Women’s Health Through the Decades

Women’s Health Through the Decades

Local experts share their tips on how to stay active and healthy at every age

By: Kylie Cooper, Debra Young Hatch and Alexa Rodriguez | Photography by: Shoocha Photography | Doctors Orders from: Heather Dixon, DO and Esther Khatibi, MD

Few things are guaranteed in life, one of which – whether you’re ready to fully embrace it or not – is aging. So, if growing older is inevitable, why not do it mindfully and joyfully? As we age, our body experiences various changes, and how we tend to those changes matters. It’s no secret staying active throughout your life is a good thing. Not only does lifelong exercise aid in physical appearance, but it also helps reduce stress and anxiety, lower the risk of varied chronic diseases, aid in mobility and function and foster normal growth and development.  In this feature, we’ve tapped local fitness and wellness experts of all ages to discuss their relationship with physical activity and general best practices in the hopes of inspiring others to stay active and healthy at every stage of life. 

 Health in Your 20s

with Mariah Stephens of The Quad Fitness Studio

For most in their 20s, long-term health problems might seem far off, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start building a solid fitness foundation to aid in preventative healthcare measures. 

Mariah Stephens, a 27-year-old personal trainer at The Quad Fitness Studio with a Master Fitness Trainer certification from the Army, grew up playing sports and maintaining consistent physical activity. But when she joined the Army in 2019 and was eventually tasked with ensuring her squad could meet the physical standards, her passion for training set in.

“It allowed me the opportunity to work with varying levels of fitness backgrounds and figure out how to help them achieve the goal, which is what my work is wholly based around now,” Stephens said. Regardless of your fitness goals, Stephens’ No. 1 tip for women in their 20s is simple: Start now. “You might feel good today, but ask yourself how comfortable of a life you want to live,” she said. “Get into the habit now, because it will make it so much easier to sustain in your 40s, 50s and so on.”

Get in Tune with Your Body

Though a good tip for any age, the need for maintaining a healthy relationship with food can come almost as a “shocking wake-up call when we move into our mid to late 20s,” Stephens said.

“Our bodies begin to change so much during this time, and you begin to realize things you didn’t think twice about eating before no longer make you feel good or sustain your energy,” she said.

You don’t have to be a nutrition expert to do this. “I mean mindfulness in a literal way of tuning into your body,” she said. “What did you eat this week? How did your gut feel? How were your energy levels? Did you feel like you had enough fuel for your workout? You don’t have to count every calorie, but you should be asking yourself these questions and adjust accordingly.”

Stephens acknowledges that too much mindfulness when it comes to food, though, can lead to an unhealthy place. “You don’t have to cut everything out, but you should plan your meals with your workout routines in mind– think of food as fuel for your workouts,” she said. 

Small Steps Turn into Miles

As with any lifestyle change, results are hardly seen in a day. Whether it’s an adjustment to your eating habits or workout routine, Stephens said it takes four to six weeks to see any type of results, but don’t let that deter you. 

“Allow yourself to crawl before you walk,” she said. “Walking is something you already do, right? So, start with a daily step goal. Then, start jogging or weight lifting or dancing – whatever feels fun. You won’t see a drastic change after doing it once, but you’ll have found something you like and you will have shown up for yourself, and the feeling that brings will motivate you to turn this into a habit.”

For women in their 20s, Stephens recommends working up to maintaining a fitness routine consisting of 30-to-60   minutes at least three times a week.

“One of my biggest tips is incorporating even just 10 minutes of HIIT workouts into your routine,” she said. The short bursts of intense exercise combined with recovery periods aid in burning more calories in a shorter amount of time, a higher metabolic rate after exercise and produce similar fat loss to endurance exercises, among other benefits. 

Focus on You

The fear of working out in public or the anxiety of comparing ourselves to others is often what prevents people from getting started. Even Stephens, who actively works in the fitness industry, still finds herself feeling this way from time to time. 

“If you’re working out at a large gym, try to avoid the high-traffic hours,” Stephens said. “Don’t ever be afraid to take up space at the gym, but if you’re feeling anxious about people watching, find a corner, get a pair of dumbbells and a mat and plant yourself there. Sometimes, wearing a baseball cap, an oversized t-shirt and sweatpants helps me feel more comfortable.”

Stephens also suggests going to a smaller fitness studio or even doing an at-home workout as great ways to overcome gym anxiety in the beginning stages of your fitness journey.

“At the end of the day, everyone is focused on themselves. Try to remember that,” she said. “It might feel like all eyes are on you, but everyone’s fitness goals are so different. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to shut your peripheral off–be it literally in the gym or figuratively in your wellness journey as a whole.”

