Why Women Need Weight Training!
It’s nice to see that in 2010 the mainstream media is finally starting to “get it” when it comes to the benefits of resistance training (weight training baby!) for women. I wrote an extensive commentary on the topic a while back, that debunked the myths and covered some of the science of why women specifically benefit from weight training. For example, some of the benefits listed were:
- Enhanced bone modeling to increase bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Stronger connective tissues to increase joint stability and help prevent injury
- Increased functional strength for sports and daily activity
- Increased lean body mass and decreased nonfunctional body fat
- Higher metabolic rate because of an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
A recent piece in The Sydney Morning Herald called “Anti-ageing – get with the strength” attempted a more cosmetic approach to why women benefit from weight training, and then add in some of the more physical/medical benefits of weight training for women:
Skin treatments like Botox and retinol might be high profile anti-agers, but they don’t tackle the pointy end of ageing that’s tucked away in nursing homes – the muscle wasting that leads to Zimmer frames and loss of independence. It’s not just the wrinkling of the outer skin that makes a 60 or 70 year old body look older than that of a 30-something. It’s also what’s happening to the stuffing inside – when muscles start shrinking, bodies sag and posture droops. This doesn’t just affect how a body looks, but how it functions – ever-weakening muscles make it harder to get up the stairs or out of your chair.
That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s an antidote – strength training. It was great to hear Professor Hal Kendig, head of the ageing, work and health unit at the University of Sydney, spruiking strength training in the Sydney Morning Herald last week when he said that if older women want to stay out of nursing homes, they should lift weights. He’s right. But wouldn’t it be better still if women got the strength message earlier, say, in their 40s when creeping muscle loss begins? It’s not like men don’t need this message too – they do. But women need it more because they generally have less muscle to begin with and get frailer faster than men. Women also put less value on strength. If you were to guess which physical feature would be high on most women’s wish lists, you can bet strong muscles wouldn’t be up there. All our lives we learn we need good hair, good skin, good boobs and good legs, but strength? Not really our department.
Yet muscle is a real asset and building it has anti-ageing benefits for women, in how they look and how they function. Let’s count the ways.
Regular strength training helps your body look younger. It fights the sagging, ageing effect of dwindling muscle and gravity, and makes it easier to stay at a healthy weight. Cardio exercise is important too for both general health and weight management, but it can’t boost muscle in the same way as strength training so you need a combination of both. And it’s a myth that working out with weights makes women bulky – women don’t produce enough of the male hormone testosterone to grow muscles like a man.
Strong muscles make you less accident prone. We hear a lot about preventing osteoporosis, but hands up who’s heard of sarcopenia? It’s the medical term for loss of muscle and preventing it is as important as preserving bone. After all, it’s the unsteadiness caused by dwindling muscle strength that leads to falls – that lead to fractures.
Regular strength training helps prevent diabetes. To get the link between muscle and diabetes, it helps to know that muscles soak up blood sugar to use as fuel, The more muscle you have, the more blood sugar they take up and the lower the risk of high blood sugar levels that lead to diabetes.
Stronger muscles give you more energy. How’s this for sad news? A study of 34 to 58-year old women by the University of Michigan found that those who’d lost around 2.5 kilos of lean muscle walked more slowly and had less strength in their leg muscles. These women were hardly ancient, yet muscle loss was already eroding their strength.
The Brink Bottom Line: Well, the above is at least a step in the right direction in that it pushes the benefits of weight training for women. That’s a good thing. Readers will note the mention of sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass. I have a full article on that topic for those interested in the details there. Although resistance training is a key player in preventing sarcopenia, it’s far more complicated then the above article would suggest. I’m happy to see weight training/resistance training is slowly but surely not being seen as a “manly” activity and the media getting with the program. Might take another 50 years until they figure out aerobics is overrated (read is close to worthless…), but that’s another blog…