Why You (& All Women) Need to Lift Weights…Starting Today

Written by: on Friday, January 16th, 2015
Woman lifting weight

All women should be lifting weights for strength, balance, bone building, and a dose of confidence.

If you’re like most women, you probably head to the gym for a power workout—completely avoiding the weight floor. Or maybe you have a pair of handheld weights that you do some arm exercises with…when you get the chance (but you’ve been doing the same moves with the same weight for as long as you can remember).

If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on the key benefits of weight training, say experts like Paula Burger, a personal trainer based in Ft. Lauderdale. “I can’t stress the importance enough of why women—particularly as we get older—should be weight training,” says Burger. “As a woman, your body wants to lose muscle mass every year—and you gain weight because of it. Plus, your hormones are all over the place: your estrogen and testosterone [yes, even women have some] are dropping and you have to lift heavier weights, eat less, and work harder than ever to keep the weight off.”

But consistent weight training can shift the momentum—significantly. Studies conducted by Wayne Westcott, PhD, fitness research director with the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, back this up. Westcott found that strength training two to three times a week for just two months will help women gain nearly two pounds of muscle and lose 3.5 pounds of fat. Why? As the body increases muscle mass, our fat-burning furnace (metabolism) fires up, which means you burn more calories and fat—all day long—even when you’re sitting. This is key as we get older because our metabolism slows down with every passing year—the reason you’re eating the same foods as you did years ago but now you’re gaining weight, gradually.

Miriam Nelson Book

The groundbreaking book that laid out exactly why women need strength training.

Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of the national bestseller Strong Women Stay Young, is a staunch proponent of women lifting weights, based on research she’s done—and continues to do through her The StrongWomen Program, a women’s national community exercise and nutrition program. Nelson found that after a year of strength training twice per week, women not only had less fat and more muscle, they also increased strength and energy dramatically, improved balance and flexibility, and prevented or reversed bone loss.

Why weight training gets such impressive bone-building results: Cells called osteoblasts are critical to maintaining bone structure; when you do weight-bearing exercise, these osteoblasts lay down new bone tissue to strengthen the points where the bone is stressed. Do regular strength training—and continually challenge yourself with heavier weights and more repetitions—and these osteoblasts continue to reinforce the bone, over and over again, reducing your risk of serious health problems like osteopenia, or low bone density; full-blown osteoporosis; and sarcopenia, or gradual loss of muscle mass. All can affect not only how you age but your quality of life, too (i.e. what’s the joy in living longer, if you’re bed bound with compound hip fractures and have little muscle strength to do daily activities?).

Kris Wilkes, 59, is a former federal prosecutor and former litigator and senior partner at an international law firm in San Diego who has experienced the body- and life-changing benefits of weight training first hand. “I was in a very demanding career, often working 16 to 18 hours a day,” explains Wilkes, who took up weight training almost 20 years ago. “I would leave work feeling exhausted. But I forced myself to exercise after work. It became a great stress reliever for me. I started to feel euphoric because I was taking care of my body—not just using my mind as I did at work.” (Exercise, both cardio and weight training, is a proven mood booster.)

woman working out with dummbells

Dumbbells are an effective first step in any weight training program, but you need to switch up your routine every six weeks to prevent your muscles from getting used to it.

But Wilkes found that while cardio did help reduce her stress, it didn’t re-shape her body as she had expected. “I’d see these girls coming out of Gold’s Gym with amazing bodies—something that we just weren’t achieving in the aerobics studio next door,” explains Wilkes, who credits that with inspiring her to get a trainer and start lifting weights. “Of all the things I’ve done over the years—yoga, Pilates, running, step classes, CrossFit—weight lifting is the one that has truly sculpted my body and changed it, for the better.” (Wilkes has become such a fan of weight lifting, she competes regularly in International Federation of Bodybuilding competitions.)

In the Gym

The scene at the World Gym in Ft. Lauderdale, where Wilkes now lives, is impressive—and to the lay exerciser, a bit intimidating. Awe-inspiring photos of bodies sculpted at the gym line the walls and top-of-the line exercise equipment fills the floor. But it’s the members themselves who draw the most stares: muscles rippling, super-fit women and men can be found pumping iron, plenty of it. Wilkes is one of them—and is right at home. “I do 60 to 90 minutes of weights followed by 30 to 40 minutes of cardio, typically the StepMill or interval running,” says Wilkes, who works out 5 to 6 days a week and is unquestionably in the best shape—and health—of her life.

Dumbbells

Don’t get intimidated by heavy weights; work your way up to using them.

But Wilkes doesn’t just lift some heavy weights and call it a day. She plans out her course of action—something a trainer taught her early on to sculpt her body and avoid injury—working different body parts on different days. “Some days I do chest, shoulders, and biceps, followed by a leg day, and then the next day, I’ll do back and triceps,” she says. “Then, on the last day, I’ll work my abs and calves. You really have to thoroughly train the areas you’re targeting to get results.” But a trainer is key, says Wilkes: “There are so many different things you can do at the gym to build muscle—and a trainer can help you figure everything out and come up with a plan.”

Ft-Lauderdale-based Burger agrees. “You have to get out of your comfort level to see results. When you’re 50 or older, you can’t just go and do some shoulder presses and curls with 5-pound weights. You’ve got to push yourself and build up to the next level. A trainer can help you do that. I have a 75-year-old client doing step-ups with 15-pound dumbbells; she didn’t start there. She had to work up to it, but she did—and she’s doing it—and she’s getting great results.”

man lifting weights in gym

Don’t worry about bulking up like this if you lift weights; the truth is…you won’t.

“There’s a persistent myth about weight lifting and women,” explains Wilkes. “Women think that if they lift heavy weights, they’re going to bulk up and look like a guy.” That’s just not happening, she says. “As we get older and our hormone levels start to drop, women have to fight for every shred of muscle we put on. We have to work really hard for it. We’re just not physically capable of bulking up like a guy. Sure, I want to fill out sagging skin with muscle, but I also want to be able to wear a dress and not look like a football player.”

The Fountain of Youth?

For women 50+, hormones and an aging body aren’t their best friends—but weight training can turn things around, something that Maria Liza Eden Giammaria, M.D., MPH, a vein specialist—based in New York and Ft. Lauderdale—discovered firsthand. “My father was ill with cancer and I was traveling between North Carolina, where he was, and my offices. At one point, when I turned 50, I had an awakening,” she says. “I was exhausted, I wasn’t working out, I wasn’t eating healthy, and I wasn’t sleeping. I felt toxic. I needed to work on me—and because I was so busy, I had to maximize my time. I wanted to get the best results in as little time as possible.” Enter weight lifting. As Eden Giammaria got more toned, she started eating better, lost weight, felt better about herself—and had a better overall mood—and even started to feel more empowered at work. “I want to gracefully embrace the aging process,” she says, adding that weight training has helped her do this.

Fifty was also the magic number for San Diego-based Meg Kruse, a personal trainer who’s now 56. Like Wilkes, Kruse is a regular at bodybuilding competitions, but Kruse never initially believed she could ever get to that point. “A trainer came up to me one day right around the time I turned 50 and suggested that I take my weight training to the next level because I had a beautiful back,” says Kruse. “When she said that, a little voice in my head said ‘You can’t do that. You’re too old. You’ve got wrinkles. Your right boob hangs down.’ But that made me even more determined to do it.” As her muscles grew, so did her self-esteem. Says Kruse: “As a woman, when you get stronger, you get more confident. There’s no question.”

This boost in self-esteem is a common side effect of taking on a challenge like weight lifting—particularly as you get older, says Michele Kerulis, LCPC, director of Sport & Health Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago. “When you’re in your 50s and older, there are many body changes occurring that make seeing results in the gym extremely difficult,” explains Kerulis. “But that’s what makes setting, and achieving, goals like this that much more outstanding for women.”

Woman holding water bottle in gym

No matter what age you are, exercising—both cardio and strength training—can help you look younger.

“Having a goal to work toward keeps you young,” adds Carol Matthews, 68, a personal trainer in Ft. Lauderdale who regularly weight trains women 50+ (including women in their 80s and 90s, whom she trains in their nursing homes). And getting stronger is a goal, says Matthews, which should be on every woman’s fitness bucket list. “Every single woman should lift weights,” she says. “You’re never too old to start.” But Matthews also stresses the importance of balancing out the rest of your life, too: “Eat clean and healthy—and prep your food for the day so you have things with you—get plenty of rest, and get out there and do cardio, even if it’s walking. These all work together to help you live a strong, healthy, long life.” Kruse agrees, saying: “You need to feed your body fuel: good healthy protein [like lean meats, fish, eggs, and beans], vegetables, and healthy carbs.”

So weight training—along with living a healthy, balanced life—makes you stronger, boosts your health, and wards off disease. But there’s also a tiny bit of vanity that comes from being able to wear sleeveless dresses with ease and a boost of confidence that comes from being able to heft your own shopping bags or your suitcase, or even your grandkids, sans help. All are what keep growing numbers of women, like Wilkes and Kruse, committed to strength training. “So we’re getting older?” says Kruse. “Women who strength train are not going to break their hips and they’re not going to ride up the stairs in one of those trolley things. And we’re not going to head to the grave with a muffin top. I like to call what we’re doing aging gracefully—and actively.”

Getting Started

Looking to boost your strength and improve your health with weight training? Consistency is key. Start with a trainer (all gyms have them, or try a personal training center that can work with you—and your goals). Or gradually work your way up to a trainer with these easy strength training tips*:

Put on a walking vest. These adjustable weighted vests can be worn daily to transform your daily walks into strength-training ones.

Do body weight exercises. Push-ups are the easiest exercises to do. You need no equipment and can do them anywhere. Other good options include squats (for your legs) and crunches (for your abs).

Try resistance tubing. These stretchy, lightweight pieces of latex provide resistance (and strength training) when stretched. (Tip: the lighter the color of the tubing, the less resistance it offers.)

Do free weights (or use weight machines). Dumbbells are effective strength training tools. You can do everything from biceps curls (to strengthen the arms) and shoulder raises (to strengthen the shoulders) to weighted squats (to help boost muscle—and bone—in the legs). Weight machines at the gym are a more advanced way to build bone; a trainer can show you step-by-step how to use them.

Do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio before strength training (this warms up the muscle, helping to prevent injury). Then choose a weight or resistance level that will tire your muscles after 12 repetitions. (When you can do more than 15 reps without tiring, increase the amount of weight or resistance.) Plan to do two to three, 20- to 30-minute sessions a week, alternating days that you work on different body parts.

* Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen so you don’t get hurt.

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Eat beets, drink tart cherry juice & 4 other stay-healthy tips

Written by: on Monday, July 16th, 2012

Want to be healthy—and have enough energy to power you through sports and your daily activities? Follow these tips:

fresh organic beets with greens

Beets are packed with disease-busting antioxidants—and are high in folate and fiber.

1.) Eat beets…as well as rhubarb and arugala. They’re rich sources of dietary nitrates, a compound that gets converted into nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and allows a person to exercise using less oxygen. In one study, cyclists consumed pre-ride beets and then three hours later (when nitric oxide peaks), they rode in a time trial. Every cyclist improved (on average, 2.8%) as compared to the time trial with no beets. Impressive! The amount of nitrates in 7 ounces (200 grams) beets is an effective dose. How about enjoying  beets—or a bowl of borchst—in your next pre-game meal?

bowl of red cherries

Tart cherries contain substances called anthocyanins, which help reduce inflammation and may even reduce tumor growth.

2.) Drink tart cherry juice. Tart cherries (the kind used in baking pies, not the sweet cherries enjoyed as snacks) have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, trained athletes consumed two 10.5-oz. bottles per day of tart cherry juice the week before an excruciating exercise test. They recovered faster and lost only 4% of their pre-test strength, compared with 22% loss in the group without cherry juice.

woman's feet running up stairs

You exercise every day—but you still need to stay active the rest of the time (e.g. always take the stairs instead of the elevator).

Tart cherries can help not only athletes but also individuals who suffer from the pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Consuming tart cherry juice (two 10.5-ounce bottles/day for 10 days) reduced the muscle soreness associated with “fibro-flares” and enhanced recovery rate. Similar findings occurred in people suffering from osteoarthritis; drinking tart cherry juice for three weeks reduced arthritis pain.

Research to date has studied the effects of drinking 21 ounces of tart cherry juice per day for 1 to 3 weeks. (That’s the equivalent of eating 90 tart cherries/day). More research will determine the most effective dose and time-course. Because 21 ounces of tart cherry juice adds 260 calories to one’s energy intake, athletes will need to reduce other fruits or foods to make space for this addition to their daily intake.

