Disclaimer: Before starting any new diet or exercising regiment you should always talk with your doctor or health care provider.
For a long time there was something taboo about women lifting weights. There were concerns of looking bulky, talk about how it leads to greater injuries, and that you couldn’t lose weight from lifting. As studies have proven, all of these are myths and that lifting weights and strength training is very important as we age.
1. It Helps Maintain and Increases Bone Density
Older women are at a high risk for osteoporosis. Estrogen is a key figure in helping with bone density and bone resorption for women. After menopause, estrogen levels drop sharply and with it, bone loss usually occurs. In fact, women can lose up to 20 percent or more of their bone density after menopause according to The United State Surgeon General. This has lead studies to estimate that 1 out of 10 women over the age of sixty will be affected by osteoporosis.
Good news is that lifting weights can help maintain bone density and even increase it over a prolonged period of time. As you lift weights, “muscles are pulled directly against the bone, with gravity working against it, calcium is driven back into the bones. It also stimulates the manufacture of new bone. This adds up to a decrease in the effects of osteoporosis by 50—80 percent,” according to Dr. Gary Null of Women’t Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. Just adding a couple days lifting light to moderate weights can help improve and maintain bone density.
2. It Helps Maintain and Build Muscle Mass
Another problem that comes with age is the loss of muscle mass. Women start to lose muscle mass in their fifties and by mid 60s, their bodies start to drastically lose muscle strength. “According to Dr. Beatrice Edwards, “we lose so much muscle as we age that by the time we’re 70, we only have about fifty to fifty five percent of our muscle mass left.”
Lifting weights doesn't just give you more muscle mass to lose; it actually helps counteract muscle loss due to age. Consistent strength training forces new muscle mass. One study found that after 12 weeks of strength training, their patients (all 65+) were able to walk nearly forty percent further without resting than before.
When you lift it doesn’t have to be heavy, but it should be consistent. If you have one week where you lift every day and then don’t lift for the rest of the month, you aren’t doing much to help your body. You want to lift a couple of time a week to preserve muscle mass. When lifting, consistency is king.
3. It Can Reduce the Risk for Heart Disease
According to the Heart Foundation, heart disease is the number one killer of women, and ninety percent of women have one or more risks for developing heart disease. These risks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, being overweight, being inactive, unhealthy diet, and being over the age of 55.
The American Heart Association lists weight training as a recommended form of exercise for women who are at risk for heart disease. While there is nothing you can do about your age, you can reduces your blood pressure, body fat, and cholesterol by lifting weights. Your heart will also get stronger as you become more active, leading to less inactivity and dropping your risk of heart disease.
Please Note: Lifting weights can spike your blood pressure while you are lifting so it’s important to talk to a medical professional before changing diets or exercise regimens.
4. It Helps Combat Back Pain
As you get older, the body is less resilient and more likely to be sore longer from things that were once easy. The back is a good example of this. Bad form carrying something, moving the wrong way, weak muscles, and arthritis are all reasons that people over the age of 50 start to develop back pain.
Exercise has shown to alleviate the pain and develop stronger core and back muscles. As Robert Fay - PT, owner of Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training in New York- says “They (cardio and weight lifting) increase blood flow, and help you build your core muscles, which support your spine. And that reduces pressure." Another thing that exercise does is that it gets you up. Sitting for long stretches at a time puts a lot of pressure on the discs of your back, which can also lead to lower back pain.
5. People Who Lift Experience Less Injuries
Lifting weights, doesn’t just help increase bone density and give you stronger muscles; it helps strengthen tendons and ligaments. Tendons are the cord-like tissues that attach muscles to bone. As people age they become stiffer and take longer to recover. The ligaments are connective tissue between bones and they become less elastic as people get older. These changes means that you won't be as flexible, your joint motion is more restricted, and because of it all you are more likely to develop injuries from daily activities.
By increasing the strength of tendons and ligaments with weights, you are likely to gain flexibility and increase your range of motion in your joints leading to less risk of injury. The strength increase in your tendons and ligaments also means you are less less likely to have small tears in these tissues and fibers. The other way that strength training helps combat injuries is that your body is used to doing hard, physical activity. So if you find you have to get out and shovel snow from your driveway or move something then your body doesn't feel overburdened. It reacts like you are the gym.
6. It Helps with Balance
As you age, an all too common injury is a hip fracture. According to John Abramson in Overdose America, “9 out of 10 hip fractures result from falls [so] engaging in activities that increase strength and balance helps decrease the risk.” As you lift weights, you develop the core muscles that aid in balance and stability along with muscles in your legs that support you. With an increase in balance and strength in your lower body, you are less likely to fall and are more likely to be able to catch yourself if you do.
7. It Is an Antidepressant
Working out releases feel good chemicals in the brain that help us relax, improves mood, and the ability to sleep. Not only that, but as you gain more mobility and strength, you will feel less tired and more energetic throughout the day. Lifting weights is so powerful that a Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training was effective at reducing symptoms of clinical depression.
It's important for everyone to exercise, but as you get older many of the effects of aging can be slowed down or stopped completely with the correct daily exercise plans.