Doctors Orders: By the time you reach your late 20s, your bone density has reached its peak. Now is a good time to start a Vitamin D supplement, at least 600 IU per day, to help your bones absorb enough calcium to keep them stronger for longer.


Health in your 30s

with Leah Bess Murray of Divine Moon Yoga

Aging can certainly just be a mindset, but you start to feel the first signs of it in your physical body in your 30s. Growing up an accident-prone kid, Leah Bess Murray sought out pathways to healing in adulthood. Throughout the 37-year-old’s experience – including a 200-hour Hatha yoga teacher certification, facilitating multiple 200-hour trainings, Balanced Body reformer and tower training, a management and instructor position at Studio Be Pilates, running her own 200-hr yoga training, her wellness and awareness media business InGreenPeace and her community yoga collective, Divine Moon Yoga – she discovered that the mind and body are one and that investing in it produces a significant return. 

“We are all walking up this mountain of life and when we tap into all of the tools we are given to create a comfortable yet courageous stride, we can feel the pinnacle of our life force,” Bess Murray said. 

Creating that stride starts now by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, focusing on your breath and setting goals centered on mental and physical strength to set your future self up for success, she said.

​​Seek Community and Set Goals 

Many of Bess Murray’s clients in their 30s seek community. Life is demanding at this age and finding like-minded people to set goals with can make exercise less of a task to check off of a list and more of an enjoyable lifestyle shift. Whether it’s cardio, laps at a pool, surfing or community yoga, “ask yourself what you would feel good doing and then try something new at least twice,” she said. 

As for setting goals, her advice is as follows: “Create a schedule, something at least twice a week, then do it. Write down your mind and body goals on the center of a paper and create a vision board with magazine cutouts around those goals. Put that vision board somewhere you will see every day. Tell someone about these goals and ask them about theirs.” 

Three Deep Breaths and a Glass of Water

It’s never too late or too early to tap into your mind/body connection. What worked for you in your 20s may not feel and look the same in your 30s. In fact, it most likely doesn’t. 

“In yoga, breath techniques are called ‘Pranayama,’ which means the vital life force,” she said. “Our breath is one of the largest magical tools in our healing toolbox to get ourselves back on track. It can invigorate us after a long day at work or before a brisk walk on the beach. In the yoga practice, we always practice different types of breathwork. We combine breath and movement for anywhere between 45-50 minutes and conclude with a 5-10 minute relaxation pose. The beauty of yoga and Pilates is that all bodies can try it. No matter where you are on your healing and fitness journey, these modalities can aid you along the way.” Bess Murray also says to never underestimate the power of starting your day with three deep breaths and a glass of water to get your mind right. 

Find Your Strength

Looking to tone a specific part of your body? “I could go on and on about poses you can do for your physical health but I can’t stress enough the importance of the mind and breath with the physical aspects,” Bess Murray said. “This awareness and lifestyle starts small but can create a larger, life-changing impact.”

She has found that many clients, specifically those in their 30s, are set on defining their glutes. Sure, some of this has to do with physical appearance, but strong glutes have many benefits. Moreover, there are many detriments to not engaging this large muscle group responsible for stabilizing the hip, core and lower back muscles, frequently and intentionally.

“We do many lunges in an hour-long (yoga) practice,” she said. “Often in one practice, you can expect anywhere between 6-16 lunges of all types. Poses like Warrior 1 and 2, high lunge, chair pose and goddess all engage the glutes.” The time is now to strengthen major muscles to avoid other areas like the knees, hips and feet from having to compensate later on. 

In Bess Murray’s experience though, focusing on getting your mind right is just as important as the physical aspects and can propel you forward in specific physical goals. The practices of yoga and Pilates allow for the transformation of the whole person, where the body and mind receive equal attention. 

Doctor’s Orders: Be mindful of your family history and risk factors for developing disease. Family history of heart disease? Start monitoring your blood pressure and talk with your doctor about getting frequent cholesterol checks to make necessary lifestyle changes to mitigate your risk. 

Health in your 40s

with Selina Lòpez Hinojosa of LIFT by Selina

Your 40s come with a lot of changes. It is a time when shifts in dynamics such as caring for older children or ailing parents become more prevalent. Focusing on a career, a home and a social calendar all combine in this busy season of life. However, it is crucial to put your well-being first, as our bodies begin to lose mass and elasticity, hormone levels drop and the risk of developing lifelong health problems increases. 

