Why weight lifting is useful before and after menopause

Many women begin experiencing menopause symptoms in their 50s. As hormones start to fluctuate and change, women may start experiencing a variety of symptoms, such as hot flashes, joint pain, low mood, and vaginal dryness. Menopause can also be accompanied by a number of physical changes including loss of muscle mass, loss of bone density, and slowed metabolism.

Fortunately, regular exercise, especially weight lifting, can help mitigate these changes somewhat and improve overall health and well-being. Here are just a few of the ways weight lifting can be beneficial for menopausal women.

1. Increase bone density

Weightlifting not only challenges your muscles, it also challenges your bones. In fact, resistance exercise (such as weight lifting) has been shown to stimulate new bone formation, which can increase bone density.

This can be especially beneficial for women who are postmenopausal and at risk for osteoporosis (brittle bones). Research has shown that women who regularly resistance train have had significant increases in bone mineral density, including in the hip and spine. Higher bone density can also reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

2. Maintains muscle mass

As women age, they tend to lose muscle mass and strength, which can increase the risk of falls, fractures and injuries. Menopause can contribute to this loss of muscle mass.

But research shows that weight lifting is an effective way for older adults, including women, to maintain and even increase muscle mass and strength. For postmenopausal women, research has shown that those who participate in regular resistance training are less likely to experience loss of muscle mass and strength than those who participate in other forms of exercise, such as stretching and range of motion.

Other research has also found that weight training may also be beneficial for women going through perimenopause. The study found that perimenopausal women who regularly weight-trained instead of doing standard aerobic exercise (such as running or walking) over a two-year period gained about three times less belly fat on average.

3. Increases metabolism

Weight lifting can build lean muscle mass, which in turn can help boost your metabolism and burn more calories at rest. This can be especially important for women just before and after menopause, as hormonal changes can lead to a decrease in metabolism and an increase in body fat.

Middle-aged woman performs dumbbell shoulder press in gym.
Regular weight lifting can help boost your metabolism.
MDV Edwards/Shutterstock

In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, postmenopausal women who participated in a 12-week resistance training program had significant increases in resting metabolic rate which can help manage excess weight gain. .

4. Improve mood

Menopausal women can experience mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. But exercise, including weight lifting, can have numerous mental health benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

One study found that women who participated in a 16-week combined resistance training program reported improved mood and emotional well-being compared to a program that only included healthy lifestyle guidance. Furthermore, self-esteem, mood and fatigue have also been shown to improve after prescribed resistance training in older adults, suggesting that weight lifting may have a positive effect on quality of life. While this particular study wasn’t done specifically in menopausal women, its likely exercise could have a similar effect.

Women who experience sleep disturbances and hot flashes may also experience a reduction in quality of life and mood. But resistance training has been shown to be an effective tool in regulating body temperature, which can improve emotional well-being.

The effects of weight lifting on mood may be due to the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving and mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain.

Start

Considering how many benefits weight lifting can have for women going through this time in their lives, you might be eager to get started. But if you’ve never tried resistance training or weight lifting before, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Get started with a qualified trainer: Working with a qualified personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach can be beneficial especially at the beginning of your fitness journey. They can help you learn proper lifting techniques, establish a safe and effective exercise program, and progress at a pace appropriate for your fitness level and goals.
  2. Focus on the shape: Proper form is key when lifting weights, especially as you get older. Poor form can increase your risk of injury and keep you from seeing the benefits of lifting weights. Take the time to learn proper technique and start with lighter weights until you feel comfortable and confident. Using a mirror or videoing yourself during workouts can help ensure that your form is good.
  3. Start with compound exercises: Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. These exercises are great for building overall strength. Some examples include squats, deadlifts and bench presses. Try doing this about 2-3 times a week. Once you have a good foundation of these compound exercises, start including exercises that target a specific muscle or work to aid stability like shoulder presses or lunges.
  4. Progress gradually: As you get more comfortable with lifting weights and feel that the weights you’re lifting aren’t as demanding as they once were, you can gradually increase the weight or intensity of your workouts for progression. Just make sure you don’t progress too quickly, as this could increase your risk of injury.

Weight lifting can have many benefits, and doing it consistently can help you maintain good physical and mental health not only before and after menopause, but also as you get older. Just be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or concerns.

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