Getting older is certainly a blessing compared to the alternative. But if you’re over 40 you also know that each year brings new challenges and, quite honestly, surprises. Each time our metabolism slows a little, for instance, we are stunned that it can get any slower. Suddenly, not only can we not eat French fries; we can’t even smell them without gaining weight! Ha! Not to mention the new aches and pains that riddle our bodies, the decreased energy and the physical limitations we never calculated in.
But most of us know that there are many things we can do to slow the signs and symptoms of aging. And we can even ward off some of the maladies that others are prone to altogether. One of the best ways to ensure that we age gracefully, maintaining the strength and vitality to live well, is to lift weights or do some sort of strenuous weight training.
In fact, here are 15 convincing reasons women 50 and above should lift weights:
1. Weight training helps your clothes fit better.
Since this is a style blog, I thought we’d begin here. Yes, your clothes will fit more like they are supposed to as your body naturally becomes leaner through weight-training and the building of muscle. So if you thought your clothes would actually fit more poorly because you’d be bulking up, nope, that’s just not true.
2. Weight training makes you stronger.
Well, duh. But have you considered the implications of greater strength. In fact, the single most important factor in how you function in your older years is how strong you are.
3. Weight training supports bone health.
As you increase muscle mass you actually grow more bone. But most women in their 50s are losing bone mass and bone health. Studies show that improved muscle mass helps reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis or other debilitating bone diseases.
4. Weight training supports joint health.
Joints are supported by muscle. So if the muscles around your knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, etc. are strengthened, those joints will operate more reliably.
5. Weight training helps you sleep better.
Exhausted muscles beg for relaxation and make for more restful sleep.
6. Weight training helps reduce risks of developing chronic diseases.
Diseases that often riddle adults in their senior years can be postponed or avoided altogether by stronger muscles and more muscle mass: arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, other autoimmune diseases.
7. Weight training helps treat or diminish the effects of diseases and conditions already present.
Especially autoimmune diseases that often leave you feeling fatigued, sluggish, achy or limited can be treated with appropriate weight training. As muscles are worked and muscle memory is strengthened, you regain energy, flexibility, strength and over all wellbeing.
8. Weight training helps reduce muscle loss.
Again, duh. But this is a big deal. We naturally lose 5-10 pounds of muscle per decade beginning in our 50s. That natural loss in muscle mass results in a 3% decrease in metabolism each decade and an average weight gain of 1.5 pounds per year.
But the good news is that even if you’ve lost some of your muscle already, it’s reversible! If you begin to lift weights now you can slowly put back on significant muscle and reverse those statistics. It’s estimated that the average 60 year old can put on 2.42 pounds of muscle over 18-20 weeks of consistent weight lifting, increasing their strength by 25-35%. That’s significant! And it means it’s not too late for you.
9. Weight training improves your outlook on life.
Studies have shown that the act of weight lifting and the results of increased strength both improve self efficacy. It’s also believed that increased muscle mass helps to improve the mood of those who are mildly to moderately depressed.
10. Weight training improves your metabolism.
Muscle burns more calories, so with more muscle mass your body can burn the calories you consume in a normal, healthy diet. You can eat a wider variety of foods because your body will slowly return to being a fat burning machine.
11. Weight training improves or even alleviates some of the common symptoms of menopause.
Because healthy muscle mass contributes to better hormonal health, you may miss out on (oh, darn!) some of the symptoms of menopause that so many women suffer from, including hot flashes, moodiness, insomnia and dryness.
12. Weight training improves balance.
As we age we naturally lose some balance. But the very act of working your muscles through strenuous and demanding exercises will help you to practice good balance. Be sure to challenge yourself with exercises that, at first, throw you off balance. As you continue to work through those routines week after week, you’ll notice that you are able to remain upright where once you tipped over! Also, in order to improve balance, you’ll need to work out all of your muscle groups, not just your favorite ones.
13. Weight training helps prevent injury.
If you hope to continue living an active life into your older years – playing with grandchildren, hiking, riding bikes, swimming, maintaining your yard and doing your own housework – you’ll need to actively maintain your strength and agility through weight training. Consider how many senior adults you know who have been sidelined due to a serious fall. Yes, falls can still happen as we age. But muscle mass and muscle memory can reduce the risks.
