Girls are often raised to be polite, quiet, and sweet. As they become adults, pent-up emotions and aggression can become difficult to deal with. Hormonal changes often exacerbate the issue: menopausal rage anyone?
And because it often doesn’t feel OK to be anything other than “ladylike,” unhealthy coping strategies can plague women in midlife—impulsive spending, rumination, and drug and alcohol abuse are just a few ways in which women avoid uncomfortable emotions.
Exercise is a well-known prescription for mental and physical health, especially as we age. But we also might feel we need to be gentler with ourselves and stick to walking or light stretching as we get older—a medical professional (or mother-in-law) may even have told us as much.
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But middle-aged women around the world are showing that a little aggression is alright, and even can be downright therapeutic for our bodies and brains.
Catharsis Through Punches And Hooks
Humans of New York profiled a woman named Detra in the summer of 2022. Her boxing coach is a perfect example of how sometimes trainers do double duty as therapists.
She arrived at the gym one day upset about an interaction with her husband, whom she described as psychologically abusive. Her coach, Martin Snow (who has also appeared on Real Housewives Of New York), insisted that every time she threw a cross she should say, “Fuck that shit.”
She was uncomfortable with the rough language at first. But with each cross, Martin encouraged her to say the phrase louder. She complied, and the exercise became about much more than the interaction with her husband.
“The psychological abuse in the marriage. The sexual abuse as a child. All the guilt I’d been made to feel, all the shame. Fuck. That. Shit. It was wrong,” she told Humans Of New York. “I’ve known it was wrong my whole life. But I never defended myself. Or if I tried, it was: ‘Get back in your place.’ But now I was doing something. I was fighting back. At the end of the day when I walked out the door, I felt relieved of so much pain.”
Detra is far from the only midlife woman using boxing as a therapeutic tool. Forty-something abuse survivor and writer Alexis Strum’s therapist suggested she take up boxing. And although she said she was stunned by the recommendation, she knew she had to do something about the rage eating her up inside.
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So she followed her therapist’s advice and said that while boxing got her in amazing physical shape, her mind has become more fit as well. “I felt exhilarated, high on endorphins,” Strum wrote in The Independent. “I had never sweated so much, not even during a two-hour Zumbathon or a 10k run. Not even during childbirth,” she wrote about her first boxing class.
“The silence in my head was a liberation. There was no space to think, only to count—1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4—as I worked my way through the combination of punches and slips. In a world where all the windows in our heads are permanently open and the lure of the scroll is constant, it was a relief to finally switch my brain off. I was entirely present.”
Strum also noted that the “in the moment” nature of boxing stimulates different parts of the brain and helps build and maintain hand-eye coordination and build strength.
Should You Get Hooked On Boxing?
Boxing trains you to focus, strategize, and coordinate your mind and body. It improves cardiovascular fitness, tones and sculpts muscles, and increases strength. Combined with the mental perks, boxing has a whole lot to offer, especially for midlife women.
It may seem extremely intimidating to walk into a boxing gym, but many women say the camaraderie they feel in the sport is also an important benefit, saying they feel included and accepted even as beginners.
Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine—perhaps especially with boxing since the risks include a punch in the nose. But if you’re looking for a new exercise, boxing may be just the thing to try in midlife and beyond.