As a medical exercise specialist, Master Fitness Trainer and the owner of LIFT by Selina, Selina Lòpez Hinojosa understands this on a fundamental level. With more than two decades of experience, Hinojosa has helped hundreds of clients live healthy lives well into their 40s and beyond. 

The better part of Hinojosa’s career has been in the wellness industry. All the while, she journeyed through a silent, hard-fought battle with addiction. In 2015, after experiencing her lowest lows, Hinojosa opened the Bible for the first time in years and something clicked. “I felt like I took a breath for the first time in a really long time,” she said. “I knew I had to make changes – for my husband, children and myself.” 

One year later, Hinojosa founded LIFT by Selina in her backyard. What began as a small fitness boot camp has since evolved into the private medical exercise and fitness center it is today. Now, at 46, Hinojosa is thriving and set on helping others feel the same.

A Shift in Mindset and Routines

Entering your 40s means being okay with a shift in your relationship with physical activity.

“It isn’t about the number of burned calories on the smartwatch, it is about longevity and quality of life,” Hinojosa said. “When I first began working out, I had a no-pain-no-gain mentality. But as I evolved in my physical journey, I realized flexibility training and functional training aid in my ability to move better in my everyday life.”

Now, at 46, she’s more focused on keeping up with her 14-year-old son or being able to pick up her 2-year-old nephew, as opposed to how many burpees she can do. 

“If I only have time to do one thing a day, I focus on flexibility training with yoga or Pilates movements at this stage of life,” she said. “In my 20s and 30s, I didn’t focus as much on this, but now in my mid-to-late 40s, it allows for more range of motion. This season of life is all about being able to move comfortably.” 

Exercise is Medicine

Hinojosa is an advocate of physical activity aiding in our overall mental health, but especially in her line of work, the concept of exercise as medicine extends to physical conditions. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary, but you should always be smart about exercise as you age or after an injury, surgery or diagnosis. “There is a specific protocol for every condition–hypertension, diabetes, joint pain, everything,” Hinojosa said. 

 She uses the example of strength training’s ability to help with osteoporosis. “There can be a general misconception about strength training, especially as we age,” she said. “But, it builds muscle, strength and bone density, which can help when dealing with that disease.” 

Hinojosa recommends seeing a trainer to help you learn the proper exercises and techniques for your goals or health conditions. She also advises people to consult their doctor about physical activity. As a medical exercise specialist, she works with her clients’ doctors to ensure ultimate safety. 

Practice Mindfulness

As for what we put into our body, Hinojosa says it’s important to be mindful of our gut. “If our gut is out of line, we aren’t going to feel good. Highly processed and sugary foods, fried foods and too much saturated fat are just a few examples of what can make our gut unhappy.” 

But, it’s about starting small – one goal at a time. Hinojosa likes choosing one thing you want to do more of and one thing you want to do less of. “Let’s say the goal is to drink more water,” she said. “Set a daily ounce goal and once you’ve mastered that, great. Now, focus on maybe drinking less caffeine. It’s all about small, effective steps that build onto one another and become consistent habits.” 

Lastly, practicing mindfulness when thinking about yourself is crucial. “We can sometimes be so mean to ourselves, but we’d never talk to our girlfriends or our daughters that way,” she said. “Be intentionally kind to yourself. This has nothing to do with nutrition or exercise. It’s about that shift in mindset to just allow yourself to live a healthy life.”

Doctor’s Orders: It’s Mammogram time! The American College of Radiology recommends an annual screening for breast cancer via yearly mammograms from age 45-55. However, starting at age 40 is a good idea, especially if your family history increases your risk. 


Health in your 50s

with Mariah McQueen of Studio Be Pilates

Mariah McQueen, Certified Pilates Instructor, Licensed Gyrotonic® Trainer and owner of  Studio Be Pilates, knows the benefits of exercise as a preventative measure against ailments that plague us as we age. 

As McQueen, now 59, moves through her 50s and walks alongside other women of similar age, “movement is medicine” has become her anthem. 

She spent the early part of adulthood discovering strength-building movements and working toward creating healthy habits around food. She hit her stride with skiing and aerobics, perfecting her turns on the slopes and even becoming an aerobics instructor.   

“When I was told by a rheumatologist in my early 20s to find another profession due to degenerative arthritis of the spine, I returned to university,” she said. “Sharing my love of movement therapy was to be my destiny.” Since then, McQueen opened Studio Be Pilates, combining her skills as a Gyrotonic® Method instructor and her background in physical therapy to create programs focused on mindful movement, injury prevention and recovery, three aspects of exercise that she’s seen plenty of women in their 50s benefit from. 