14. Weight training helps decrease body fat.
Yay! Because muscle burns more calories and burns them quicker, calories have less chance to turn into fat stores in your body. You’ll maintain a leaner figure with weight training than you would simply by reducing your caloric intake.
15. Weight training could help you live longer.
Now as a Jesus follower I don’t think any of us are going to accidentally meet our Maker before our time. But weight training not only prolongs life, due to all the benefits listed above. It also provides a better quality of life during our longer life spans. Plus, statistically, those who do continue to lift weights past 50 have a 46% lower risk of dying from a chronic disease or an accident. Huh.
How to Lift Weights Effectively
In order to reap the benefits mentioned above, we have to invest in a strenuous and consistent weight training plan. Helter skelter weight lifting not only doesn’t produce the results you want, but it could lead to serious injury. Here are some tips for incorporating weight training into your lifestyle so that it works for you.
- If you haven’t been working out with weights before, begin by meeting with a physical trainer for a few sessions to get you started. A qualified trainer can teach you proper form, help you address every muscle group efficiently, push you further than you’d go on your own and motivate you to keep up the new habit. Really, this is crucial. I’ve lifted weights all my adult life. But I credit the physical trainer who led my aerobics class in the 1990s with teaching me proper form that I continue to use today. Thanks to her, I’ve not had a single injury or misstep.
- Start slow and low. Your workout should be about 20-30 minutes, so don’t overdo it the first session or so. And begin with low weights or even no weights at all. You can begin with body weight resistance alone, if necessary, by doing exercises like lunges, squats, crunches, calf raises, planks and tricep dips without any additional weight.
- Incorporate a 5-10 minute warm up into your routine. Don’t do static stretches at the beginning of your workout. Begin by moving your muscles – just walking around the neighborhood, dancing in place or using other kinetic stretches your trainer teaches you.
- Try to get in a 30-40 minute weight training session 3 times per week. It might be best to have a day of rest between each session, especially at first.
- When you’re ready to move past using your body weight, add low weight dumbbells and resistance bands to your workouts. I love these Fit Simplify loop bands.
- Once you feel that your body has begun to adjust to a weight training regimen, it’s important to add enough weight to stress your muscles. I can almost guarantee you that you’re going to need to lift more than 5 lb. dumbbells. Here’s the goal: you need to use weights heavy enough so that when you do 12-15 repetitions, you really struggle to finish that last 3. Now, you can find workouts online that instruct you on how to use varying weights for different routines, but at some point in each exercise you need to struggle – not hurt with pain, mind you, but struggle. It’s a work out! I use weights ranging from 3 lbs. to 20 lbs.
- Be sure to finish each workout with a cool down (another walk around the neighborhood) and long stretches. By long, I mean stretch each muscle long and hold each stretch long – count to 16-20 with each stretch.
- Through the week, make sure that you do exercises addressing each muscle group – both large and small muscles.
- Make sure you use full range of motion as you do your weight lifting exercises.
- Engage your core as you exercise all other muscles.
The FASTer Way to Fat Loss
Honestly weight training is such a vital part of leading a healthy, vibrant and long life that it is worth investing in. That’s why I joined the FASTer Way to Fat Loss last January and I’ve continued with the program since then. I learned so much about pushing myself in a healthy and safe way in this program. And I am noticeably stronger than I was before. There’s just no going back now. And it was worth every penny and every minute.
But the bottom line is, I encourage you to begin today…or, okay, tomorrow…to lift weights as a lifestyle habit. You’ll be glad you did, both immediately and years down the road. Remember, it’s never too late to start. And you’re not too old. My 83-year-old mother goes through a rigorous weight training set with her friends at church three times a week. She’s my hero!
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Blessed for My Day
Today may you feel blessed and privileged despite the aches and pains of age. I don’t know how old you are. But it didn’t take me too long into adulthood to start feeling the strains of age. Between you and me we could probably compose quite a list of all the changes we’ve seen in our bodies over the years. But today instead of making that list, let’s list the ways we’ve seen God’s faithfulness through those years. Let’s focus on how consistent He has been while everything else around us and within us has changed drastically. And let’s remember that He will walk into our golden years with us just as He has walked us through every other season of life. Praise the Lord, for He is so good.
I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. ~ Psalm 37:25