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Six Reasons Women Need to Lift

June 2005
Six Reasons Women Need to Lift

Women who lift weights end up looking like bodybuilders, right? Not so, say fitness experts. In fact, weight training has become an essential component of exercise for women as they live longer and more independent lives.

While the most common exercises women engage in usually include a treadmill or elliptical machine, there are significant benefits to be had from a largely untapped outlet. Body-for-LIFE, a lifestyle plan outlined in the best-selling book by Bill Phillips, underlines the necessity of including both weight training and cardio in an exercise program.

"Weight training is more important for women than we ever recognized," says Robyn Stuhr, M.A., administrative director and exercise physiologist at the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Resistance training helps build muscle and bone mass and prevents the slowdown of metabolism that occurs with age."

Stuhr says women should not fear bulking up if they incorporate weight training into their exercise routines. "Most women are incapable of large increases in muscle size," she says. "Women just don't have the hormonal balance to increase the muscle in that way. Studies show that women achieve a fairly small increase in muscle mass. But the health benefits from weight training are substantial."

It's easy to get started

Lezlee Jones, 44, a working mother of three from Bountiful, Utah, had never lifted a weight before she started the Body-for-LIFE program six years ago. When she began weight training, she did so at home, guided by a few descriptions of exercises she read about. Today she is in the best shape of her life.

"Surprisingly weight training wasn't hard to do," Jones says. "People think of lifting weights and they worry that it will be complicated, but it's really not. You don't have to go to the gym to do it. I was the last person in the world who thought I would know how to do it and now it's just a part of my life."

If you're trying to transform your body, weight training yields better results than cardio. While most weight-loss programs offer diet recommendations and possibly cardio exercise, Jones' program promotes a balanced diet with alternating days of cardio and weight training.

"Both forms of exercise have their benefits," Stuhr says. "Cardio helps you burn calories, but weight training protects your calorie-burning potential. You should alternate days of both to get optimal results. Always consider your personal health status and goals."

Six reasons weight training is essential for women

* Protects against osteoporosis. Women account for 80 percent of osteoporosis cases in America and 50 percent of women over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime.

* Prevents the slowdown of metabolism that occurs with age. "Using weights won't necessarily speed up your metabolism, but it will stop it from slowing down," Stuhr says. "When your metabolism slows down, that's when it's easy to gain weight."

* Helps your clothes fit better. Fat takes up five times as much space as muscle. Resistance exercise helps women create lean, toned bodies. The muscle replaces the fat and the body appears much smaller.

* Adds strength. The loss of muscle mass begins as early as age 25. "We assume that our bodies still work the same way they did when we were 20," Stuhr says. "But we experience loss of muscle strength and flexibility, so we have to do something to get it back."

* Gives you more independence with age. Women live an average of five years longer than men, so their ability to take care of themselves independently is essential.

* Minimizes the risk of injury. Stronger bodies are less susceptible to injury.

Source: ARA Content

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