Women and Weights

Women and Weights

Three reasons why women should train with weights. Like most people who try to keep their body fat low, I used to run, a lot , and it worked. Running helped keep my body fat levels very low indeed, but I wasn’t healthy. Running hundreds of kilometres a month wasn’t good for me. My knees and back ached, I slept badly, I was tired and irritable, and I looked gaunt. My life changed for the better when I started to lift weights.

Here are three reasons why…

One: Lifting weights makes it easier to manage your body composition lifting weights makes it easier to keep my body fat levels down. Think about it: most people in their late 30s and 40s would do anything to have the figure they had when they were in their 20s. The reason they looked better at that age was because they had more muscle. And yes, this applies to women as much as to men.

From the age of about 30, we start to lose muscle. This is a natural part of the ageing process known as sarcopenia. As we approach 40, this process speeds up. The problem is, muscle burns energy. The more muscle you have, the more food you can eat without gaining fat. And as you shed the muscle as you age, your body no longer needs those higher calories. If you continue to eat like you did in your 20s, you will put on fat because you don’t have the muscle mass to burn the food off. So, the lesson is: if you want the body you had in your 20s, you need to put muscle on. And weight training is the best way to do it.

Two: Lifting weights is essential to cardiovascular health. Endurance training on the treadmill or stationery bike is stressful. When we are subject to stress, whether stuck in traffic or jogging, our adrenal glands secrete a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is used by the body to obtain emergency supplies of sugar. Unfortunately it does so by breaking down muscle. When you spend more than 45 to 60 minutes on the treadmill, cortisol levels rise, and your body begins to break down muscle. This is also known as a catabolic response to exercise.

This is why top long distance runners do weight training in the off-season: to replace the muscle they have lost as a result of running. And think about it: the heart is a muscle. If you have too much stress, your cortisol levels break down the heart’s muscular walls too. A well-designed weight training programme should never take longer than 45 minutes (after warm-up and corrective work). In fact, weight training for this amount of time has been shown to be the best way to maximise your body’s anabolic (i.e. positive hormonal) response.

Three: Weight training lays the foundation for independence in later life. We’ve already mentioned muscle loss after 30. Well, by the time you’re in your 50s and 60s, this process is very advanced. Again, studies have shown that the people with the most strength and muscle mass are the ones who live longest.

If you start now, you can retain more strength as you age. If your partner dies, that means you can still carry the shopping, and get up and down those stairs. My mother is a single mum. So I encourage her to do split squats with weights and overhead dumbbell work because I want her to be able to put things in her cupboard when she’s 80.

By Caroll Kerner

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