They say fifty is the new thirty.
If you are like many women over 50, you know the frustration of watching your waistline gain a little extra bulge over the years and the number on the scale doing the slow upward creep. If you haven’t considered how important it is for women over 50 to build muscle, you are not only missing a huge opportunity to shed some extra pounds and change the shape of your body, but also to extend the quality of your health and your life for many years to come.
You may have noticed the fitness and food habits that have previously worked for you no longer seem to be as effective (Ugh!). If you’re like many people, you might find yourself looking for the next popular diet or quick fix, out of desperation for something that “works”. If you find yourself in this season of life, don’t hit the panic button just yet. You don’t have to throw in the towel because “that’s just how it is as we get older”. Instead, add some resistance training to your workout routine!
Why build muscle?
Resistance training helps you build muscle. More muscle means you’ll get the physical benefits of looking leaner and fitting into those clothes that have found a home at the back of your closet, but you will also reap the benefit of a higher quality, long-lasting healthy life.
There are several well-documented reasons women over 50 should be strength training (also known as resistance training), and in this article I will cover my top six. I’m speaking mainly about why women should build muscle (especially those of us approaching the empty nest years), but these tips will apply to just about everyone!
But wait… do I have to be a body builder?
Contrary to the stereotype, adding strength training to your workouts by using weights won’t make you bulk up like a man. In fact, there are many simple ways to incorporate strength/resistance training that don’t include lifting weights at all, and they will still give you the benefits of training to build muscle. Here are some of the many options:
- Body weight exercises (wall presses, planks, squats, lunges, etc.)
- Resistance bands
- Medicine ball exercies
- Sports (swimming, surfing, stand up paddle boarding)
- Martial Arts
- Free weights (dumbbells)
If you’ve thought about picking up some weights or doing any of the other options above, I encourage you to do it! Don’t worry, strength training isn’t dangerous, it won’t turn you into the Incredible Hulk, and it won’t give you an Adam’s apple. In fact there are so many reasons why you SHOULD be adding some resistance training into your regimen, you are short-changing yourself of a healthier stronger body if you don’t. The best part is, you can start at any age!
Reason #1 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It helps your heart
Whether you use weights, bands, or just plain body resistance, strength training lowers the stress on your body required to exert energy doing everyday things. It also lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces your overall risk of heart disease.
The Journal of the American Medical Association has conducted numerous studies confirming the positive association between weight lifting and a healthy heart. They estimate that people who do 30 minutes of weight lifting each week can lower their risk of developing heart disease by 23 percent. Being that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 25, this is a fact that we all should be paying attention to.
Reason #2 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It changes the way our clothes fit
Women have a different hormonal makeup than men do, so they don’t gain as much bulky muscle mass, but they can still see changes in their physique as a result of strength training. Assuming you are sensible with your nutritional choices, and are not gaining fat, resistance training will help you burn fat as you increase your lean muscle, especially if your overall program includes interspersed days of cardio and interval training.
Regardless of the number on the scale (it may remain the same or not go down as much as you think it “should”) your distribution of lean muscle will give you a toned appearance and your clothes will look and feel better!
Reason #3 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It helps us burn fat more efficiently
In a recent study, researchers gave one group of overweight women the task of lifting heavy weights twice per week. Another group was given a diet but didn’t lift weights. The women in the weight lifting group lost an average of 14.6 pounds of fat and gained 1.4 pounds of muscle. The dieters lost some weight, too, but only 9.2 pounds of fat and gained no muscle at all.
If you are a chronic dieter/calorie-restrictor, and do not have a plan in place to build muscle, you are potentially sabotaging your own results. When you see your weight go down on the scale it could be you are losing muscle and not fat at all (another reason to add strength training to your life). This is NOT healthy.
As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, helping you to efficiently burn calories all day long. We know that exercising burns calories, and if you are going for a daily walk or bike ride, that is a wonderful thing. But just as a walk burns more than sitting all day, and a jog burns more than a walk, strength training, even a moderate amount, burns more than all of the above – even during the hours after you end your workout.
Reason #4 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It helps our mobility, balance, and everyday functionality
When we were younger, we may have taken basic tasks for granted, but as we get older, weak muscles could someday make a difference when it comes to doing everyday things such as carrying groceries from the car or keeping up with our grandchildren. Strength training is a great way to help slow the chances of losing our independence because it keeps us able to function effectively for tasks required by daily living.
The average person loses muscle mass every year as they age. We can lose as much as 3% to 5% of our muscle mass each decade after age 30. Eventually, just doing cardio will not be enough. We need to include strength training to build muscle, or we will become weaker and less functional.
Reason #5 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It helps prevent injury
Resistance training also helps strengthen the connective tissue that reinforces our joints and tendons. This, combined with the strengthening of our surrounding muscle groups, decreases some of the aches and pains that come with aging, and also prevents injury.
Studies show resistance training also helps stall the bone loss that happens after menopause as our estrogen decreases. Jean Mayer from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University notes there have been nearly two dozen studies that have shown a positive relationship between the effects of resistance training and bone density. The earlier you can begin to build muscle, preferably before menopause, the better!
Reason #6 for women over 50 to build muscle:
It helps our brain stay strong
A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society looked at brain scans of women between the ages of 65 and 75, and randomly put them into 3 groups. They each entered into a supervised weight training program.
One group trained once per week, one trained twice per week, and the final group had no weight training, but worked on balance and mobility exercises. Data from brain scans and the participants’ walking ability was collected over a year.
The results for the group without any weight training and the group who weight trained once per week showed a “worrying progression” of deteriorating white matter in their brains, and the slowing of their gait.
The brain scans of the group who did their weight training twice per week still showed signs of aging, but at significantly slower rates, and their walking was much faster and smoother than the subjects in the other two groups. Not only that, they outperformed the others on cognitive tasks dealing with memory, attention, and decision-making.
With the realities of dementia facing older adults, this is yet another reason to add some weights to your workout!
How to start?
Whatever your current fitness level, you can add resistance to your workouts. Just remember to start slowly and gradually progress to avoid injury. Ideally, you should plan on incorporating about 8 to 10 exercises that work your various muscle groups on alternating days (legs, hips, back, abs, shoulders, arms) at least twice per week. You’ll also want to use a training program that evolves in phases, so you keep your metabolism moving and don’t fall into adaptation mode.
To gain and maintain strength over time, vary the type of exercise, your intensity, the number of reps and the frequency of your workouts. If you are a beginner, check with your doctor for any restrictions he or she may have for you. Once you start, if you notice slight muscle soreness one to two days after working out a new muscle group, don’t give up. This is normal as you condition your muscles to grow stronger.
No matter where you begin, in a few short weeks, you’ll notice yourself gaining strength and feeling more confident when you walk into a room!
Where to get help
If all this talk about resistance training and lifting weights has got you a little overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Many women are right where you are, not knowing where to start. Don’t be most women and use being a beginner as an excuse not to begin! You can start small, but start today!
A trainer in your home
If you’re really unsure, you could hire a personal trainer at a gym that you might already belong to, although it is a large investment, and will take you only as far as your time and money will go.
A few years ago, I switched to doing workouts from home and couldn’t be happier, but I don’t just wake up and do whatever I feel like. I use programs meticulously designed by personal trainers and nutritionists, that are all mapped out for me, so I just have to follow the schedule. I just clear out some space in my living room, and turn on the TV. The hardest part is just showing up (see the link below if that sounds like something that would work for you)!
I’ll help you start!
If you would like information on starting a program that has been all mapped out and planned for you… from the cardio to the resistance, to how to track your progress and even the daily nutrition, I would be happy to help! Just fill out the form at this link so I can get to know a little about your goals and current fitness level first. Then we can chat to see what recommendation I can make for a workout that would be a great fit for you!
All the reasons to pick up those weights…
Just to recap, you should be adding resistance training to your life because strength/resistance training…
- helps your heart
- changes the way your clothes fit
- helps you burn fat more efficiently
- helps your mobility, balance, and everyday functionality
- helps prevent injury
- helps your brain stay strong
And this list of reasons doesn’t even include the obvious ones – the added confidence, better posture, reduced stress and more smiles throughout your day because you feel and look amazing! My guess is, once you begin strength training, chances are you’ll be hooked!
In this thing with you,
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; NOTHING will be impossible for you. ~ Matthew 17:20