Why strength training is the exercise for you - yes you!
Updated: Feb 25
Remember when exercise for women was all about getting as slim as possible while trying to look as graceful as a neon-dressed Jane Fonda without appearing to sweat a drop? The heavy lifting was for bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Those days are gone. Strength training is more than looking beefed up, and you can start at any level or age. It’s essential for your health. Here’s why you should start.
What is strength training?
Strength training, or resistance training, is when you exercise a specific muscle or muscle group against some form of resistance. Over time, this builds muscle mass, strength, and endurance. You can use simply your own body weight, resistance bands or you can use various weights, such as free weights or weight machines.
How many strength training sessions per week? Less can be more!
A 2017 study in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research showed that only 30 minutes twice a week of high-intensity strength training significantly improved the overall strength in a group of postmenopausal women. Two or three times a week is enough to see results and benefit your health. Every session counts, and it’s better to start small to keep yourself motivated instead of overdoing it.
Why start strength training? The physical and emotional benefits
1. Age with grace
At around 30, you naturally start losing muscle mass, strength, and function. Without regular exercise, this can range from a 3% to a 5% decline each decade. The scientific term for this is sarcopenia. It leads to higher risks for falls and injury. It’s also related to weight gain as you age - when your muscle mass diminishes, fat increases.
You can preserve your muscle mass and even reverse the process through strength training. It’s good to start now - whatever age you are, but a study showed that a small group of frail nursing home residents up to 96 years old became significantly more mobile and strong after just eight weeks of strength training. Their walking speed improved by 48%, their mid-thigh muscle mass increased by 9% and their strength almost tripled.
2. Be your bones’ best friend How can strength training prevent osteoporosis?
Strength training increases bone density. Stronger bones protect you from osteoporosis - a health condition that makes your bones weaker and more brittle. Women are at higher risk for this, especially those who are past menopause - yet another reason to start strength training.
If you have fragile bones, don’t let fear of fracture or injury stop you from starting. The study that targeted post-menopausal women found that they even though they had very low bone mass, they were successfully able to improve their mobility, ability to do everyday routines, and bone strength, when there was attention to technique. You can do it!
3. Boost your confidence and mood and lower your stress.
You’re starting to notice progress, and now you can feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel sexy. Not because you have the best gym outfit or because you might have lost some weight, but because you proved to yourself that you can stick to a routine long enough to experience the results. You’re showing up. You’re taking action. And your body loves it.
Strength training makes you physically and mentally stronger. The mental health benefits of strength training are proven. The best part is, you don’t have to improve dramatically or become a bodybuilder to feel a positive change in your mood. As long as you’re showing up and doing it on a regular basis, it can have a positive effect.
A 2018 study by Jama Psychiatry performed 33 clinical trials with close to 2,000 participants to see whether strength training could have an antidepressant effect on people with depression. The mean age of the participants was 52. More than half were women. They were asked to train 2-7 times a week. The results showed that strength training significantly lowered depression symptoms among the adults regardless of their health status, the number of times they trained, or how much stronger they got.
4. Keep your ever-changing, beautiful body healthy
Some women may gain weight during perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause as estrogen levels drop. Your body shape may also change. During and after menopause and weight that was on your hips and thighs may shift to your belly. This is natural.
Strength training can help you maintain a healthy weight because it increases your resting metabolism. This is how many calories you burn when your body is at rest. Research has shown that you burn more calories after a strength training session than you do after cardio. When your body continues to burn calories after a workout it is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or the ‘after-burn effect. This can last for up to 72 hours after strength training.
5. Eases menopause symptoms
Strength training can be especially beneficial for menopausal women. A 2019 study at Linköping University found that training two or three times a week can minimize hot flashes and night sweats in postmenopausal women.
The study observed 58 post-menopausal women with an average age of 55. Half of the women didn’t make any changes to their exercise routine. The other half started training three times a week, 45 per session, and continued for 15 weeks, exerting themselves properly during training. Those who strength trained reduced their hot flashes and night sweats by 44 percent - almost half. Strength training can be a great alternative to those who choose to opt-out from Hormonal Replacement Therapy.
5 Instagram accounts to inspire you in your strength training:
Fab and Fit by Carla
Heike Fitness and Nutrition
Kate Oakley, 51-year-old personal trainer passionate about physical and mental health in perimenopause and menopause
Workouts, inspiration and motivation to get stronger