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strength training as women age: older woman swinging kettlebell

Why Strength Training Is Absolutely Crucial As Women Age

All bodies undergo tremendous changes as we get older—but this is especially true for women. As estrogen levels decline with age, women can begin to experience loss of bone density, increased body fat, decreases in muscle mass, cardiovascular issues, skin thinning, vaginal dryness, and more. While aging may be inevitable, research shows that the right types of exercise can lessen these undesirable effects. 

Imagine struggling to run or even walk simply because of aging. As research indicates, that is precisely what women can expect in their older years if they aren’t intentional about how they move their bodies. On average, women lose three to eight percent of their muscle mass per decade starting around age 30—and even more than that from 60 onward.

So, how can women combat some of these effects of aging? A regular exercise routine with adequate strength training is a key component. In fact, the importance of strength training becomes more and more significant with each passing year. 

Understanding the Aging Process

Before we can dig further into why women need to strength train, we must first understand how women age. With aging comes hormonal shifts, changes in reproductive function, declines in mental and cognitive abilities, and more. 

While much of aging depends heavily on genetics, lifestyle choices, and overall health, many aspects of aging are truly universal. Outside of perimenopause and menopause, which offer their own set of changes, women naturally may experience shifts in blood pressure (sometimes increasing with age), which causes increased susceptibility to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Women may also notice a decrease in metabolism, which may cause unwanted weight gain and insulin resistance.  

As women approach menopause (and for up to five to seven years after), brain fog, memory loss, decrease in muscle mass, and loss of up to 20 percent of bone density are common physiological changes they may experience. In fact, declining muscle mass and bone density have been directly linked to the decrease in estrogen that occurs throughout this time, as estrogens have a dramatic effect on musculoskeletal function. 

Read More: Your Guide To Menopause: Signs, Symptoms, And Solutions

The effects of estrogen, or lack thereof, directly impact the structure and function of our tendons, muscles, and ligaments. It also influences the collagen content of our connective tissues. 

This is why aging women face a higher risk of fractures, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and frailty, which result in a decrease in independence and an increased risk of hospitalization. This is exactly why strength training becomes increasingly beneficial as you add candles to your birthday cake. 

The Power of Strength Training

First, let’s set the record straight: There’s more to strength training than just lifting weights. It is a transformative journey that can empower you as you age and result in your ability to embrace getting older with vigor and resilience.

Also known as resistance training, strength training challenges your muscles using various resistance methods to increase muscle strength and enhance muscle endurance—two benefits that will only elevate your life the older you become. 

Read More: Protein Requirements Throughout Different Stages Of A Woman’s Life

While strength training can be a particularly powerful tool for women as they age, some lingering misconceptions can keep women skeptical. The ideas that resistance training will result in “bulking up,” that cardio is the better route for weight loss, or even that strength training is not suitable for older adults are all barriers that can keep you from reaping the benefits that strength training truly offers. 

In reality, strength training goes beyond an enhanced physique. Outside of aesthetics, incorporating various resistance exercises into your weekly routine can improve metabolism, cardiovascular health, hormone balance, sexual health, joint health, weight management, mental health, and overall well-being. Here are a few of the health perks I think are particularly pertinent for aging women.

Bone Health: A Solid Foundation

It’s not hard to understand the benefits of strength training for your muscles. The more you exercise, the stronger your muscles get. But how does that exercise help your bones? 

Surprisingly enough, resistance training works on bones similarly. Bones are living tissues composed of bone-building cells called osteoblasts. When strength training puts pressure or stress on bones, these osteoblasts respond, signaling bones to change and grow. Over time, your bones become stronger and denser

As mentioned above, women’s risk of osteoporosis increases tremendously with age. This is primarily due to the thinning of bones, which can lead to hip or other fractures, decreased mobility, and loss of independence. Strength training is one way to combat this. Regularly exercising and challenging bones to maintain density and strength creates a solid foundation women can rely on well into their older years. 

Increased General HealthSpan

It’s easy to see how stronger muscles and bones make for an overall stronger body that’s better equipped to handle the challenges that come with aging. But the benefits of strength training don’t end there.

For one, strength training also improves joint health. Strengthening the muscles around a joint means added support and a reduced risk of joint injury, increasing the likelihood that women can maintain prolonged independence well into their older years. In fact, this type of exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of arthritis!

Another perk of strength training is its ability to rev the metabolism, as increasing lean muscle mass means your body becomes more efficient at burning calories, even at rest. Considering that weight gain (which is common with aging) can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, and other diseases, strength training not only helps women maintain their physique but also helps ward off many potentially life-altering health concerns. 

Weight management aside, strength training has also been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (which can severely limit mobility and independence) by improving cardiovascular fitness and insulin sensitivity.

In all, strength training is an equation that adds up to greater overall physical health and quality of life in your later years.

Emotional Well-being and Cognitive Health

As a woman’s physical health can decline with age, so can her mental health. So, another benefit of strength training as you get older is that it does good for your mind.

On a basic level, the endorphins released by the body during exercise promote a positive mood, reduce the risk of depression, and help mitigate anxiety.  

What’s more: People who exercise regularly sleep better, achieving deeper levels of sleep for longer and waking less often—and sleep is directly connected to mental health. Lack of sleep can contribute to trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Insufficient sleep can also lead to depression and risk-taking behavior. Therefore, incorporating regular strength training provides emotional and mental health benefits that can be supportive for all people, particularly older folks, who may be more likely to feel isolated and lonely.

The Bottom Line

Despite the many misconceptions around strength training, research has undoubtedly shown that women need strength training as they age—and detailed the many ways that they can benefit from such exercise. Incorporating strength training into a well-rounded fitness routine supports a holistic approach to health, encompassing physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Going beyond the aesthetics, strength training truly lays the foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Dr Perkins

Dr. Perkins is a board-certified OB/GYN with extensive expertise in global maternal health, female reproductive health, contraceptive care, and minimally invasive surgery. In addition to working with patients at her medical practice, she is a Major in the United States Army Reserve and an award-winning scientific researcher. Through her functional, holistic approach to health, she aspires to help women feel their best in mind, body, and spirit.

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