Regular physical activity is essential to healthy aging and can help prevent and manage chronic diseases. Declines in muscle mass, bone density, strength, energy, and vigor that were once considered unavoidable, can be substantially slowed, and even reversed by building muscle.
Muscle loss results mainly from inactivity. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, “One of the best ways to keep muscles healthy and strong is through exercises called strength training–sometimes known as weight lifting or resistance training.” The guidelines recommend for older adults to perform muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week, ideally working up to a total of 150 to 300 minutes.
Strength training is beneficial for people of all ages and genders, particularly menopausal women. On average, women reach menopause around the age of 50. Excercise like strength training can help relieve the emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms of menopause, which we’ll get into later.
It’s never too late to make muscle-strengthening activities part of your exercise routine–which should also include balance training and aerobic exercise. Total-body workouts that involve all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) are the best option for beginners.
In order to prevent injury, you may want to hire a professional trainer or go to a lifting class at the gym to ensure proper technique. If you don’t have access to a gym, you can find at-home resistance-based workouts that use stretchy bands or dumbbells. Whether you’re using free weights, cable machines, or resistance bands, the important thing is to start with a solid foundation so you can continue to strength train into your 70s and beyond!
Here are nine excellent reasons for women in their 50s to start or continue weight lifting.
Prevent health problems
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Low levels of estrogen and other changes related to aging (like gaining weight) can raise your risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.” However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an exercise program that includes lifting weights can help reduce the signs and symptoms of many diseases and chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, back pain, and even some forms of cancer.
Women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. But physical activity, including resistance training, may improve some aspects of cognition in most diseases or disorders that impair cognitive function. The American Council on Exercise reports that exercise like strength training has positive effects on cognition, including “attention, planning, problem-solving, working memory, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, self-control, initiation of action, emotional regulation, inhibitory control, moral reasoning, and decision-making.”
Improves sleep and mood
Women report the most sleeping problems from peri-menopause to post-menopause, including hot flashes, mood disorders, and insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep problems are often accompanied by depression and anxiety and can make women tense, irritable, and moody.
Studies show that people who exercise regularly sleep more deeply, for longer periods of time, without waking up as much throughout the night. Strength training, when done with regular aerobic exercise can improve mental and emotional health. Plus, exercise releases the brain’s feel-good chemical, endorphins. Not only can pumping iron improve symptoms of clinical depression and reduce anxiety symptoms, but it also boosts your confidence and self-esteem, and can improve your sense of well-being, giving you a better-perceived quality of life.
As we age, muscle fibers shrink in number and in size, so we’re naturally not as strong as we once were. Everyday tasks like mowing the yard, carrying groceries, or standing from a seated position become more difficult over time. Muscle-strengthening activities can reverse the muscle loss women experience as they age. Increasing skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance, and mass and improves your physical ability and leads to better mobility.
Loss of muscle leads to loss of strength, which in turn affects balance and coordination. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of injury and death among older adults. Falls not only threaten your safety and independence but can also have enormous economic and personal costs. Working out improves coordination and mobility, making you less likely to fall, and if you do fall, you’re less likely to get hurt.
Hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen than around your hips and thighs, according to the Mayo Clinic. They go on to warn that excess weight (especially around your midsection) increases your risk of chronic conditions like breathing problems, heart and blood vessel disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down, which makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight. Sure, cardio is a great way to burn calories, but lifting weights builds muscle, and lean muscle mass increases resting metabolism which helps burn fat. Muscle weighs more than fat, so while you may not lose weight, you’ll decrease fat.
After age 40, women and men alike start losing at least one percent of our bone mass per year. Menopause causes bone mass loss too, making women more susceptible to osteoporosis than men. Guess what? Weak bones break more easily. Surprise! What you may not know is that strong muscles lead to strong bones. Resistance exercises stimulate bone tissue to strengthen and grow. Strong bones lower the risk of developing osteoporosis and minimize the risk of fracture.
Disrupted sleep during menopause causes fatigue. Exercise is known to boost energy and fight fatigue. Increasing muscle mass by lifting weights triggers the body to produce more testosterone, a hormone that is tied to energy and sexual health.
Where do they keep the heavy weights? At the gym or club. Who’s there? Other people. Finding female friends over 50 can be hard. Going to the gym provides opportunities for social engagement and interaction.