Relatively recently, there has been a growing recognition of the significance of resistance/strength training for women’s overall health and well-being. Traditionally, strength training has been associated with male athletes or bodybuilders, while women often focused on light load, high rep exercises, cardiovascular exercises or avoided weightlifting altogether. However, understanding the importance of resistance training for women is crucial as it offers numerous benefits beyond mere muscle growth. From adolescence to older adulthood, incorporating strength training into a woman’s fitness routine can have a profound impact on her physical and mental health. Here I will outline 5 of the top reasons women should participate in regular resistance training!
Building Strong Bones and Preventing Osteoporosis
One of the most critical benefits of resistance training for women is its ability to promote bone health. We know that women, especially postmenopausal women, are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens the bones over time leading to an increased risk of fractures. According to Osteoporosis Canada, 2 million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis and at least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime. Evidence suggests that physical activity in childhood is one of the most important factors in the prevention of osteoporosis (Gunter et al., 2012). In fact, 60% of the risk of developing osteoporosis can be explained by the amount of bone mass accumulated by early adulthood (Gunter et al., 2012). It has been suggested that physical activity undertaken during or prior to puberty may have greater positive effects on bone mass than many pharmacological interventions undertaken by adults with osteoporosis (Gunter et al., 2012). By engaging in regular resistance training and impact exercise throughout the lifespan starting in early childhood, women can stimulate bone growth and increase bone density, significantly reducing the likelihood of fractures and osteoporosis. The mechanical stress placed on the bones during resistance training triggers the body to produce more bone tissue, leading to stronger and healthier bones.
Enhancing Metabolism and Weight Management
Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, which is accompanied by reduced resting metabolic rate and increased fat accumulation (Westcott, 2012). Menopause often comes with significant changes in body composition and is associated with increased peri-abdominal or visceral fat (around the organs) accumulation. It has been shown that women who regularly resistance train can significantly reduce the amount of visceral fat accumulation that can come with menopause (Fenton, 2021). This is due to the increased lean muscle mass that individuals who regularly resistance train have. With higher levels of skeletal muscle, individuals have an increased resting metabolic rate, which essentially means they burn more calories at rest as muscle is a highly metabolically active tissue. Having increased levels of lean muscle mass protects against fat gain and makes weight management much easier throughout the lifespan, especially during stages of major physiological change such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Moreover, strength training helps to shape the body, giving women a toned appearance and boosting self-confidence!
Promoting Hormonal Balance
Hormonal changes are an integral part of a woman’s life, from puberty to pregnancy and post-partum, to menopause. Resistance training can play a role in promoting hormonal balance throughout these stages. It is well documented that exercise increases the production of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones, both acutely and chronically which can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety that affect women so prevalently.
Additionally, levels of anabolic hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and estrogen have been shown to decrease with age. The reduction of these anabolic hormones may be responsible for many of the changes in body composition and loss of function that are associated with aging (Copeland et al., 2002). Both endurance and resistance exercise are known to elicit acute increases in the levels of these anabolic hormones. Therefore, consistent stimuli from exercise can elicit long-term elevation in these hormones which is likely beneficial in preserving lean body mass and subsequently maintaining functional capacity as we age.
Muscle tissue is the primary site for glucose and triglyceride disposal, so muscle loss specifically increases the risk of glucose intolerance and associated health issues (Westcott, 2012). Strength training helps to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism reducing the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes as well as metabolic syndrome. Balanced hormones contribute to overall well-being and can lead to improved mood, increased energy levels, and better sleep quality.
Improving Functional Fitness and Preventing Injuries
One of the most important improvements to come from resistance training is the enhancement of functional fitness and activities of daily living. As women age, maintaining strength and mobility becomes increasingly important for maintaining independence and reducing the risk of falls or injuries. Resistance training strengthens muscles, tendons, and ligaments, improving balance, stability, and coordination. It can also alleviate chronic pain by enhancing joint stability and reducing the risk of conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. It is also highly recommended for individuals living with neurological conditions and can help to manage symptoms and functionality.
Boosting Confidence and Empowerment
Strength training empowers women by fostering improvements in physical and mental strength. Challenging oneself physically and accomplishing new goals in the weight room can have a significant impact on a woman’s self-esteem and body image. Postural improvement is also a benefit of a proper strength training program which helps to improve not only confidence and self-image but also breathing mechanics and the associated physiological benefit of reduced stress and anxiety. Overcoming physical obstacles and pushing beyond limits in the gym translates well into other aspects of life promoting resilience and better coping abilities.
The importance of resistance/strength training throughout the female lifespan cannot be overstated. It offers a multitude of benefits, including improved bone health, improved metabolism and body composition, hormonal balance, functional fitness, injury prevention, and overall increased confidence and resiliency. Whether a woman is in her childhood, adolescence, middle age, or older adulthood, incorporating resistance training into her fitness routine is a valuable investment in her long-term health and well-being, and it is never too late!!! By dispelling misconceptions and encouraging women to embrace strength training no matter what stage of life they are in, we can empower them to take control of their physical and mental health, leading to happier, healthier, and longer lives!
If you or anyone you know is looking to learn more about resistance training, or how to personalize a program, please reach out and we would be happy to assist you! Ladies, I promise you have no reason to be afraid of this type of training, being strong is the best feeling!
Krystyna Woodson, (MKin, BSc. Kin, CSEP-CEP, CPT)
Clinical Exercise Physiologist & Personal Trainer