A Woman About to Carry a Barbell for weight lifting.
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Benefits of Strength Training for Women Over 40

If you’re like me, to lose weight or stay fit when you were younger, you were part of the ’70s and ’80s cardio workout craze. By the mid-1980s, 22 million Americans were doing aerobics, mostly women, and I was one of them (insert leg warmers here and the song ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newton-John).

I didn’t pay much attention or have any interest in strength training (also known as lifting weights). At least not until I learned that my muscle mass was decreasing quickly due to a natural drop in hormones starting in my late 30s (I was in full menopause at 44).

Over time, I began to see all the health benefits of lifting weights. It helps strengthen bones and muscles and improves your mood, brain function, and ability to lose weight. I was sold!

I also learned that estrogen helps with muscle regeneration and health, especially during exercise and after injury. Women are slowly losing this important hormone in perimenopause and menopause which can contribute to many health problems.

There was no way around it! I’d have to find a way to incorporate weights into my exercise routine to stay physically and mentally healthy.

Health Benefits of Strength Training

2 women standing beside railings during daytime strong and healthy.

There are many health benefits to strength training (also known as resistance training). It’s not just about building muscle and helping you with weight loss!

Knowing the benefits is a wonderful way to get motivated to help your body stay strong as you age:

  • Improved mood: As you lift weights, endorphins (hormones) are released from the brain and help relieve stress, fight depression, and improve your mood all around. Feeling good has the added benefit of helping you continue to care for your health!
  • Weight loss: As you build muscle, you burn more calories. Muscle burns up to three times more calories at rest. Continue enjoying the cardio workouts, nourish your body without focusing on deprivation, and embrace weight lifting to keep you at a healthy weight as you age. See my blog post ‘Protein’s Health Benefits for Women in Midlife‘ for more detailed information on the importance of eating more protein.
  • Better balance: As you build muscle, you are contributing to better balance, which reduces your risk of falling. This happens as you work your muscles to make them stronger. Since osteoporosis (bone thinning) increases as you age, it’s important to maintain your balance and prevent fractures.
  • Improved brain function: Lifting weights can improve memory, executive function, thinking, and learning. It also helps protect an area of the brain — the hippocampus — that plays a critical role in learning and memory from losing function as you age. As you embrace strength training, you’re also at decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease since this type of exercise can have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain.
  • Stronger: Not only are you making your muscles stronger, but you’re increasing the strength of your bones, ligaments, and tendons. This increased strength helps you quickly lift heavy items, run, and jump. Great ways to stay independent as you age and get impressive results on your next bone density score!

Will Weight Training Cause Weight Gain?

The short answer is yes. You may gain weight, but the good kind. Getting stronger and gaining more muscle may show up as weight gain on the scale.

It’s a good idea to ignore the number on the scale for a while. I know this is easier said than done for many women. But it’s time to trust your body and recognize that when you introduce strength training and pay attention to nourishing your body, you will get to a healthy weight.

Watch how your clothes feel and how you look in the mirror. Don’t get hung up on the number on the scale. Muscle mass takes up less space, improving how your body looks. You’re getting stronger each day!

Think of it this way — if your weight stays the same as you age or even increases and you don’t begin strength training, the muscle you lose is naturally being replaced with fat. Adults lose about 3 to 8% of their muscle mass every decade after age 30. After age 50, the loss climbs to 5 to 10%. Yikes!

We want a strong body to maintain our independence as we age. Not a weak, flabby one.

How To Start Strength Training

woman in pink bikini top strength training.

Firstly, it’s important to get cleared by your physician to be sure there aren’t any contraindications to lifting weights. Explain to your doctor what your goals are. If necessary, they will run tests to be sure you are fit enough for the exercise and eating plan you have in mind.

Once you get the go-ahead, start slowly and get guidance from a trainer if you belong to a gym. Aim to lift weights, use resistance bands, and do hip hinges, lunges, or pushups 2 – 3 times a week for 20 – 30 minutes to start.

It’s important to note that lifting heavy weights burns more body fat than lifting light weights. But go slow! Start with light weights and get instruction from an in-person trainer or through videos online.

Many women I work with follow weight training videos at home for direction rather than at a gym. This also works for me. Do what works for you and devise a plan you can stick to. Don’t seek perfection, just consistency!

It’s never too late to prioritize your health. Focus on getting stronger!

Reach out to me if you are interested in learning how I can support you in your quest to thrive and not just survive in midlife.

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