Many people might not associate weight lifting with older women. But these people may be unaware of the many benefits of strength training for women, particularly women who are over 55.
There are in fact a number of reasons why pumping some iron can be important to maintaining good health into middle age and beyond. Many Medicare Advantage plans may even offer Silver Sneakers program membership as an additional plan for health benefit.
Here are eight reasons for women to hit the gym, even into their senior years.
#1. Reduce the symptoms of osteoporosis
Women have smaller and thinner bones than men. Making matters worse is the fact that estrogen, the hormone in women that helps to protect bones, decreases during menopause. As a result, women account for around 80% of all osteoporosis cases in the U.S., and approximately half of all women over the age of 50 will break a bone that was compromised because of osteoporosis.
Strength training with weights can not only help prevent bone loss, but it may even stimulate the growth of new bone. The stress put on bones during weightlifting forces bone-forming cells into action to form stronger and denser bones.
#2. Boost your metabolism
Your “resting metabolic rate” is the rate at which you burn calories while at rest, such as when you’re watching TV, sleeping or reading this article. And the female body is predisposed to having a lower rate of metabolism than men.
The metabolic rate of muscle is around three times that of fat, so strength training and the development of new muscle can play an integral role in helping maintain your body’s healthy metabolism.
#3. Sleep better
According to the National Sleep Foundation, women require more sleep than men, don’t function under sleep deprivation as well as men and experience insomnia at a rate 2-3 times higher than men.
Changes to our sleep patterns are a normal part of the aging process, which can help explain why we have a harder time falling and staying asleep as we get older.
Besides simply feeling tired and ready to hit the pillow after a good workout, lifting weights serves as a great stress reliever, which is a common cause of restless nights.
#4. Manage your diabetes
According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, women with diabetes have been found to die faster and at a higher rate than men with the disease. And the risk for developing heart disease related to diabetes is at least twice as high for women.
In addition to helping you shed a few pounds, weightlifting also helps your body respond better to insulin and improves the way it uses blood sugar.
#5. Fight off depression
Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. The risk climbs even higher with all the life changes we experience as we age, such as leaving the workforce or grieving for lost loved ones.
A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that strength training can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression.
#6. Ease your Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of chronic condition affecting the joints. Thanks to basic biology, it’s even more common in women than in men.
But once again, weightlifting can help fight off this health risk. Researchers have found that strength training programs can reduce pain from osteoarthritis by 35% and increase limb strength and function by 33%.
#7. Alleviate back pain
Back pain is also more common for women than for men. While the reasons for the disparity are largely unclear, one thing is certain: Strength training can help.
A big contributor to back pain is having a weakened set of glutes, hamstrings, quads and core muscles, which in turn places greater responsibility on the spine. Strengthening these spine-supporting muscles means taking much of the load — and resulting pain — off your back.
#8. Improve your brain function
By now it might seem that the list of ailments that are more common in women than men is never-ending. But here’s one last health condition to consider: Alzheimer’s.
The risk for developing Alzheimer’s is about 1 in 6 for women over 65 compared to just 1 in 11 for men of the same age.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School, who know a thing or two about brain power, reported the results of a study that found a correlation between strength training and cognitive function.
Hitting the Gym
A weightlifting gym can be an intimidating place for anyone, let alone an older woman. But many gyms these days are making more efforts to cater both to women and seniors alike.
The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) has a facilities locator tool, which you can use to find age-friendly health facilities in your area.
So start hitting the gym, and start seeing a healthier new you.
About The Author:
Christian Worstell is a freelance writer from Raleigh, North Carolina. He writes about health, travel and lifestyle topics and is a frequent contributor to MedicareAdvantage.com