Mother’s Day may have come and gone, but the women in our lives remain near and dear to hearts. This post is for them though most of these points apply to men as well . . .
We took a poll around the office:
What is a “strong” woman?
While it seemed the obvious responses might be about Wonder Woman like feats of strength or never crying at funerals, neither of these was the first mention.
In our informal poll, a strong woman is considered to be:
- Confident in herself
- Independent and determined
- Able to listen to the opinions of others while keeping her own
- Happy and content with her choices in life (whether “right” or “wrong”)
- Able to keep her composure when faced with challenges
- Goal oriented and assertive in pursuing those goals
- Self-assured in her successes and failures alike
- Open to learning new things
- Compassionate and loving to others
- Active, healthy and vibrant
It turns out there is more to strong than having “great physical power.”
But let’s be honest, it sure doesn’t hurt.
Physical strength is a result of lifting weight, tearing down your muscle tissue (yes, you need to “break” your muscles to make them stronger) and giving it the protein and rest it needs to rebuild itself stronger than it was before (like the six million dollar man – bigger, stronger, faster, etc.)
Did you know only 17.5 percent of American women meet the strength training recommendation by the CDC? If you haven’t considered picking up a weight in the gym or your home, there are many great reasons why you should “pick it up and put it down.”
Strengthening exercises have been proven effective in reducing disease and chronic conditions including (but no limited to):
Osteoporosis – a study from Tufts University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that in addition to improving muscle mass, strength and balance, strength training two times per week increased bone density and reduced the risk for fractures in women ages 50 to 70.
Heart disease – research suggests resistance training has beneficial implications for blood flow and blood vessels not achieved through aerobic conditioning. In addition, having less body fat is linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Since muscle burns more calories than fat you have the added benefit of increasing your metabolism as you reduce your risk of a heart attack. Not a bad combo.
High Cholesterol – in another study, pre-menopausal women lifted weights three times a week for 14 weeks and saw significant decreases in their total cholesterol as well as a decrease in their LDL cholesterol. For more information on your cholesterol panel and how to understand what all those numbers really mean, read this post by Dr. Brittingham.
High Blood Pressure – it’s true, lifting heavy things can temporarily increase your blood pressure so if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, please consult a doctor before beginning to strength train. However, the overall effect of strength training is to lower systolic (the first number, when your heart is pushing blood into your vessels) and diastolic (the second number, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood) pressure numbers over time (in this research paper the requirement was a minimum of 4 weeks).
Risk for Diabetes – this BreakingMuscle.com post discusses a research study indicating strength training can lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes. It makes sense; glucose in your bloodstream is taken up by your muscles for use as energy, so why not possess more muscle to enlist in lowering your sugar levels? This NY Times article explains how adding resistance training to cardio compounds the effect. This study group saw a 60 percent reduction in their risk for diabetes.
For more information on how to manage your diabetes through exercise and diet, read this post by Dr. Brittingham.
If preventing disease isn’t enough to get you to lift some iron, how about the way it will make you look and feel:
Get toned (not bulky!)
While strength training does increase testosterone levels in women, they still cannot produce an amount necessary for muscle hypertrophy (the huge bulging muscles you see on guys in the bodybuilder magazines). Women gain tone and definition, not huge size. However, increased testosterone levels in women do some other lovely things like increase energy, boost sex drive and improve skin and hair texture.
Torch calories after the fact.
Studies show whole body, heavy resistance exercises elevate metabolism for 16 plus hours due to post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Also referred to as the “afterburn”, it is an increased rate of oxygen usage to erase the oxygen deficit created from strenuous exercise. It takes 5 calories to use up one liter of oxygen so increasing oxygen consumption increases calorie burn. Please note: EPOC is influenced by intensity and not duration. The exercise sessions of the participants in this study only lasted for 31 minutes.
That’s not so bad.
Shrink your belly.Another study found in the Journal of Applied Physiology worked with 14 women around the age of 67 who followed a total body strength training program three times a week for 16 weeks. They found the women increased their strength and significantly reduced their amount of intra-abdominal adipose tissue (belly fat), a body composition factor associated with cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and metabolic disorders.
Simply BE strong!
Being strong improves your dynamic balance and reduces your risk for falls and fractures. This is especially important as women age and falls become serious risks. Strength training builds strong connective tissue while increasing joint stability preventing risk of injury and arthritis. Balanced muscle strengthening improves posture possibly eliminating or alleviating pain in the low back or neck from hunching over a steering wheel or computer keyboard.
And handle your business (with confidence).
Tired of asking someone else to drag the trash to the curb or put the 5 gallon bottle on the cooler? Increase your ability to complete physical tasks while building confidence and boosting self-esteem.
Be smart!This study of college students shows weekly strength training is associated with higher GPAs. In elderly women, strength training has also been shown to improve cognitive functioning for those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. They suspect that strength training has a different effect on the brain than cardio exercise – both of which are beneficial.
Sleep like a kid again.
Remember when you were a kid in the summer staying outside riding bikes or playing stickball until the sun sank below the horizon to crumble into a puddle on your bed at night with a smile on your face?
Ditch the cost and side effects of sleeping pills and sleep through the night. Studies show exercise helps you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and sleep longer without interruption. This study specifically concluded strength training; walking and social activity improves sleep. Resistance training makes you tired. The tuckered out good kind of tired our bodies crave. Get that kind of sleep.
Are you seeing a common factor here? Strength train 2 to 3 times a week for a few months and see some serious positive effects on your health, image and outlook on life. The good news is strength and balance improvements are possible no matter your age (or gender), so it’s never too late to start.
Still not sure? Try it for a few weeks and once you start to see your own benefits: