Fitness For Older Women

Strength training has a lot of advantages for women, and particularly for women aged 35 to 40 and older. By the age of 40, women generally begin to lose bone density and muscle mass. One study at Tufts University, designed by the author of ‘Strong Women Stay Young’, Miriam Nelson PH.D, found that instead of losing bone density and muscle mass, the women were 15 to 20 years younger after one year of weight training. They gained bone density, and their strength tests matched women who were in their 30’s and 40’s.

These women didn’t diet, but they did end up looking slimmer. Some lost 1 or 2 dress sizes, and they all replaced fat with muscle. Because muscle weighs more than fat, this is the reason they looked slimmer, though the scales may not have changed much.

The women in this study were all post menopausal, and some of their ages were in the 50’s and 60’s. They made some remarkable changes in their lives as they got stronger. One woman described going rollerblading with her children. Another went canoeing with her husband. More than any pills or potions, strength training gave these women back a youthfulness some didn’t even have to that degree in the first place.

The women in this study used leg weights and free hand weights that were adjustible in their strength training program. They started at a level they were able to – even if this was the lightest weights available. They didn’t buy lots of expensive equipment or home gyms, and many of these can be bought second hand with a little research locally. As they developed their strength, they invested in heavier weights.

For the strap on ankle weights, they started with 1 to 3 kilograms in each cuff. The suggested ankle cuffs hold up to 10 kilograms each. The dumbells they used for their arms were adjustable, and they started with 1 or 2 kilograms. The only other equipment they needed was a chair, somewhere to store the weights, and a towel. Because you’re working out in your own home you don’t need to buy expensive or flashy gym clothes, or worry about feeling the odd one out.

The workout itself is in the book, Stong Women Stay Young. It covers a range of basic exercises that don’t take up too much time, which is suggested you do twice a week. Each session takes about 40 minutes including warming up and cooling down.

Tips for women working out with weights at home

* Make sure the area you’re working in doesn’t have rugs, electrical cords, toys and other items that you can trip over
* Keep your pets and young children away from this area whilst you’re working out
* If you’re using a chair when you do exercises, make sure it’s on a carpet that won’t slide around. If you don’t have carpet, put the chair against the wall so it stays stable
* If you have problems with your back, you’ll need to be careful when you’re carrying your free weights around. Take a few trips to carry things if you have to move them in or out of a storage area. And make sure you lift them properly by bending your knees and moving slowly.
* It helps to keep the weights you’re not currently using in their container. That way they can’t be knocked off by curious children.
* If you’re using leg weights, don’t walk around with them on. It could affect your balance. And if you trip on something, you are more likely to injure yourself than normal
* Keep the telephone off the hook, and the cellphone off. That way if someone rings you won’t be interrupted
* Make sure you have some drinking water nearby in case you get thirsty.
* Don’t drink any alcohol, even a little bit, less than a couple of hours before you exercise
* Try and make sure you haven’t just eaten a meal before you work out. But by the same token, make sure you’re not starving! If you’re really hungry, you could become light headed or dizzy when you work out.
* Don’t forget to warm up!
* If you’re using weights, try doing them in front of a mirror so you can check your posture. You’ll get more out of the exercise, and work the right muscles. Sometimes our posture becomes so habitual we don’t realize it’s not quite right until we see it
* If you’re using weights, a good posture means you’re chin is down slightly, so that it’s aligned with your neck. Your neck is in line with your spine, shoulders are straight and not stiff, back is straight, and your knees are not locked or bent. Your pelvis should be tucked under a little
* When using weights, do the lifts slowly. This really works the muscles instead of letting the motion do the work for you.
* Make sure you pause for a count between lifting the weight up, and lowering it
* Don’t hold your breath whilst you’re lifting wights. Given that we’re contracting muscles, sometimes we unconsciously hold our breaths at the same time. Remember to breath, but don’t go the other extreme and hyperventilate!

References: Miriam Nelson and Sarah Wernick, Strong Women Stay Young (Lothian)