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Why More Women Should Be Lifting Weights

Call it what you like; resistance training, strength training, weight lifting... Sadly when it comes to working out in the gym, many women shy away from lifting weights.

Unfortunately the myths and misconceptions that surround this type of training prevent many from realising the vast benefits that can be gained through strength training. So to help inspire you to overcome your fears and uncertainties, let me tell you about all the wonderful benefits that can come from lifting weights!

1. Resistance training increases bone mineral density and helps reduce the loss of bone mass and the risk of osteoporosis as we age.

Low bone mass increases the risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures and falls. Loss of bone mass and bone mineral density occurs naturally with age once peak bone mass has been reached at around the age of 30. Among postmenopausal women, the rate of bone loss increases for a period of 10 years, so that across our lifetime, we’ll lose around 50% of out spongy (trabecular) bone and 35% of our compact (or corticol) bone, whereas men will lose approximately two thirds of this amount.[1]

Athletes competing in strength and power events, such as weight lifting and jumping, have superior bone mass when compared to their untrained counterparts, suggesting that weight-bearing exercise increases bone density.[2] Controlled studies have shown a similar effect, indicating that resistance training can effectively increase bone mineral density and prevent or reverse the natural process of bone loss, irrespective of age or gender.[3],[4],[5],[6]

2. Resistance training increases muscle mass and helps reduce the rate of sarcopenia.

Muscle mass declines by between 3% and 8% per decade after the age of 30, increasing to between 5% and 10% per decade after the age of 50.[7],[8] Skeletal muscle is responsible for more than just mobility, and is involved in a number of metabolic processes including regulation of blood sugar levels, blood lipid profiles and protein synthesis and degradation. Loss of muscle mass therefore leads to declines in mobility as well as increasing the risk of developing type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and overweight and obesity.Numerous studies have demonstrated that regular resistance training can increase muscle mass in adults across all ages, although the degree of lean tissue gained will depend on the frequency, intensity and duration of exercise.[9]

3. Resistance training can reduce the risk of hypertension.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that resistance training can reduce blood pressure in healthy adults to levels comparable with similar volumes of aerobic exercise.[10] Be aware that individuals with high blood pressure must seek medical clearance prior to undertaking any resistance training as additional, exercise-induced increases in blood pressure can lead to further health complications.

4. Resistance training can help improve blood lipid profiles, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

High plasma levels of LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and triglycerides, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, the ‘good’ cholesterol) are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Sufficient evidence exists to suggest that resistance training can help to decrease plasma levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase HDL,[11] although the response may be augmented by additional aerobic activity.[12]

5. Resistance training can improve glycaemic control, reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.

Type II diabetes and its precursor, metabolic syndrome, are associated with prolonged elevated blood sugar levels and reduced insulin sensitivity most commonly caused by obesity and a lack of exercise. Studies have shown that resistance training can improve insulin sensitivity by increasing insulin-mediated glucose uptake in muscle tissue.[13],[14]

6. Resistance training increases resting metabolic rate, which can help reduce or limit the accumulation of fat mass.

Muscle protein does not get stored in the same way that fat gets stored in adipose tissue and the continual process of muscle protein degradation and synthesis requires a large amount of energy that contributes significantly to resting metabolic rate. Resting metabolism accounts for around 70% of daily energy (i.e. calorie) expenditure in adults (the other 30% is used during physical activity and in the process of digesting the food you consume – something called the thermic effect of food, or TEF). Increasing the proportion of lean tissue will therefore increase your resting metabolic rate, even if overall you maintain the same total mass.[15]

7. Resistance training can make daily life tasks easier and decrease the risk of falls and injuries.

As you become stronger and develop your lifting technique, the chance of injuring yourself as you’re going about your daily tasks will become less. You’ll also find it a heck of a lot easier to lift, push, pull… than you did before! Taught right, resistance training will also help you develop your proprioception. In other words, you’ll become more in touch with feeling your body’s movements, which helps with balance and coordination as well as knowing when to – and when not to – push yourself without getting injured. I also think that developing body awareness and executing your movements with control plays a really big part in empowering you in the gym.

8. With correct exercise choice and form, resistance training can improve posture and alignment.

With the correct choice of exercise, you can help improve postural imbalances that are often associated with headaches and other pain. The best example would be the rounded shoulders and forward head tilt that frequently results from spending too many hours sat at a desk. Exercises that strengthen the muscles in the mid and lower back will help you sit up straighter and pull your shoulders back.

