PEMBROKE PINES – French fashion designer Coco Chanel said it best: “Nature gives you the face you have at 20; it is up to you to merit the face you have at 50.” And British Statesman Edward Stanley put it this way: “Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

Both Chanel and Stanley were on the right track, even then. Closer to home, personal trainer and lifestyle coach Patricia Cook has been espousing the virtues of healthy eating and regular exercise for 16 years.

And as the life expectancy of the American population increases, so does the need to live a better, healthier life. This is particularly true for women, who are often strapped with more responsibilities; having to juggle not only work, but household chores and the children and their activities.

Getting in shape and staying in shape, therefore, becomes harder if you are a woman over 40.

The South Florida Times spoke to Cook, 46, who studied exercise and sports science at Florida International University, and asked her for eight tips to leading a better, healthier life for women over 40.

1. What are five exercises or stretches women over 40 should do every week?

“The very first thing that I would do is that when you first get up in the morning, start with stretching exercises. Start with your neck and then your shoulders and move all the way down your body. Do every part of your body – stretch, rotate. I call it a ‘check-in stretch.’ Then go back and do it again. Everybody should be doing that every morning.
“You have to add some sort of cardio-training in your day, every day. You should be building up some sort of sweat every day. It could be walking, dancing, walking upstairs. You should be pushing yourself to exertion at least 30 minutes a day and it doesn’t have to be consecutive.

Break a sweat every day. Everybody should be doing that.” (She defines ‘exertion’ as being able to talk, “but you don’t really want to.”)

2. What should we be eating?

“None of this matters if you are not going to take a holistic approach and look at everything you are doing.

“Take a look at what you are eating and take a look at those things that you know you should not be eating. You should not be eating candy every day or [drinking] soda every day. Read the labels.

If you cannot pronounce the names on the labels, you should not be eating it.

“People should eat more colorful than what they are eating now. Try to go for more whole foods. Try some new things. Make your plate three quarters produce.”

3. Black Americans have high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. How, and what, are black folks eating?
“It’s math. Calories in and calories out. How much are you eating and how many calories are going out? It’s going to take some honesty on what you are taking in and what you are burning. Have the cup of mac-and-cheese but do the work. I don’t believe in saying don’t eat this or don’t eat that because I think it’s a recipe for disaster. Do the math.

4. People say that your core is the central thing you should focus on strengthening. Is that true, and if so, why?

“First of all, think of your core as your abdominal muscles, your lower back.

“Having a strong core makes you stand taller. It makes you stronger and it makes you safer. Women over 40 are more prone to injury. Having a strong core helps with that. If you can only train one thing, train your core. It’s a natural waist trainer that will pull you up, make you look strong and feel strong and protect you from injuries.”

5. How do you make sure you eat the right things if you work and then have to come home and feed the kids and your husband?

“It takes planning. I am not going to say it’s easy; it’s not easy. It’s going to take you an hour or two during the week or on Sunday to plan and/or prepare your meal in advance. The best way to fail is not to plan. Meal prep and planning is key. It’s too easy to go through the drive-thru.

“And don’t be afraid to give your family a try [when introducing new foods]. Once they see you eating it and you make it well, they may try it. The best-case scenario is the whole family gets healthier.

“Find out what your kids like and don’t be afraid of them eating it more than once a week. If they like it and it’s healthy, double up on it!”

6. What is strength training and why is it important? “Strength training is considered anything that is resistance training and that builds muscle up. It can be with bands, bar bells, etc. – anything that puts resistance on your muscles.

“Get used to your own body again and get to know what it can do. That’s a great place to start, especially for beginners. “Do anything functional – like simulating sitting in a chair without a chair there, bending down to pick up your keys if you drop them. It’s what we call ‘functional movement’ – actual daily movement. The balance that comes with leaning forward if you drop something or when you are holding a baby is important.”

7. I hate the gym! And it’s too expensive! What are some things that I can do that don’t require me having to lift weights in a gym?

“With YouTube and all of the apps available that are less than $10 that allow you to have your own personal trainer, you can do it in your own home or during your break at work. Find something that you like.

“Be gentle with yourself. As black women … be gentle with yourself. Find something and get started.”
8. What is the best piece of advice you can give to the 40-something who just can’t find the time to fit exercise in her schedule?

“Put yourself first and make sure you are doing your self-care. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your friend who is not taking care of herself. If you can only do 10 minutes, do 10 and tomorrow do 11. Don’t try to do the whole shebang. Trust that you will get better and stronger because everyone has been there at some point. Get started. Do something today!” The writer is related to Patricia

Cook. For more advice or personal training, you can reach out to Cook at 305-912-7289 for consultations and motivation.