Following a consistent exercise routine has benefits that extend beyond weight reduction and include improvements in cardiovascular, metabolic and psychological health. Today I want to specifically explore the benefits of strength training in women and some common misconceptions around the topic. The most common misconception is that since strength training raises testosterone in men, it would not have a good effect on women, especially women with estrogen levels declining due to peri or post menopause.
The truth is, men and women are completely different, and strength training has largely different benefits for women than men. Today, we are going to explore some of the benefits of strength training in pre, peri and postmenopausal women, specifically. It is important to note that a healthy lifestyle will reduce the risk of muscular and bony deterioration and will aid in preventing chronic health conditions- including the number one killer in women over 50.
One thing to factor in when discussing menopause is that the decrease in estrogen accelerates tissue aging throughout the body (muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons). I’m going to discuss a few main points with you surrounding strength training, focusing on muscle and bone since that’s my specialty.
Let’s begin with the muscular piece in why strength training is so important for women, especially as they age. As we age, there is a decrease in muscle mass, which leads to an increase in fat-related weight gain since fat and muscle tend to offset one another. Research shows that we lose about 1% of our muscle mass every year after we turn 30 so the sooner you begin strength training the better- but don’t think that it’s too late to start if you’re over 30!
No matter your age, strength training will help combat age-related reduction of muscle mass and fat gain by increasing the size of the muscle fibers. To put it simply: if you started with 10 dollars and I took 1 away, it would make a bigger difference for you than if you started with 50 dollars and I took 1 away. The same concept applies- if the fibers, like the sum of money, are bigger to begin with, the reduction does not have as much of an effect.
Now let’s focus on women specifically and what happens with these changes especially compounded with decreasing estrogen levels experienced in menopause on the pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is the area that is responsible for urinary continence. Women may be more susceptible to urine leaking due to the reduction in estrogen and the natural decrease in muscle mass in this area. You may have noticed changes in this area as early as when you had your babies years a go. If this is you, we are going to talk about some great exercises that you can add to your typical routine ASAP to maintain good pelvic floor health and help develop better control of the muscles in this area. Adding these exercises and regaining control of this area can help instill confidence in many women, which is so important to me as my goal in life is to empower women.
The final factor I want to lock onto in the muscular category is this: By adding strength training to your regimen, you are helping to protect yourself from many chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Especially of importance here is cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer in women over 50.
Now I’m going to move into benefits to your bones of adding strength training to your routine. Strength training won’t just decrease bone loss later in life but if you begin early, it will also aid in achieving a higher peak bone density prior to menopause. This is important because a higher peak bone density will decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis in the first place. Once you reach age 30 you’re at your peak bone density for the rest of your life. While you can’t add more bone density after age 30, you can prevent loss of it. If you’re under 45 years old, it’s smart to incorporate a resistance training routine to benefit you as much as possible prior to shifting from peri menopause to menopause.
OTHER ADDED BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING IN WOMEN: A few studies have shown that adopting a regular training regime can reduce the severity of sleep quality, insomnia and depression. Exercise has been shown to improve psychological health as well and can lead to an improved sense of overall well-being.
LET’S GET STARTED:
If you’re completely new to strength training I want to point out this fact: body weight exercises and resistance bands are still strength training. Start slow- begin with body weight exercises until you feel you have a handle on the movements then move into using resistance bands and eventually you will be ready to use dumbbells, kettle bells or barbels for these movements. Starting slowly will reduce your risk of injury and will prevent you from over training.
Further, supplementing light strength training with a walking regimen is wonderful for women who may have osteopenia or even already have osteoporosis.
EXERCISES FOR PELVIC FLOOR: Squats, glute bridges and kegels with intentional, controlled contractions can help reinforce stability and proper muscle engagement in the pelvic region.
MISCONCEPTIONS & HESITATIONS:
- Lifting will make me look manly
- I don’t know how to select weight – again, start with body weight exercises! Don’t add any weight until you are comfortable with the movements with body weight alone. At that point it may be more beneficial to utilize resistance bands over dumbbells. It is important to start slowly to reduce the risk of injury, especially if you have never tried an exercise before.
- I don’t know how often to strength train – try strength training 2-3 times a week. Aim for cardio (30 minutes of moderately paced walking) 2 times a week.
- I gained weight strength training… wasn’t I supposed to experience the opposite? -There’s a great graphic out there that shows the amount of space a pound of muscle takes up versus a pound of fat. The point is that even if you are technically gaining weight with strength training, you may be losing inches. I suggest looking at other factors aside from weight if you are new to strength training such as body circumference measurements.