If you are a midlife woman like me, then you will have grown up in a time when thin was in – super thin. We weren’t often encouraged to build muscle and lift heavy weights – it was more about aerobics and looking tall and slim like Jane Fonda and Jamie Lee Curtis.
I’ve seen so many women my age carry this ideal with them throughout their life. There were definitely no big muscular bottoms idealised in the 70s like there are now in the media. Skinny bottoms, skinny legs – skinny all over (except maybe breasts) was what were encouraged to aspire to.
With these messages ingrained in our thought patterns for decades, is it any wonder why midlife women today often struggle with the idea of building muscle? It’s just not what we grew up with. We often still desire to be very thin – and this can be even more challenging to deal with if we gain weight at menopause.
I’ve got some news. Those days are over. We are no longer in the 70s and it’s time to rethink what skinny means for us as midlife women today.
In fact, when I think about what I want to look like as a 70 year old women, I am determined not to be skinny. Of course, I want to be healthy but being too skinny as we age often goes hand in hand with frailty. Personally, I have absolutely no intention of entering a nursing home or being bent over with osteoporosis. Instead, I visualise a life where I and fit and strong and hiking up mountains, sightseeing in exotic places on foot, lifting my own luggage, pushing a wheelbarrow around my garden and living independently.
The most important thing that I can therefore do for myself as a 53 year old woman now to achieve that 70 year old me – is to strength train.
What if I offered you a pill that could help you could gain more energy, manage your weight, improve your body composition and feel fantastic about yourself? Would you invest your money into that? Well, I’m here to confirm that strength training can do all that for you – and more. And, it doesn’t require popping a pill. You just need to invest a little of your time – much less than what you may even imagine.
As a midlifer, if you are not regularly strength training, you may have already noticed that your strength has diminished somewhat. In fact, by the time you reach 55 you may be 20% weaker than you were as a 30 year old. With menopause and the loss of estrogen there are further challenges that make it even more difficult to create muscle mass and get stronger. And, as we pass age 60, muscle and strength declines at an accelerated rate.
However, the good news is that it’s possible to buid/rebuild muscle and strength through appropriate strength training regardless of your age. Will you get ‘bulky’? Not very easily – it’s really really difficult for women to grow large muscles and even more so as a midlife woman.
When you do work to restore lost muscle mass however, the following things happen:
- Increased metabolic rate (metabolism) – this means that you can increase the number of calories you use at rest
- Increased lean body mass – your metabolism is increased and you burn more fat while you exercise.
- Optimised body composition – as estrogen diminishes at menopause, we begin to store fat more easily, especially in the tummy area – strength training (particularly heavy strength training) can minimise body composition changes
- Better posture and stability – many women develop joint issues as they age, especially at menopause – strength training increases stability in your joints and increases the ability of your muscles to support joints.
- Stronger bones – strength trainings helps with bone remodelling thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis
- Blood pressure control – we often think of strength training only with regards to muscle and strength but strength training also provides benefits of better blood pressure control, better blood flow to and from your muscles and better blood flow to and from your skin.
- Increased immunity – strength training can reduce overall inflammation of your body and boost your immune system.
In addition to these body and health benefits, strength training may also improve our skin, making us look and feel better about ourselves as we age. Not sure about you but I definitely love this, as how we feel about ourselves affects all areas of our life and health.
The science and research isn’t complete but these are the current thoughts on how strength training can boost our daily glow:
- Increased production of collagen cells.
- Stimulated production of growth hormone, which can repair the connections between your skin and muscle.
- Increased blood flow which delivers more vitamins and oxygen to the skin cells all over your face and body, thus enabling the repair mechanisms in your skin
- Increased blood flow which also helps carry away waste products, including free radicals, from working cells.
What do you think? Is it time to strength train?
For me, I’m convinced. It’s a necessity.
Yes, if you haven’t strength trained before, then it can be daunting to start now. Even though I lifted my first weight when I was 15, have been a trainer for almost 30 years and worked in several gyms, I can actually still feel a little intimidated when I walk into a gym. There are constantly new machines appearing, new ways of training and lots of super fit looking people grunting and groaning their way through sets and reps.
However, there are several options here.
First, is embracing being a beginner. Every single person in that gym started out not knowing what to do. And, to be honest, when I do visit a gym and initially may feel a little out of place, I just have to look around at those often buff, muscled people and realise that the majority of them aren’t actually training with correct form. Also, no-one is looking at you, they are all concerned about their own workout. Seek out a trainer with knowledge of appropriate training for midlife women and start at the start.
You also don’t necessarily need to attend a gym. If you haven’t undertaken any strength training in the past, then you definitely need some guidance – you want to optimise your technique so that you can facilitate muscle growth and avoid injury. That can be with a trainer individually or in a small group – at a studio, at a park or in a gym. And now with the influx of online trainers you can even train in your lounge via zoom.
I’ll be discussing the best types of strength training and best formulas for midlife women in a future article.
In the meantime, get yourself started. For you, that may mean, looking up gyms or trainers, visiting them to see if you like the vibe and how they operate. If you are ready to get moving immediately, then start out slowly and simply. If you have never strength trained before or it’s been a while, then you need to recognise that it will take time to start increasing weight and seeing results. There is no rush – you have the rest of your life.
A reminder that there is no downside to building muscle, especially as we age. You will not only look and feel better but also build a healthier body. And, it’s never too late to start – never!
Strength training really is the fountain of youth.
Let’s get strong!