Don't think that weight training is just for people aiming to get big, bulky or swole — everyone can benefit from doing consistent resistance exercise. And even though they may not be the demographic often associated with lifting weights, strength training for women over 50 is especially important.
That's because people lose muscle as they age, making them more prone to weakness and injury. Muscle loss can even make people more prone to gaining fat. But senior women don't need to aggressively hit the weight machines or heavy dumbbells to get the health benefits resistance training offers (though they certainly could if they wanted to). There are plenty of options when it comes to weight training for women over 50 that can be done comfortably from home.
Read more: Exercises for Senior Citizens
The Importance of Weight Training
Weight training for over-50 females is an important part of staying fit. In its Physical Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lays out that adults need at least two days a week of strength training that will work all major muscle groups. This key guideline applies to older adults as much as it applies to younger ones.
According to the AARP, most individuals lose about 30 percent of their muscles between the age of 50 and 70. The American Council on Exercise explains this is why people often feel weak and tired as they age. Much of this is preventable with weight training, which strengthens both your muscles and your bones.
Preserving muscle and bone is hugely beneficial for women over 50. As their estrogen levels decline during menopause, women are at risk of thinning bones (up to 15 percent of the outer layer of bone and 30 percent of the inner layer), which is why half of women will suffer a broken bone after age 50.
Muscle can also help stave off weight gain that post-menopausal women are inclined to experience. The AARP explains that your body needs fewer calories as it ages, so even people whose lifestyles don't change are still likely to gain fat.
The American Council on Exercise explains that trying to prevent this through a calorie-restricted diet alone isn't ideal because up to 25 percent of the weight lost will be muscle. Weight training for women over 50 will help them increase their lean mass so they not only remain strong and independent but also burn more calories throughout the day.
Read more: Stomach Exercises for Senior Women
Strength Training for Women Over 50
While older adults require the same amount of physical activity as younger ones, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Guidelines for Americans, they do need to find a level of effort that's right for their level of fitness. This is especially true for older adults with chronic conditions that might affect their ability to do certain exercises.
It's also important to take it slow if you've been inactive for a while. Harvard Medical School states that an aging body can't jump back into an exercise routine the way it was able to when it was younger, and for some individuals, age-related factors mean they could put their health at risk if they start exercising the way they did when they were young.
Johns Hopkins Medicine, which encourages strength training in addition to cardiovascular activity for older adults, emphasizes that you don't have to sign up for a gym. Instead, you can do physical activity around the house, and the only investment you need to make is a pair of dumbbells and an exercise band.
The National Institutes on Aging offers guidance on several exercises that would provide great strength training for women over 50. For the ones that require dumbbells, you should start with a weight heavy enough that you can lift it for only 8 reps. Use that weight until it is easy for you to lift for 10 to 15 reps. When you are able to complete 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps, add more weight.
Here is a sample from the exercises offered by the National Institutes on Aging:
Move 1: Chair Stand
- Stand in front of a sturdy chair with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms out.
- Put your weight on the heels of feet as you bend your knees and lower your butt toward the chair. This should be done in a manner that is slow and controlled.
- Pause. Raise yourself back up to a standing position.
- Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Move 2: Wall Push-Up
- Stand an arm's length away from a blank wall with your feet close together.
- Lean your body forward to put both of your palms flat against the wall at shoulder level.
- Bend your elbows as you lower yourself toward the wall the way you would toward the floor when doing a regular push-up. This motion should be slow and controlled.
- Pause. Push yourself back up to your starting position.
- Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
Move 3: Biceps Curls with Light Weights
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down by your sides with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells so your palms face in toward your thighs.
- Bend your elbow and raise the weight, rotating your forearm so your palms come around and face your shoulder. Keep your elbows tucked in by your side and make the motion slow and controlled.
- Pause. Lower the weight back to the starting position.
- Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Move 4: Overhead Press
- Begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Raise the dumbbell with your palms and forearms facing forward until the dumbbell is level with your shoulder and parallel to the floor.
- Push the dumbbell over your head until your arm is fully straight. Don't go so far as to lock your elbows.
- Pause. Return the dumbbells to shoulder level.
- Do 2 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
In addition to these exercises, the National Institutes on Aging offer guidance on doing arm curls with a resistance band, a seated row, chair dips, side-arm raises and front-arm raises. All of these make great additions to a routine of strength training for women over 50.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Fitness Tips for 50-Plus”
- American Council on Exercise: “The Importance of Strength Training as You Age”
- AARP: “Your Muscles and Bones at 50+”
- Cleveland Clinic: “How Can You Avoid Muscle Loss as You Age?”
- National Institute on Aging: “Strength”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Fitness Over 50: Rebooting Your Workout”
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”