What comes to mind when you think about lifting weights? Muscle bound gym dudes? Strong man competitions? Sounds interesting, but it’s just not for me?
I’m here to tell you that it IS for you and it you don’t have to be a gym rat – or even have a gym – to reap the benefits of strength training.
But first, DID YOU KNOW that after age 50 you start to lose 1% or more of your muscle mass per year? That’s up to 30% loss by the time you’re 8 or about 2-3 pounds of muscle per decade. Although some loss of muscle mass is inevitable as we age, studies have shown that this appears to be more from muscle disuse rather than just aging alone.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training is any exercise that builds muscle by harnessing resistance—that is, an opposing force that muscles have to strain against. It is also known as resistance training, progressive resistance training, weight training, or weight lifting. There are many ways to supply resistance. You can use your own body weight, free weights such as dumbbells, elasticized bands, or specialized machines. Other options include medicine balls, kettlebells, and weighted ropes.
Here are the top 4 reasons for women to strength train:
You’ll strengthen your bones
Let’s avoid broken bones! According to Harvard Health Publishing, bone mass declines at a rate of 1 percent per year after age 40. Menopausal women, can lose up to 20% of bone mass in five to seven years! You can delay this decrease in bone density by putting your bones under resistance. The most focused way to do this through resistance training.
You’ll boost your calorie burn
Strong muscles never sleep. One study found that on non-exercise days following strength training, participants burned on average an extra 240 calories a day through everyday activities—a significantly higher amount than on days following cardio. Other studies confirm that strength training can increase your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body converts energy stores to working energy) by up to 15%. This means you burn more calories, even while you’re sitting or sleeping.
You’ll have better blood sugar control
Type 2 diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Strength training can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by making the body more sensitive to insulin and improving blood sugar control. Your muscles store blood sugar and use it as necessary to fuel your muscles movement. The more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body can sop up circulating blood sugar.
You’ll help those achy joints
Strong muscles support and protect your joints, easing pain and stiffness and reducing your risk of developing osteoarthritis. When strong muscles contract, they take pressure off the joints, reducing the wear and tear on your joints. A study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology suggested that greater quadriceps strength reduces cartilage loss in the knee.
How does resistance training work?
Your muscles actually gain strength and mass through a process of tearing down and rebuilding! Resistance training creates microtears in your muscles. Your body then sends good nutrition and increases blood flow to the area so it can heal – and your muscles grow.
How to do it
“You don’t get weak overnight, so don’t try to get strong overnight.” Bryant Johnson
If you are new to resistance training, be sure to seek out expert advice – either in person or virtually. Proper form is important. Remember to start slowly and build. A key point for women over 50 is to focus on form over high weights when doing strength training. It is always best to modify an exercise rather than perform a movement with poor form.
As we age it is important to focus on weight training moves that promote functional, everyday activities. This means exercises that mimic everyday movements. During the day you likely perform a number of activities that involve bending, twisting, lifting, or reaching overhead. By using strength training exercises that focus on these types of movements, you can reduce your risk of injury.
Here are some weight bearing exercises for beginners. Weight-Bearing Exercises That Are Easy to Do (aarp.org) .
Sources and further reading:
Strength training builds more than muscles – Harvard Health
Resistance Training and EPOC (unm.edu)
Diabetes Quick Facts | Basics | Diabetes | CDC
Effect of Isometric Quadriceps Exercise on Muscle Strength, Pain, and Function in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Study (nih.gov)
Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes – PubMed (nih.gov)