow your mind to be able to rest a little bit at the same time.

As you're walking, you're stirring up the best chemicals in your brain to help neutralize the effect of cortisol, which is the endorphins. The endorphins inhibit cortisol, bringing it down to manageable levels, giving you a sense of well-being, modulating your mood and allowing you to be able to come up with an answer, a solution, or just a way of being able to say, "it is what it is," without doing the one thing women do quite often, and that is to self-destruct with behaviors like overeating.

MEMBER QUESTION: How can you calculate how much exercise it takes each day to lose weight and also maintain weight?

PEEKE: In my book, I have made it clear that there are some simple ways to be able to find out how much physical activity works for you.

Here's a very easy template: If you are someone who has at least 20 pounds of excess body fat, (meaning have that body fat percentage checked now) then it would really be helpful if you could burn 300 to 400 calories per day in physical activity. Gosh, what does that mean? Well, walking a mile, which is 2,500 steps on your pedometer, usually burns about a hundred calories. So, if you're aiming for that wonderful 10,000 steps a day that we always encourage on your pedometer, you have your 400 calories right there. Doing this every day that you can, but a minimum of five days a week, really does the trick. In addition, you can cross train as much as you wish -- if you want to bike, if you want to use a stair-stepper, if you want to use an elliptical -- all of these things are wonderful cross-training options, but the key is consistency, and that is very important.