Strength Is Sexy
When I was growing up, nobody talked about strength training. “Weight Lifters” were considered meatheads that mostly lived in California on Muscle Beach and ate yogurt. The idea of a woman lifting weights would have been considered preposterous. Little did we know that some of the best bodies in Hollywood, the women who exemplified femininity, were strength trainers. Marilyn Monroe, sexpot that she was, lifted religiously. Jane Mansfield was married to Mickey Hargitay, Mr. Universe, and she marketed her own pink hand weights called Jayne’s Cinderella Set. You can see her working out on YouTube with those weights. These two women were the epitome of female attractiveness in an era when women were not supposed to be strong. Today, most of you know Gwen Stefani. Her famous hourglass figure is due, in part, to strength training.
Strength Increases Lifespan
Strength training builds bone just like it builds muscle. By placing a physical demand on the bones when the muscles pull on the bones to overcome gravity, new osteoblasts (bone cells) are formed. It’s biological supply and demand. I know a man who broke both his neck and his hip in a simple fall. His bones and muscles were weak from disuse as he sat at a desk, year after year, gaining fat and refusing to change his nutrition or his exercise habits. A strong, muscular body is more than attractive, it’s also healthier, and increases your lifespan dramatically. Falls are the second leading cause of injury related deaths globally with approximately 684,000 deaths attributed to falls every year. (1) The bone and muscle gained with strength training contributes to stability and better balance. You’re much less likely to fall if you are physically fit.
Strength Training improves quality of life by decreasing body fat as it is increasing muscle. There’s a multitude of literature about how to decrease belly fat. While it’s not possible to spot-reduce, as the body fat percentage goes down, you will automatically lose some belly fat. Metabolism is increased for up to 72 hours after a strength training session, so we can keep our metabolism running higher all the time by regularly including strength training in our fitness programs. With our fat-burning furnace turned up on high, we can become fat incinerators.
Skeletal muscle helps to increase insulin sensitivity. By removing glucose from the blood and sending it to your muscles that demand it, strength training helps control blood sugar levels. One study showed a 30% decrease in the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes for strength trainers. (2)
Mental Health Benefits
Strength Training Is associated with increased self-esteem, less depression and improvement in brain function. As a dementia nurse, I can tell you how important it is to protect and nourish your brain. The increased blood flow to the brain helps boost memory and recall. Brain inflammation is considered the cause of many mental dysfunctions. Strength Training is known to decrease inflammation throughout the body.
As a woman who was plagued with various arthritic aches and pains for years, and who also has the genetics for both Rheumatoid and Osteo Arthritis, I can testify to the ability of Strength Training to decrease pain and increase mobility and ease of movement.
So Many Types, So Little Time!
There are so many types of strength training! Most people think of the barbell and weight plates when they think of weight training and that is my favorite, but there are much less intimidating ways to strength train. Body Weight Exercises, or calisthentics, use your body to create resistance. Squats, Lunges, Sit-ups, Push-ups, Step-ups, Planks and Pullups are all good resistance exercises.
Exercise Bands are an easy, convenient and cheap way to incorporate Strength Training into your fitness program. You can buy many different grades of bands and go from slight resistance to intense resistance. These bands are readily available at Walmart for less than $10. You can go heavy and spend as much as $75 and up for better bands that offer a lot of resistance whenever you’re ready. The good bands can also be used as training bands while you’re trying to learn to do pull-ups.
You can get small hand weights as light as 1 pound and later buy dumbbell bars where you can add weight plates. You can get a standard barbell with free weights that can take you up to 135 pounds and later if you’re dead serious about lifting, get an Olympic barbell set. If you are going to lift weights at home, be sure to always have a devoted spotter and/or a power rack for safety. I almost died under the bar on the bench press TWICE, both times being due to either not having the proper equipment or forgetting to set my safety pins. If you are going to lift free weights, invest in some training at a good gym until you know what you are doing. Look for a trainer that gives you an organized, progressive program and retain some common sense. DON’T LET ANYONE CONVINCE YOU TO DO SOMETHING STUPID. Standing on a ball while squatting a barbell is STUPID. Remember, you are the one paying the trainer. He works for you.
While swimming is not the first thing you think of when you think of strength or resistance training, the water does provide moderate resistance. Pushing off of the wall when swimming laps is also thought to build bone in the hip.
Whatever you do, don’t use ankle weights! Although opinion about these implements of destruction changes from time to time, from experience I can tell you, they can hurt your knees. Again, use common sense. Anything that feels like an injury, probably is. Muscle soreness is normal. Intense, relentless pain IS NOT. ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR MEDICAL DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY WEIGHT LOSS OR EXERCISE PROGRAM.
Cardio is a necessary part of a good exercise program but strength training is what will give you the most obvious benefits. If you want strength and the look and confidence that goes with it, see your doctor and get started today!
(1) Falls (who.int)
(2) 14 Benefits of Strength Training, Backed by Science (healthline.com)