Make Time for Movement

“Over obligating/overscheduling oneself, overworking and fatigue are major hurdles [to maintaining an active lifestyle in your 50s],” McQueen said. “It’s so easy to place ourselves on the back burner and take care of everything else that we prioritize needing to get done. At the end of the day, we haven’t left enough time for ourselves.”

However, neglecting to move enough can have a significant detrimental effect on achieving overall health, and in McQueen’s experience, being mindful of the kind of movement is key. For women in their 50s, the fluidity of The Gyrotonic Expansion System® method of exercise or a Pilates session on the Reformer/Tower of Power or Combo Chair are good options as each method incorporates elements of core strengthening, spinal stabilization/mobilization, breathing, flexibility and strengthening.

“Reluctance to join or attend a ‘gym’ setting and/or intimidation and self-consciousness to exercise in front of other people may turn some away from participation in guided physical exercise,” McQueen said. “I like to design home programs for my clients to keep up the good work when they aren’t in the studio and encourage everyone to do something every day.”

Injury Prevention

Proactive exercise is the name of the game once your 50s hit. “Injuries and aches and pains are a deterrent to activity. Nobody wants to exercise in pain,” McQueen said.

According to her expertise, some of the benefits of a regular Gyrotonic® practice include a healthier, more supple spine, increased range of motion, greater joint stability, improved agility and athletic performance and deep internal strength – all of which are necessary for avoiding injury while exercising or even completing daily tasks as you get older.

Recovery is Key

“Most, if not all, clients in their 50s that seek me out are dealing with some form of injury or physical issue, past or present, that prevents or hinders their movement,” McQueen said. “A few are just curious about the methods, but for the most part, I have created a more rehab-oriented niche stemming from my physical therapy background.” 

With her background and education in physical therapy, she can offer personal postural and injury assessment for orthopedic and neurological issues, balance deficits and chronic pain, all issues that women in their 50s are susceptible to. McQueen teaches sessions in the Gyrotonic® method on the Pulley Tower which aids in injury recovery by putting more focus on circular motions. In McQueen’s experience, these types of movements tend to be more natural motions for your joints and as a result, they enhance the movement and allow your joints to flow through their full range of motion. 

It’s not just about exercise, though. A crucial piece of the puzzle is education and insight, both of which McQueen is passionate about providing to help women get back and stay on their feet.

Doctor’s Orders: As the risk of osteoporosis increases in your 50s, bone density tests become frequent. Expect regular screenings to address concerns, risk factors and treatment if necessary. Strong bones can prevent fractures and breaks and can preserve your quality of life, so be sure to stay on top of doctor visits and screenings. 


Health in your 60s

with Esmeralda Megee of ZuMama Fitness

Esmeralda Megee, co-owner of ZuMama Fitness, knows personally it’s never too late to turn your health around. At 62, she believes wholeheartedly “age is just a number” and aging for women is all about adjusting and finding what fits for you regardless of life’s challenges.

“When women start getting older,” Megee said, “they sometimes start giving up on themselves, and when they turn 60, they often decide they are just old and there is nothing they can do to change their health or fitness; that is just not true.”

Megee, a Kingsville native, spent years dancing Ballet Folklorico and loving it, but in 2008 she hung up her dancing shoes and picked up a pair of sneakers.  “I love to dance, and with Zumba, I get to dance all week and teach seniors they can still dance and get a great workout at the same time,” she said. “I teach seven Zumba classes a week, and I have women who come to class with their canes. One woman, who is 96, comes with her walker; she’s exercising and living life.”

As for her obvious passion for Zumba, Megee explained she stumbled on to Zumba in 2004 by chance and it changed her life. “I was in my 40s,” Megee said, “and I was 100 pounds overweight, depressed and sick constantly; I didn’t like how I felt or how I saw myself. Then one day, I bought a Zumba video and loved everything about it — the rhythm, the movement and the music. A couple of years later, my daughter and I became certified Zumba instructors, and in 2008, we opened ZuMama Fitness. Zumba changed my life, and now I can help other women stay fit as they age.”

Live Life and Move

As women move from their 50s to their 60s, they are often shifting their health, family or lifestyle, and part of that shift Megee believes means making adjustments to better your life. 

“I often see women in their 60s who have a health issue or who have lost a spouse,” she said. “They never exercised or did much for themselves; their husband was their life.

“Without their partner, they often sit at home alone and decline physically and emotionally. Being alone in your 60s doesn’t work. Whether women come to Zumba, walk by the Bayfront or take up swimming, it is so important to get out of the house, engage in life and move.”

