Age is a sneaky thief, and gravity, its trusty sidekick. Together they can really bring you down. Watching your once youthful breasts sag defeatedly into your moulded cups can be hard. But there are a few ways to arrest the descent and generally feel a bit perked up.
A few things affect the shape of your breasts and their tendency to sag: your fitness level, breast size (smaller sizes are luckier), lifestyle and the number of times you’ve been pregnant. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t breast-feeding but the post-pregnancy weight fluctuation that makes breasts sag. Breasts are made of soft, fatty tissue wrapped in skin. As weight accumulates in your breasts, skin stretches as it does on any other part of the body and does not go back to its original shape when you drop those kilos. Also, skin loses its natural elasticity and suppleness with age, and droops with the weight.
We reached out to celebrity fitness instructor and author Deanne Panday for advice on how to arrest the sag. Panday’s clientele includes Bipasha Basu, Jacqueline Fernandez and Lara Dutta, all known for their strong, sculpted bodies. At 47, Panday, a mother of two, is in terrific shape, and her top tip is exercise (duh) but with care. If you do it wrong, your workout could actually make things worse.
And as with all age-related issues—wrinkles, slowing metabolism, aches and pains—anxiety about your lady lumps too can be redirected into fuelling positive changes, like getting more exercise or eating better. There might be an upside to this downhill slope after all.
Average to large-breasted women often suffer the annoyance (and pain) of jiggling and bouncing, most notoriously on treadmills and in jogging parks. Your pride isn’t the only thing that suffers when this happens: the skin on your breasts does too. “Your skin is not an elastic band, it doesn’t snap back in shape easily,” says Panday. If you’re worried about sagging, running cannot be your primary cardiovascular exercise. “After a certain age, depending on their level of fitness, I advise my clients to minimise running. It’s not so good for your joints, either,” she adds. Ellipticals, spinning and cross-training are better alternatives.
Strengthen your upper body
Breast tissue is supported by a set of pectoral muscles that can be strengthened with push-ups, inclined pull-ups, planks and bench presses. These are great for posture too. Strong pecs add noticeable lift to your boobs. Panday also swears by yoga. “When you’re doing the whole series of surya namaskaras, you’re constantly using your chest, arms, back, all your muscles, so it keeps your muscles firm, and this pushes the tissue forward.”
Invest in good sports bras
Whatever your size, breast tissue will lose firmness over time, so well-fitted sports bras are a must. Bras do the job that skin ceases to be good at, especially while exercising. Panday says, “When you’re trying on a sports bra, jump up and down. See that your chest is firmly in place and isn’t moving around too much. It shouldn’t be so tight that you can’t breathe either—comfort is important.” This advice extends beyond the workout zone too. At all times, ensure your breasts are supported well to reduce strain on the tissue.
Take care of your skin
While toning up your pecs, don’t ignore your skin. Moisturise regularly, even a quick post-shower massage with coconut oil should do the trick, says Panday. Apply sunscreen on your cleavage when you’re going out in deepnecks and tubes. Do your skin a favour and stop smoking—cigarettes contain a substance that breaks down skin’s elastin, a protein which gives youthful skin its supple, springy appearance. Weight management is a part of skincare, too: fluctuations in weight haunt your skin long after, in the form of stretch marks and a loss of elasticity and firmness. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight, rather than juice-cleansing your way to size zero.
Aren’t bras bad for you?
French researcher Jean-Denis Rouillon of University of Franche-Comte created a frenzy when early results of his study stated that bras make breasts saggier. We wouldn’t rush to make that bonfire just yet, because the professor himself was skeptical about the benefits of bralessness beyond a certain age. He told Reuters that though he believed bras degenerate the suspension system of the breasts, “…A middle-aged woman, overweight, with [an average] 2.4 children? I’m not at all sure she’d benefit from abandoning bras.”
There’s no guaranteed fix to keep your twin peaks from migrating south, even though a few lifestyle changes can slacken the process. Ultimately, hormones, genetics and a whole host of invisible factors decide how effective any of the above tips will be, but you know the drill: Stay fit, moisturise, SPF up, eat fresh, use chem-free products. And please, stop smoking.
Photograph: Xavi Gordo