How can I tone and reshape my body without using weights? I am a 51-year-old woman. I was thinking of investing in a home Pilates machine I saw in a catalogue. Also what about toning tables?
If you are a healthy weight, toning and reshaping are almost entirely down to two factors: gaining muscle and improving posture. The best way to do this depends on where you are starting from. If you have previously done little or no exercise, then almost any activity you take up will show results, as long as you do it regularly and with good effort.
Power walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, or using the cardio machines at the gym will all improve muscle tone as well as boosting your heart and lung fitness, if you build up to a regular pattern of three 20-minute sessions a week. You’ll need to work quite hard during the sessions: a good rule of thumb is ask yourself “how hard am I working?” and aim for an effort level of about 7 out of 10. While you will feel the cardio and energy benefits within a few sessions, your toning results will need a couple of months to show through.
By the time women reach their 50s, it is usually specific bits that we are most bothered about: hints of bingo-wings, turkey necks, saggy bums, muffin tops and ballooning bellies. It’s harder to target these specific areas, but you can make a difference if you combine your postural and toning (muscle building) efforts.
Pilates and yoga are two of the best ways. Both disciplines focus on “core” strength — abdominals, bums and back muscles — but also train you to sit, stand and move with good postural alignment. There are hundreds of DVDs and teach-yourself books, but I would always recommend that you find an appropriately qualified teacher and join a class if you’re just starting out.
Pilates machines are used for strength and flexibility training. Although there are no “weights” involved, they are quite similar to gym machines, because you still work with tensioned pulleys and ropes to do the exercises. Again, you would be wise to find a Pilates studio and pay for some sessions on their equipment before spending out on your own machine.
Toning tables may be a lovely way to chill out for an afternoon, but don’t imagine they can re-sculpt your body while you lie around relaxing. They don’t and they can’t.
Another alternative is a “whole body vibration” machine. Now in many gyms, these machines are used as a short-cut to muscle strengthening, and they promise quicker results than traditional weight training. An instructor should check to ensure it is safe for you and teach you how to use it.
One final note: in your 50s, it is very important to do strength training to combat the bone-thinning that comes with menopause. Whether you use your own body weight as resistance or gym machines, by keeping muscles in great condition you are not just looking good but looking after your bone health, too.