Overcome Bodybuilding Barriers for Women Over 50
Women over 50 have been relatively slow to adopt strength training as part of their exercise routine. By skipping the strengthening exercise, they can miss out on proven benefits for the brain as well as the body.
Some barriers to strength training are physical, but others are psychological. When you are just starting out, a few simple steps can help you overcome any doubts, worries, and misconceptions that are holding you back.
Stay strong and mobile
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that adults should do muscle-building activities at least two days a week, working all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arm ). This is in addition to 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardio activity.
However, most of us do not achieve these goals. Among women aged 65 to 74, for example, only 15% follow CDC guidelines for muscle building and cardio exercises. An exercise program that neglects strength training is especially unfortunate for women over 50.
“Recent research has shown that weight training increases muscle mass and reduces body fat, while [cardio] exercise only reduces fat, âsays Rachel straub, MS, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-author of Muscle building without injury. “It highlights the role of strength training in preserving muscle mass and maintaining a healthy metabolism.”
Muscle strengthening exercises later in life also help maintain mobility and prevent falls. It can make a big difference in a woman’s ability to stay independent and perform daily activities, such as carrying packages and climbing stairs.
Maintain brain health
Emerging research shows that weight training may also have specific brain health benefits. In to study, 155 older women were randomly assigned to do either resistance training (once or twice a week) or balance and toning exercises (twice a week) for one year.
- Strength groups used free weights and weight machines, gradually adding more weight as the woman’s strength increased. They also did functional strength exercises, such as squats and lunges.
- The balance and toning group also did the functional strength exercises, but no loads were added with free weights or weight machines. They also did balance and posture exercises.
A year after stopping the physical training provided by the research team, the researchers checked how the women were doing. Those in both resistance training groups had an advantage in cognitive performance, compared to those in the balance and toning group. Additionally, those who participated in resistance training twice a week showed less wastage of brain white matter on structural MRI scans.
“White matter represents the highways of the brain,” says study co-author Teresa liu-ambrose, Ph.D., PT, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. “It allows the transmission of messages from one area of ââthe brain to another.”
Researchers still aren’t sure exactly how exercise affects cognition and brain size in older women. âBut we do speculate that resistance training can increase a growth factor called IGF-1,â says Liu-Ambrose.
Considering all the benefits of strength training, why aren’t more women over the age of 50 hanging out in the gym’s weight training zone? In some cases, there are limiting health conditions. Often, however, the barriers are psychological, ranging from lack of information to lack of confidence. Below are some common psychological barriers along with some ideas for overcoming them.
Obstacle 1. Feeling embarrassed and out of place
âThe weight training section of many gyms can be intimidating,â says Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., health psychologist in Los Angeles. “You see a guy that’s polite like old Arnold Schwarzenegger, and you’re there with your armpit flap.”
To reduce discomfort, find a gym where you feel comfortable. âVisit before you register, preferably during the times you go,â Kubacky says. âLook for a gym where the culture and environment suit you. For example, the gym I go to is a place where people of all ages and body types are welcome. Find a place where it’s okay to just be you.
Obstacle 2. Worry about getting hurt
Another common obstacle to weight training is fear of injury. It’s a very reasonable concern if you don’t know what you’re doing. “Based on epidemiological data, strength training injuries increased nearly 50% from 1990 to 2007, with older adults experiencing the highest increases in injury rates, âsays Straub.
To minimize the risk, first check with your doctor if you have any medical condition that may affect your ability to exercise. Then sign up for sessions with an exercise professional who has expertise in working with women your age. âYour top priorities should be mastering good form and creating a strength training program that you can stick to consistently,â Straub said.
Obstacle 3. Having trouble finding the time
When you were in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you might have thought life would be easier after 50. This is not always the case, however. Kubacky notes that many 50’s and 60’s are at the peak of their careers. At the same time, some are still raising children, some are caring for a sick spouse or an aging parent, and others are juggling both. Finding time to exercise can be as difficult as ever.
To work out in the workouts, schedule the exercise times as you would other important appointments. âLiterally write them down or enter them in your calendar,â Kubacky says.
Obstacle 4. Believe that cardio is all you need
âA lot of us have been brainwashed into thinking cardio is everything,â Kubacky says. “And yes, it is helpful when fighting menopausal weight gain.” Doctors, too, often focus on cardio exercise to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Yet strengthening exercise is also crucial for overall well-being.
To develop a more balanced approach to exercise, learn about what strength training adds and identify the motivation that matters most to you. You might want to stay physically active enough to continue playing your favorite sport. Or maybe you want to stay mentally sharp enough to stay on top of your career.
Either way, weight training can be beneficial. âExercise is the only strategy I can think of that benefits both your mobility and your brain health,â says Liu-Ambrose.
Linda Wasmer Andrew, MS, is a writer specializing in health and psychology. She is also a woman over 50 who has the most difficulty with obstacle 3. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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