Why women should incorporate strength training to support healthy aging

Strength training is important for people of all ages, but it can be especially beneficial for women during menopause. Menopause typically occurs in a woman's late forties or early fifties, and it is marked by a decline in oestrogen levels. This decline can lead to several physical changes, including weight gain and a loss of bone density and muscle mass. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis and other age-related conditions, such as falls and fractures.

What happens to bone density and muscle mass and weight gain  

After the age of thirty, you gradually start losing muscle mass and it becomes important to find ways to retain or build optimal muscle mass.  Although changes in oestrogen have less impact on muscle mass than that of the reduction in testosterone, experienced more noticeably by men, women see a change in fat distribution around menopause and over time lose muscle mass due to anabolic resistance. You can read more about why you lose muscle mass and why it becomes harder to maintain muscle mass in our previous blogs What happens to muscle-mass as you age and Why it gets harder to build and maintain muscle mass as you age.

Bone mineral density describes the levels of calcium and other minerals that are present in your bone. This measurement is used to determine the strength of your bones and your risk of fracturing a bone due to injury.

In the year leading up to your final menstrual period, the rate of decline in bone mineral density picks up pace and this deterioration continues for 3 years, before slowing down to a more gradual loss post-menopause. Over this time, total bone loss can exceed 10% and this has been associated with an increased risk of fractures in the extremities in the decade following menopause. Menopause is thought to be the reason women have a higher incidence of osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) than men¹.

How does strength training help?

Strength training can help counteract some of the physical changes that occur as you transition into menopause and beyond. It helps you to build and counteract the decline in muscle mass and bone density, boost metabolism and maintain a healthy weight.

When you engage in strength training, you place stress on your muscles, causing them to adapt and grow stronger. This increased muscle mass can then help support your bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and other age-related conditions. In addition, strength training can also improve your balance and coordination, which can help prevent falls and injuries.

Another important benefit of strength training for women approaching menopause is its ability to improve metabolic health. As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down, which can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Strength training can help boost our metabolism and increase our ability to burn calories, which can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of these conditions.

In addition to its physical benefits, strength training can also have a positive impact on mental health. As women approach menopause, they may experience symptoms such as mood swings and anxiety, which can be difficult to manage. Strength training has been shown to release endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. This can help women approaching menopause to feel more balanced and in control.

How can you incorporate strength training?

There are many ways to incorporate strength training into a workout routine. Some options include lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. It's important to start at a level that is appropriate for your current fitness level and to gradually increase the intensity of your workouts as you become stronger. It's also important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have any existing health conditions.

Overall, strength training is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle for women approaching menopause and beyond. It can help build and maintain muscle mass and bone density, improve balance and coordination, boost metabolism, and improve mental health.

 

Suzy Walsh 

BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ

Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist

References:

¹ Shieh, A., et al. (2022). Associations of Age at Menopause with Postmenopausal Bone Mineral Density and Fracture Risk in Women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 107(2): e561–e569. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgab690