If you’re looking for an activity that can help you get (or stay) strong, build healthy bones and improve your mental health, look no further than strength training, an ideal companion to your cardio workout.
As Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, the authors of Fit at Mid-Life: A Fitness Feminist Journey write, “Women have typically associated fitness with getting smaller. For decades it’s been all about aerobics or running or anything cardio…all with the goal of losing weight and being thin.”
Often women fear that they’ll bulk up like the body builders they see on the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine. Don’t worry, you won’t. Women don’t have enough muscle-building hormones to gain a ton of muscle mass like men. What strength training can do, however, is change the shape of your body by making it more defined (not to mention stronger!).
In a 2011 opinion poll reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 18 per cent of women contacted said they accomplished the CDC’s recommendations for 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise and two periods of strength training weekly. Yet the benefits speak for themselves. Inactive adults experience a three to eight percent loss of muscle mass per decade. Strength training may increase resting metabolism by about seven percent and help minimize muscle loss.
But the benefits of strength training go way beyond the physical. In fact, a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that strength training is “associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms” and helped to improve feelings of unworthiness, low mood and a loss of interest in activities.
The basis of strength training is to use weight to your advantage and build lean muscle, whether you’re at home, taking a CrossFit class, or even going for a walk around the block.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it doesn’t take long to see the benefits of strength training – significant improvement in your strength can be seen with as little as two 20-minute weight training sessions a week.
Don’t have a gym membership or any of the equipment listing below? No worries! Grab something heavy – a can of beans or a heavy book – and start lifting!
Using your own body weight for resistance is an excellent way to increase muscular strength. Bodyweight training includes things like pushups and squats and can be easily modified for your level. Plus, it’s free!
Free weights are those weights that aren’t attached to a machine and are an easy and versatile way to add weights to your workout, such as walking while carrying weights. You’ll also find free weights in CrossFit classes. Free weights include:
Most gyms and fitness centers offer circuit-style weight machines targeting different muscle areas of the body. They’re great for beginners as they provide a specific range of motion and restrict your movements to avoid bad form.
Rubber tubing, also known as resistance tubing, provides an inexpensive way for home strength training and resembles large, colorful rubber bands. There are free videos online that can show you the most effective way to use rubber tubing.
Decrease risk of injury
According to Healthline, “when you build muscle, you help protect your joints from injury and increase your balance and coordination. This becomes increasingly important to help you maintain your independence as you age.”
Strengthen your bones
Strength training is key to ensuring your bones stay strong as you age, increasing bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. As outlined in Fit at Mid-Life: A Fitness Feminist Journey, “women especially have been told all of our lives that we need to keep our bones strong if we want to avoid osteoporosis as we age. Caring about our bones, just like favouring strength over muscle definition, means turning our focus to things we can’t see. How much of our focus on our health is misplaced on outer beauty when inner health and strength matters more?”
Improve heart health
We all know that cardio is good for the heart, but according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, strength training can also “decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering body fat, decreasing blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and lowering the stress placed on the heart when you need to lift things?”
In fact, muscles produce chemicals called myokines, which improve glucose uptake to provide better blood sugar control, helps brain cells grow and helps improve bone density.
If you’re looking to burn fat and calories, strength training is good for that too. In fact, after an intense weight-training program, you continue to burn fat for several hours as a result of your elevated metabolism levels, while you stop burning fat shortly after regular cardio exercise.
Beyond getting stronger – Improving your mental health
There are so many benefits to strength training, incorporating it into your exercise routine is not only good for your health, but your mental health too. In addition to helping to decrease depressive symptoms, it’s been shown to boost confidence and feelings of empowerment among women. Now that’s something to get pumped up about!
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