When women go to the gym, many spend the lion’s share of their time on treadmills, stair climbers and elliptical machines.
While cardio work is vital, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D., says that it’s also important for women to add weight training to their fitness routines.
“Weight rooms and gyms can be intimidating places for women, and it can feel awkward when you’re lifting your 7.5-pound dumbbells next to the huge guys with no sleeves curling 50s and grunting,” said Chakravarty. “Still, it’s important to focus on building your lean muscle for a number of reasons.”
This happens less than you might expect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 20 percent of women strength train at the gym.
“Cardio is great,” said Chakravarty. “But strength training is key to better balance, a more efficient metabolism and even preventing bone density issues like osteoporosis that largely impact women later in life.”
As we age, she said, “Muscles get weaker and tendons and ligaments degenerate, predisposing you to problems like falling and breaking bones,” she said. ”Resistance training helps make all these components stronger.”
In addition to better strength and stability, studies have also shown that weight training increases bone density, a particular issue for women as they age. It also helps fight unwanted body fat.
“Lean muscle mass burns more calories than other types of tissues,” said Chakravarty. “So, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficient your metabolism will be, and the more calories you will burn the rest of the day.”
Chakravarty stressed that women don’t have to lift heavy weights to reap the benefits of strength training. “More reps with lighter weight works fine. My 75-year-old mother has seen tremendous improvements in balance and strength, and she’s only working with 5-pound weights,” she said.
Weight training should serve as a supplement for cardio, not a substitute, said Chakravarty.
“Mix it up. Do weight training three days and cardio two days, or make your workouts half-and-half,” she said. “Adding strength work gives you more options, which will help you avoid becoming bored with your fitness routine.”
Plus, she said, “The benefits can’t be beat.”