3) Sit less, move more. While sleeping used to be our most common “activity,” today it is sitting. The average person sits for 9 hours a day. Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for heart disease and creates health problems, including deep vein thrombosis  (as can happen on planes). Athletes who exercise for one or two hours each day still need do more daily activity and not just sit in front of a screen all day.

athletic woman leaping in air

Get enough sleep and you'll not only feel more powerful—you'll be more powerful in any activity you undertake.

4) Get some sleep. While we may be sitting more than in past years, we’re sleeping less: 80% of teens report getting less than the recommended nine hours of sleep; nearly 30% of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours each day. Not good. Sleep is a biological necessity. It is restorative and helps align our circadian rhythms.

Sleep deprivation (less than five hours/night) erodes well being, has detrimental effects on health, and contributes to fat gain. When we become tired, grehlin—a hormone that makes us feel hungry—becomes more active and we can easily overeat. Sleep deprivation is also linked with Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Sleep deprivation is common among athletes who travel through time zones. This can impact performance by disrupting their circadian rhythms and causing undue fatigue and reduced motivation. In comparison, extending sleep can enhance performance. A study involving basketball players indicates they shot more baskets and completed more free throws when they were well rested versus sleep deprived. For top performance, make sleep a priority!

couple walking together

Doing activities with other people is one factor that may help you live a longer life.

5) Enhance your life. In a few communities in the world, an usually high number of people live to be older than 100 years. What happens in those communities that contributes to the longer life? Some factors include choosing a plant-based diet, rarely overeating, having a life filled with purpose and meaning, connecting with others in the community, moving naturally and/or socially (as in bike commuting and walking with family and friends), enjoying alcohol socially (in moderation), and not smoking. If you want to join the centenarians, take steps to re-create those life-enhancing practices!

Creating that life-extending culture has been done, to a certain extent, in Albert Lea, MN. The “Blue Zone” project included improving sidewalks and building walking paths around a lake. Restaurants supported the program by not bringing a bread basket automatically to customers, and not serving French fries (unless requested) with meals. These and many other environmental changes contributed to a healthier lifestyle that resulted in a 40% drop in the city employee healthcare costs over two years. Impressive, eh?

6) Appreciate your body. Athletes, as well as those who aren’t athletes, commonly struggle with the belief their body is not “good enough.” This struggle gets too little attention from health care providers who focus more on the medical concerns of heart disease, cancer, and hypertension. Yet, whether you are lean or obese, having poor body image often coincides with having low self-esteem. This combination generates poor self-care.

Image with I am beautiful written in mirror

If you have to, write notes to yourself to remind yourself just how amazing you (and your body) are.

In a five-year study of teens, low body satisfaction stimulated extreme and destructive dieting behaviors that led to weight gain, not weight loss. The same pattern is typical among many seemingly “healthy” athletes. If you want help finding peace with your body, please seek help from a sports dietitian. Use the referral network of Sports & Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCAN)—SCANdpg.org—to help you find someone local. What are you waiting for…?

 

Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD, May 2012

 

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“11 confidence-boosting thoughts about being healthy”: Weight Loss Diary

Written by: on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
Melissa Juliano: Weight Loss Diarist for Valerielatona.com

I never say "diet" around my girls; I want to teach them about healthy eating so they never have to go through what I'm going through now.

Last week my weight on weigh-in day was 204. Today it is 205 on weigh-in day. I am disgusted. I am frustrated. I am pissed off. I know what I am doing wrong. I’m just not sure why it is so wrong that I gain. I think about throwing in the towel and just eating and being happy but problem is eating didn’t make me happy and neither did being huge. I love how I feel and I want more of it. So the only way to get that is to work harder.

Random Positive Thoughts about Being Smaller and Healthier:

1. My hips fit in most chairs!
2. I can ski with my daughters!
3. Although I don’t go far or fast I am a runner!
4. I weigh less than my husband!
5. I don’t have to buy plus size clothes anymore!
6. I love looking at athletic clothes, buying them and wearing them!
7. I am beating back the physical, psychological, emotional damage of sleep deprivation and being a night worker by eating right, losing weight, and exercising!
8. I am teaching my daughters to be healthy, move every day, to eat when hungry, and to do something (instead of eating) when bored!
9. I have motivated quite a few people to get moving and lose weight. Some are even blowing me away in what they are accomplishing!
10. My patients see my struggles and my successes and know I understand theirs!
11. I feel gooooooood!
That was helpful. Who needs therapy when I have me! Now to plan my workout and dinner. Onward and upward!
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