Many women steer clear of the free-weight areas inside their gyms, opting instead for treadmills and other cardio machines. Some women may not know how to use weights correctly, while others simply don't want to add any bulk to their frames.
But research shows that women who adhere to moderate strength-training programs two to three times per week can benefit in a variety of ways.
• Burn more calories: Many people exercise to burn calories and shed fat, and weight training is an efficient way for women to do just that. Resistance training is a great way to burn calories, as after a heavy weight-training session, the body continues to use oxygen, which increases a person's basal metabolic rate. In addition, as you increase lean muscle mass, your body burns even more calories as its muscles contract and it works to repair and build new muscle.
• Reverse metabolic decline: Lifting weights can help reverse the natural slowing down of metabolism that begins in middle age. Keeping your body working out and your metabolism elevated for as long as possible can help keep you in top shape.
• Build stronger bones: Lifting weights does more than just build muscle. Weightlifting also builds bone density. After menopause, women may lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass, and the United States Surgeon General estimates that, by 2020, half of all Americans could have weak bones due to bone loss. Women can look to weightlifting to help increase bone density and reduce their risk of fracture and osteoporosis.
• Reduce risk for heart disease: Cardiovascular disease claims the lives of 5.6 million women worldwide each year. Women are more likely to get heart disease than cancer. A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that women who lift weights are less likely to develop heart disease risk factors, such as large waist circumference, high triglycerides, hypertension, and elevated glucose levels. The American Heart Association lists weight training as a healthy form of exercise for those at risk for heart disease.
• Combat back pain: Weight training can help strengthen the core muscles of the abdomen and back, which may help alleviate lower back pain. It's important to use proper form when lifting weights to avoid exacerbating existing back pain or developing new injuries.
• Boost mood and combat depression: Lifting weights is not just good for the body, it's also good for the mind. Women who strength train regularly can improve their feelings of well-being and may be able to reduce episodes of depression. A study from researchers at Harvard University found that 10 weeks of strength training was effective at reducing symptoms of clinical depression.
• Relieve stress: Any form of exercise can help to relieve stress, but according to the 2009 study "Psychological Aspects of Resistance Training," those who regularly strength train tend to manage stress better and experience fewer adverse reactions to stressful situations than those who do not exercise.
• Increase energy levels: Lifting weights can boost mind power and provide a long-term energy boost. Working out in the morning can be an especially effective way to maintain high energy levels throughout the day.
Women should not shy away from lifting weights. In addition to creating a trimmer, healthier body, resistance training offers many other health benefits.