Increasing and maintaining adequate muscle mass is one of the most effective ways to keep body fat at bay and to improve overall health and fitness, especially as you age.
Your body is continually removing old bone and replacing it throughout all stages of your life. Peak bone mass (or bone density), which is our maximum bone size and strength is reached by around age 30. After 30 bone resorption slowly begins to exceed new bone formation which leads to bone loss. Up until age 40, all bone removed from your body is replaced however, after 40 less bone is replaced.
Bone loss in women occurs fastest in the first few years following menopause and it continues as we age. Most women enter menopause between the ages of 42 - 55 and as their estrogen levels drop dramatically women undergo rapid bone loss. If you have low bone mass it then increases your susceptibility to fractures primarily to the hip, spine and wrist.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can help to influence bone mass, just as poor health choices such as smoking, poor nutrition, inactivity and excessive alcohol can also decrease bone density. For the majority of women bone loss can be slowed through good nutrition and exercise which can help protect against osteoporosis and other health ailments like fractures later on in life.
Key reasons women should do weights:
You'll strengthen your bones
Weight training doesn't just train your muscles it trains your bones as well. Recent studies show that even moderate weights training twice per week can increase a woman's strength by 30 to 50 percent but it is also thought to provide mechanical stimuli or "loading" important for the maintenance and improvement of bone health. Studies have now proved the direct and positive link between resistance training and the effects it has on bone density. Resistance training also has the added benefit of improving strength, balance and increased muscle mass in older adults.
You reduce your risk of injury
Building stronger connective tissues and joint stability is paramount for females. Females post-birth have a wider pelvis which can throw out the correct alignment of joints and bones. Without doing resistance training this can directly lead to orthopaedic injuries especially through the spine and pelvis. Orthopaedic injuries refer to injuries of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissues that commonly occur during sports, exercise or any other physical activity.
You'll have a healthier heart
Cardiovascular exercise isn't the only exercise that's good for your heart. Strength training can enhance your heart health too, studies have shown that people who performed up to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance training lowered their blood pressure by 20 percent. It helps with lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increases HDL ("good") cholesterol.
You'll burn more calories
Great news for those of us who like to eat food! Simply build more muscle to eat more food... but why? Simply put, as your muscle tissue tears when you place it under load, it then repairs itself after a weight session. Your muscles need food for recovery to regain strength. So, the more muscle you have, the hungrier you are. Research shows that resistance training is a proven method for increasing lean body mass and reducing body fat for women.
Weight lifting is an anaerobic activity which means your body doesn't use oxygen to covert energy and uses carbohydrates as its fuel source. Anaerobic activity increases the rate at which your body utilises calories hours after you finish your session (AKA the afterburn effect). With your metabolism firing and being higher, you will burn through food faster.
Therefore, as your lean muscle mass increases so does your resting metabolism, which means you will burn more fat and keep body fat at bay!
You become stronger mentally and boost your self-confidence
Women who strength train commonly state that they feel more confident and capable. Typically, because if coupled with good quality nutrition, it makes you stronger, leaner, more muscular (giving you that sculpted look) and fitter which in turn makes you feel more positive about yourself. But aside from aesthetics it can also benefit you emotionally as endorphins are released which stimulates feelings of happiness. This can very beneficial for relieving stress, anxiety or even depression. Pushing yourself or exceeding what you thought your body was capable of in a resistance training session can carry over to your confidence levels.
You achieve that 'sculpted' look
Contrary to popular belief, getting toned does not come solely from cardio! It comes from weights as well. Yes, cardio is important for fat loss but without working to increase muscle as well you won't gain any.
Both men and women don't just exercise because it's good for their heart, it makes their bodies look more aesthetic also. While cardio has many benefits for your heart, it won't help give you that tight and toned look many of us aspire to.
More lean muscle mass is what you should be striving to achieve if you want a tight and athletic look. Even if your main goal is fat loss, if all you are doing is cardio you may be losing your muscle mass as well.
And when aiming to achieve that toned/muscular look - you need to forget the scales! As long as you are noticing positive changes in how you look and feel that arbitrary number on the scales doesn't actually make a difference. This can be quite empowering! If the gains you experience are gains in lean body mass, this means your weight can stay the same (or even increase on the scales) but you will look leaner and more toned! Go by your clothes and how they look and feel, not by the scales.
How much strength training do you need?
It is recommended that women do resistance training at least 2 days per week. Researchers say that post-menopausal women should partake in weights training or weight-bearing exercise 3 times per week (on alternate days). If you are new to resistance training, start training with a personal trainer a couple of days a week to ensure you learn correct technique etc. and work your way up from there.
Make strength training a part of your lifestyle just like you do with cardiovascular exercise and think of strength training as an investment that pays serious dividends later on in life.
Healthy is not a number on the scales, it is how you feel and look.
Strength training at any age at whatever level you are comfortable with yields positive results.