9. Resistance training makes it easier to achieve and maintain a lean physique, if that’s your goal.

With the right nutrition choices, resistance training can be a very effective way of losing fat mass and maintaining a lean physique. By building or maintaining muscle mass, you’ll avoid the inevitable decline in resting metabolic rate that occurs with muscle loss as we age as well as gaining the regular weight-associated benefits of exercise.

10. Resistance training improves sporting performance.

Most athletes don’t train for their sport just by doing that sport; they’ll include a structured resistance training programme to help them push through a plateau or to develop particular muscle groups or train for a particular type of movement quickly and effectively.

11. Resistance training can have a positive effect on your mental health.

It’s widely acknowledged that physical exercise in general can improve mental health, but there’s sufficient evidence to support the notion that resistance training is associated with reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression, reductions in pain intensity and fibromyalgia, improvements in sleep quality, reductions in fatigue and improvements in cognition among older adults and improvements in self-esteem.[16],[17],[18]

So there you have it! Hopefully next time you're in the gym you might feel more inclined to take a walk over to the weights area and get lifting.

If you feel inspired but still have hesitations about exactly what to do, then why not sign up for a few personal training sessions and let me teach you all you need to know to get you lifting safely and effectively in the gym.

References cited

[1] Hunter, D. J., & Sambrook, P. N. (2000). Bone loss: epidemiology of bone loss. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2(6), 441.

[2] Suominen, H. (2006). Muscle training for bone strength. Aging clinical and experimental research, 18(2), 85-93.

[3] Winters-Stone, K. M., Dobek, J., Nail, L., Bennett, J. A., Leo, M. C., Naik, A., & Schwartz, A. (2011). Strength training stops bone loss and builds muscle in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors: a randomized, controlled trial. Breast cancer research and treatment, 127(2), 447.

[4] Bolam, K. A., Van Uffelen, J. G., & Taaffe, D. R. (2013). The effect of physical exercise on bone density in middle-aged and older men: a systematic review. Osteoporosis International, 24(11), 2749-2762.

[5] Martyn-St James, M., & Carroll, S. (2006). High-intensity resistance training and postmenopausal bone loss: a meta-analysis. Osteoporosis international, 17(8), 1225-1240.

[6] Layne, J. E., & Nelson, M. E. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 31(1), 25-30.

[7] Flack, K. D., Davy, K. P., Hulver, M. W., Winett, R. A., Frisard, M. I., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Aging, resistance training, and diabetes prevention. Journal of aging research, 2011.

[8] Marcell, T. J. (2003). Sarcopenia: causes, consequences, and preventions. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 58(10), M911-M916.

[9] Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports, 11(4), 209-216.

[10] Cornelissen, V. A., & Fagard, R. H. (2005). Effect of resistance training on resting blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

[11] Kelley, G. A., & Kelley, K. S. (2009). Impact of progressive resistance training on lipids and lipoproteins in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Preventive medicine, 48(1), 9-19.

[12] Tambalis, K., Panagiotakos, D. B., Kavouras, S. A., & Sidossis, L. S. (2009). Responses of blood lipids to aerobic, resistance, and combined aerobic with resistance exercise training: a systematic review of current evidence. Angiology, 60(5), 614-632.

[13] Hansen, E., Landstad, B. J., Gundersen, K. T., Torjesen, P. A., & Svebak, S. (2012). Insulin sensitivity after maximal and endurance resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(2), 327-334.

[14] Holten, M. K., Zacho, M., Gaster, M., Juel, C., Wojtaszewski, J. F., & Dela, F. (2004). Strength training increases insulin-mediated glucose uptake, GLUT4 content, and insulin signaling in skeletal muscle in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, 53(2), 294-305.

[15] Stiegler, P., & Cunliffe, A. (2006). The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss. Sports Medicine, 36(3), 239-262.

[16] O'Connor, P. J., Herring, M. P., & Caravalho, A. (2010). Mental health benefits of strength training in adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 377-396.

[17] Hausenblas, H. A., & Fallon, E. A. (2006). Exercise and body image: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Health, 21(1), 33-47.

[18] Ahmed, C., Hilton, W., & Pituch, K. (2002). Relations of strength training to body image among a sample of female university students. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 16(4), 645-648.

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