Strength training for women over 40

Women over the age of 40 face a unique set of challenges. As they enter perimenopause, the body undergoes a series of changes, including an increase in blood pressure, a decrease in oestrogen and bone density, and weight gain.

Muscle loss is also a significant concern for women in this phase of life. Research shows that women lose muscle mass at a rate of about 1% per year after age 40, which can lead to a significant decline in physical function during the later years.

While many women tend to stick with cardiovascular training, studies show that incorporating strength training is ideal for managing weight, developing stronger muscles and bones, and improving the ability to do everyday activities as you age.

Key benefits of strength training for women 40+

The time when women felt that strength training would make them too ‘bulky’ or muscular is long gone. As research continues to emerge about the positive effects of strength training, more middle-age women are engaging in it in various forms, whether at the local gym or at home. Here are a few of the most significant benefits.

Increased bone mass and lower risk of developing osteoporosis

Due to hormonal changes, women over 40 are at greater risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Bone strength is crucial for maintaining the body’s structural integrity, ensuring proper posture, and preventing bone fractures and other injuries. Engaging in strength training on a regular basis has been shown to increase bone density and help with the development of a strong, injury-resistant musculoskeletal system.

Protection against diabetes and other diseases

According to Diabetes UK and the NHS, women who are over 40, overweight, and lead a sedentary lifestyle are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Research has found that strength training helps improve the main risk factors, including lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels and improving resting heart rate and insulin sensitivity.

Improved metabolism and energy expenditure

Metabolism slows with age, largely due to inactivity and the loss of muscle, which can lead to fat gain. Women who engage in strength training are able to gain muscle mass, which boosts the metabolism and helps the body burn more calories. This is because muscle requires more blood and oxygen than fat does, and the body must expend more energy to maintain it. One study found a 7% increase in resting metabolic rate after 10 weeks of resistance training and suggests that by adding 2-4 pounds of muscle, the body can burn up to 100 extra calories each day at rest.

Better body composition

While some degree of weight gain is a natural part of aging for many women, it often comes at the cost of self-confidence and can lead to health problems. Strength training is an effective tool for weight management and reducing body mass index (BMI). The combination of the development of lean muscle and the reduction of body fat produces significant physical changes that offer valuable health benefits and support better self-confidence and body image.

Enhances quality of life

A report on sleep habits in the UK found that women tend to have a poorer quality of sleep than men, and that sleep quality declines with age. Studies also show that posture starts to worsen in women who are 40-50 years old, which can cause musculoskeletal imbalances, lower back pain, and increased physical and mental stress on the body.

Research demonstrates that strength training improves hormonal balance, which tends to have a significant positive impact on sleep quality. It also strengthens muscles and joints to maintain proper postural alignment, enable efficient movement mechanics, and allow you to live pain-free. As a bonus, research out of the University of South Carolina found that women who engaged in resistance training twice per week experienced a 60% decrease in anxiety and irritability in just six weeks.

Getting started with strength training

If you’ve never done strength training before, it can feel intimidating. Where should you begin?

First, you’ll want to consider where you want to do your workouts. Perhaps you have a great space at home, or maybe you have your eye on a local gym. If you opt for the gym route, consider joining group classes or working with a personal trainer to help you learn proper exercise technique and work towards your specific goals.

Whether you’re new to strength training or have been doing it for some time, remember to warm up your muscles before jumping into your workout. The goal is to increase your core temperature and get oxygen and blood moving through your body – 7-10 minutes should be sufficient to get you sweating and ready.

Start working on your strength using bodyweight exercises, before adding external resistance. This will allow you to develop motor skills, learn basic movement patterns, and build a foundation of strength and conditioning. Some great options include:

  • Squats

  • Lunges

  • Planks

  • Push-ups

  • Rows

As you gain confidence in your bodyweight skills, add external resistance (weight) to the exercises you’ve been working on. Begin with high reps (15-20) and as you get stronger, lower the reps (8-12) while increasing the weight – a safe increment is about 2.5% per week.

Of course, consistency is key. Find a time that fits into your schedule and stick with it. Long-term adherence is what produces results and moves you towards your goals. But that doesn’t mean you have to push your body to its limits every day. Resting between sessions and getting enough sleep is critical, as it allows your muscles to grow and repair and gives you time to prepare mentally for your next workout.

Finally, always check with your doctor prior to starting a strength training regimen. This is particularly true if you have any health concerns. Once you’re cleared for exercise, get going and enjoy the journey!

Shaf Saeed