Weight-bearing exercises provide women with many health benefits.
As women, many of us believe that performing weight-bearing exercises and resistance training will make us look bulky or too muscular, so we tend to stick to cardio activities such as the treadmill. However, studies show that adding weights to our workouts can come with health benefits for women of all ages.
The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that all adults aged 18 and over should participate in muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week. This recommendation is due to emerging studies linking weight-bearing exercises and resistance training to several health benefits, many of which can prevent injury and disease later in life. Weight-bearing exercises that rely on your body weight can include push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges and climbing stairs; while resistance training includes the use of resistance bands, free weights and weight machines to challenge your muscles.
Incorporating weights into your workout may decrease your chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, obesity and diabetes. Your muscle strength and tone may also improve, which can result in better protection of your joints. In Australia, osteoporosis affects one in two females over the age of 60. It may be particularly beneficial for older women to participate in weight and resistance training, as this can increase bone density and strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and injury. Over time, your mobility, flexibility and balance may improve and so can your stamina, meaning that performing everyday tasks such as carrying the shopping or cleaning the house may become much easier. Weight training can also improve your sense of wellbeing, boost your confidence and mood and ensure a better night’s sleep.
Many women experience a gradual weight gain as they age known as middle-aged spread. While this is part of the natural ageing process due to hormonal changes, social reasons like stress, reduced metabolism and loss of lean muscle mass also play a part in middle-aged spread. So while it does happen, it can be prevented. Lean muscle mass burns more energy than stored fat does, even when your body is resting. This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or after-burn. Consequently, when lean muscle is lost, you have to decrease your kilojoule intake otherwise you can experience weight gain. For this reason, weight and resistance training can be beneficial in retaining muscle mass and reducing the effects of middle-aged spread.
If women suffering from middle-aged spread do not participate in strength training at least twice a week with a mix of cardio exercise, they may have trouble losing weight from their mid-section. While walking is a good way to maintain muscle mass in the legs, it may be more effective to incorporate more resistance training to challenge your muscles by climbing stairs or incorporating squats and lunges into your walks.
Many women are hesitant to pick up weights due to the belief they will eventually look too muscular; however, this is not the case. Research shows that high levels of estrogen make it difficult for women to develop large muscles so they usually develop more tone and strength from lifting weights as opposed to size.
Tips to incorporate weight training into your everyday life
To benefit from weight and resistance training, you do not need a gym membership. Here are some tips to incorporate it into your lifestyle:
If you go for regular walks around your area, stop every few minutes to do a bodyweight exercise. For example, every 5 minutes stop and do 10 squats on the spot.
Use items around the house to add to your bodyweight exercises. For example, do walking lunges instead of regular walking when carrying heavy shopping bags into the house.
Utilise public park equipment for your weight-bearing workout. For example, use the monkey bars to do pull-ups. If your park has free exercise stations, make use of those too.
Go to your local shopping centre or sporting goods store and look for free weights such as dumbbells. They are usually quite affordable and can be great to keep around the house for a workout.
Get together with a group of friends and create your own workout. This can be a fun way to motivate each other and share new exercise ideas.
Last updated: June 2017
© Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Emilia Kurylewska, 3rd year Creative Industries (Media, Communications and Journalism) student from QUT and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee.