Stop worrying about “looking like a man,” because when older women avoid strength training, this is the fastest route to aging painfully.
Tell us what we already know: That it’s crucial for older women to lift weights.
The latest affirmation of this fact comes from a cross-sectional study led by the University at Buffalo.
You Don’t Need Studies: Go to a Gym for the Evidence
Yes, step foot inside a gym and look at the older women training with weights.
No, not the older women holding onto treadmills as they walk – but the older women working with free weights: dumbbells and barbells.
There will be a stark contrast in their bodies and the way they move about.
As a former personal trainer, I unfortunately have to point out that you will be hard pressed to find any senior aged women lifting barbells and dumbbells.
You may find some 50-somethings, but on the other hand – it’s entirely possible that the woman who appears to be 50 and lifting hard and heavy is actually 65!
Lifting Weights Wards Off the Aging Process
The study, which appears in the April 2018 Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, was led by Machiko Tomita, clinical professor, and Nadine Fisher, clinical associate professor, Department of Rehabilitation Science in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
A senior age woman today grew up in an era where lifting weights was considered very unfeminine.
In fact, even today, many younger adults think that MMA fighter Ronda Rousey is far too muscular – even though there seems to be a growing trend of obesity acceptance.
“Frailty progresses with aging, but older women who engage in a high level of daily physical activity can reverse certain characteristics related to aging,” says Tomita in the paper.
“But for women over the age of 75, muscle strength and endurance declines,” says Fisher in the paper.
“Starting resistance exercise when they are young and continuing it is important so that when they reach a very advanced age they have already built up their strength and endurance reserves.”
Or, as I would tell my female clients, “Think of weightlifting as putting funds in a savings account. Later on in life, when you start making withdrawals, you’ll still have a lot left in the fund!”
Building lean, fat-burning muscle in younger age will create a big reserve of muscle in older age, so that when withdrawals start occurring – you won’t age as quickly and it won’t hurt as much.
How the Study Worked
• There were 46 women in two age groups: 60-74 and 75-90.
• A larger difference was found, in terms of muscle strength and endurance, among the women who were very physically active.
• There was a gap between the two age groups among women who engaged in low daily physical activity, but this gap vanished among women who were highly active.
Light Gardening and Light Housework Do Not Count As High Physical Activity
The study found that the main “exercise” that the women in the groups did was light gardening, housework and stretching.
The study authors wondered if this was because they were still working and thus had no time to exercise.
I find this speculation quite silly, because women under age 60 are more likely to be working full time, yet most female gym-goers are well under 60.
“It appears that committing to regular exercise is not yet a standard part of older women’s lifestyles,” says the report, “and is instead a reactive behavior to, for example, falls or illness.”
10,000 Step a Day?
Tomita suggests more walking, but piling up thousands of steps a day can be excessive unless you have a treadmill desk or are willing to use a treadmill or pace about while watching TV.
Tomita also recommends speaking to a physical therapist or trainer about an exercise program for building muscle.
A personal trainer can be certified in senior fitness, though one who has a general certification can also be quite skilled at working with older populations.
If I had to recommend just one strength training exercise for older women who can still walk without assistance, it would be the deadlift.