Cardio and Camaraderie

Megee understands women need camaraderie. They need a place to go where they feel comfortable exercising as they age, a place where someone cares about them. 

“I see women in their late 50s or early 60s who come to class and are overwhelmed at first,” she said. “They think they can’t do it. But once the music begins and they start moving to the beat, they start smiling, having fun and getting a cardio workout. By the third class, they know the steps and by the fourth class, they have made friends and are making plans to go have tacos and coffee together. “

Healthy Eating and Healthy Exercise

As women age, nutrition is as important as exercise. According to Megee, as they get older, women need to be even more mindful of what they put in their bodies, as their bodies are a little less forgiving.

“Women in their 60s,” Megee said, “need to eat plenty of protein, a minimum amount of carbs and of course drink plenty of water.  

“All of that will help support a lower-impact workout which includes stretching, balance and strength training. There isn’t a magic bullet for women as they age, but there are opportunities to make life the best it can be, because no matter what, you can never let age stop you.”

Doctor’s Orders: Your ability to fight infection decreases as T-cell production decreases in your 60s. You might need a higher dose of the flu vaccine as well as pneumonia and shingles vaccines. This age group is likely to suffer from a more severe case of these viruses, so talk to your doctor about taking preventative measures.


Health at 65+ 

with Amy Heidecker of The Barre Fitness Studio

For Amy Heidecker, a Functional Aging Specialist and co-owner of The Barre Fitness Studio, exercise has been an integral part of her life and work since she was a teenager.  Now, at 66, she sees firsthand how exercise is a game changer for women as they age.

“As women get older, exercise is essential,” she said. “But it needs to be personal, have purpose and most importantly, be safe.” Heidecker, who is also a certified medical exercise specialist, started working at an exercise studio at 17, graduated from college with a physical education degree and worked for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America certifying aerobics instructors across the country for 10 years. So opening The Barre Fitness Studio in Corpus Christi 12 years ago was not simply a career move for her, it was a calling.

 “My mission is to help every person who walks through our doors,” Heidecker said. “What we do here is completely individualized. I have women in group classes ranging in age from 18-86. And in private sessions, I have students up to 94. ”With her own trademarked exercise method — The Amy Heidecker Method, developed by incorporating the components of fitness in a safety-based methodology — Heidecker is a firm believer that exercise is for life. 

“The four components that are most critical for exercise as women age are strength, endurance, flexibility and cardio health,” she said. “With those four fitness components, the results are improved balance and posture as well as increased strength and endurance.”

Exercise is also important when life’s challenging medical issues come calling, Heidecker said. “When someone receives a difficult diagnosis like the need for knee or hip replacement, has balance issues or perhaps Parkinson’s and they come to me, and I say, ‘I can help you,’ their face brightens and they stand a little straighter; it gives them hope and,” she said as she smiled, “that makes my day.”

Improving Your Fitness Age as You Age 

With 47 years in the fitness industry, Heidecker has seen massive changes and increased opportunities for women to stay fit and healthy. “Exercise is so different than 20 years ago,” she said. “What that means is with the right instructor, women can actually improve their fitness age as their chronological age increases. The 65-year-old woman today is more like 45 and is going toward their 70s and 80s in a much better place to stay fit and enjoy life.”

With Exercise Comes Community

Community is an integral part of staying healthy and engaged, but sometimes as women age that community goes missing. Heidecker sees daily how exercising together creates community.

“The friendships and camaraderie exercising in groups provides is so important,” she said. “It offers a sense of belonging often lost when women leave the workplace. The women in our classes become friends, they call each other, they take soup to each other when they are sick and they mourn losses together. They have a connection, a community and they know they are not alone as they grow older.”

Life, Health and Your ADLs

Heidecker, who rides her bike to work most days, understands life as you age is about balance. It’s about staying fit and healthy to enjoy your ADLs (Activities of Daily Life). Those daily activities might be as simple as picking up a grandchild, working outside in the garden or getting holiday decorations out of the attic. 

“Women need to find whatever it is they enjoy and keeps them fit and moving,” Heidecker said. “Whether they come to The Barre Fitness Studio classes, play pickleball or tennis, it doesn’t matter. What matters is movement, core strength and safety. Plus,” she said and smiled knowingly, “everyone needs to be able to get up off the floor.”  

Doctor’s Orders: Women are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias as they age beyond 65. Keeping an active lifestyle, socializing regularly and continually learning new things are all preventative measures that can and should be taken at this age. 

Speaking of health, check out this story about Rockport’s newest fitness haven, 361 Pilates by Jo.