Benefits of Strength Training for Older Women
As our bodies age, it’s important to keep our bodies happy and healthy! For some, we allow ourselves to become culprits of our age. Aging is part of life and yes, it’s inevitable. While we cannot age ourselves younger, we can incorporate healthy habits, especially with exercise that will slow the aging process. Actually, it’s imperative that we take action to improve overall health, striving for longevity.
One of the most effective ways to start aging better is to engage in physical activity. Most adults, according to statistics, don’t partake in regular exercise of any kind. Living a life of inactivity can really take a toll on the body mentally, physically and emotionally. Inactivity leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure, chronic disease, cancer, depression and metabolic syndrome to name a few. This ultimately leads to an early death.
While any exercise at all is a step in the right direction, I want to specifically focus on the numerous benefits weight training has for women as we age. Let’s start basic and dive into this a little deeper.
What is strength training?
Strength training, also known as resistance training, works the body’s muscles by using your own body weight, a dumbbell or gym weight machines.
It’s a common fear of females to steer away from weight training in assumption the training will make one “big and bulky”. If you have this fear, you are not alone as I used to think this, too. This is a myth and with proper training, you won’t bulk up, but rather develop lean, healthy muscle with potential fat loss.
What’s the importance of strength training specifically?
Improved rates of age-related muscle loss
Training of this type increases the presence of lean muscle. This is important because as we age, our muscles naturally start to decrease which means we have the power to positively impact the aging process. After many studies were conducted, results showed increased strength and overall endurance for participants. Nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles was much more efficient, allowing for optimal muscle use. For those who have experienced age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, lifting weights has been shown to improve the current way of life. Building muscle can improve balance, too!
Increases bone density
Strength training stresses the bones (in a healthy way). It can increase bone density which leads to a reduction in the chances for developing osteoporosis. This keeps you feeling nimble and active by eliminating the possibility of having aches and pains.
Boosts the metabolism
Strength training can further help with losing weight and keeping it off by increasing the body’s rate of metabolism. Having more muscle and less fat naturally kicks the metabolism up a notch. For the fat that we do have, weight training leads to an increase in certain chemicals and hormones which aids in the conversion of white (bad) fat into brown (good) fat. This can help your body to efficiently use more fuel and burn energy all day long.
Better cardiovascular health
I bet you never thought your heart could benefit from strength training! The cardio system includes not only the heart, blood vessels and blood itself. By increasing muscle mass, it allows the cardiovascular system a place to send blood that’s pumped. As this happens, there is less pressure put on arteries which decreases the chances of any heart related conditions or problems. Further, strength training helps to decrease bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and improve good cholesterol (HDL).
Mental health and cognitive function improvement
Exercise in general is a fantastic solution to keeping the mind strong. Strength training decreases anxiety and depression. Training can improve overall mood, fatigue and stress. Having an improved mood, leads to better self- perception of the body.
A great night’s sleep
By working our muscles, surprisingly we reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (sleep latency) and the brain’s ability to learn and store memories (sleep consolidation). Further, strength training can decrease the chances of developing sleep apnea.
So how do I start?
Long-term lifting key. While lifting here and there is good, it’s not optimal for improving your body’s longevity. Aim to strength train at least 2-3 times a week. Start with one and build up to it if you don’t feel you can start 2-3 days right away. Also be sure to check in with your doctor if you have a chronic condition or haven’t recently been active.
Train where you are comfortable
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many are opting to workout at home. You don’t need to make a home gym or do anything elaborate. You can use your own body weight, free weights, resistance tubing or weight machines. I suggest starting with 5-10 lb hand weights. You’ll want a weight that will be enough to tire the muscles after about 12- 15 repetitions. As you become stronger, increase the weight. You can do some exercises in your living room, bedroom, basement, garage, outside- whatever works for you! If your gym Is open and you enjoy going, that’s a great! To note, when starting new exercises, I find it helpful to have a mirror nearby so I can see my form to make sure I’m performing the movement properly. Incorrect form leads to doing more harm than good for the body in the long term.
Like any exercise or training you won’t see results after one session or overnight. It will take time. You’ll most likely see and feel small changes if you stay consistent by doing two-three 20-30 minute sessions a week. You’ll notice mental improvement, muscle changes and improved strength!
Overall, strength training is a win-win for all systems of the body as we age. If you haven’t thought about weight training in the past, I encourage you to consider adding in some workouts a few days a week. Just one day to start off is progress and a step closer to longevity!
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