Years ago, when my father turned 40, he was given a rather large card that said he was “over the hill.” I guess the basic assumption is that once you get to that age, it’s all “downhill” from there. Having almost reached that age, I can attest to the rapid decline of my hip joints. Suddenly things hurt that never used to hurt and rolling out of bed has become a recipe for disaster.
Although men and women age, society sadly treats women as if we were delicate flowers whose bones can turn to dust at the slightest knock. Then, we take extra precautions with women in exercise classes as if they might fall apart before our eyes. If we see an incredibly fit woman in her 50s or older, we treat her as the exception and certainly not the rule. Thanks to science, it’s time to put this notion aside.
New findings are coming out that women can exercise more than we’ve assumed for all these years, and they should. Powerful, purposeful movement in our later years can improve our mobility and stability, minimize our aches and pains, increase our energy, and end our dreaded weight gain in the midsection. However, to achieve this ultimate goal, we must first overcome our ingrained belief that we are weak. We can all be the exception to the rule.
Also read: How to prevent menopause from derailing careers
In fact, I have the perfect quote that can inspire you to make a change. “It is a pity that a man grows old without seeing the beauty and strength his body is capable of” – is a quote from Socrates, which I have shamelessly adapted in my practice as a coach to represent women rather than men. What I love about this quote is the word ‘capable’, which suggests that health and fitness endeavors are all about finding out how far his body can go (within reason). You don’t have to start getting fit, you can be fit at any age. The choice is yours. But to understand how he can get stronger and fitter as he ages, we must first understand what’s going on in his body. Once we know the science, we can make better decisions in the gym.
As we age, both men and women experience a natural regression in muscle mass called “sarcopenia,” in which we slowly lose the muscle mass that supports our movements, beginning in our 30s. Muscle is metabolically expensive and helps us burn more calories throughout the day, so having less muscle means it’s easier for us to gain weight. Beyond that, having less muscle and strength can lead to an increase in injuries. Therefore, the overall goal for women is to strength train to slow the rate of muscle loss from our bodies.
However, women have a different hormonal phenomenon: the transition to menopause, where our estrogen levels deplete over time. Declining estrogen levels affect the health of our bones, making us more vulnerable to conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis and osteopenia. At first glance, this may seem to support the idea that we are fragile. According to Dr. Stacy Sims, a leading figure in training menopausal athletes, there is a workaround: Power movements, plyometrics, and speed interval training can prevent estrogen loss and teach our bodies to build muscle in a new way.
Also read: Pre-operative exercise helps recovery, according to a study
As Dr. Sims tells us, heavy and powerful resistance training doesn’t just build stronger muscles; strengthens other soft tissues. The benefits don’t stop there; The effort required to lift heavy weights also improves your cardiovascular fitness and stimulates bone remodeling, making your bones stronger.
The best type of exercises to do when focusing on heavy resistance training are compound exercises, which include multiple muscle groups to achieve the best results. If you’re new to this type of exercise, hire a personal trainer to teach you proper form and muscle engagement to mitigate the risk of injury.
But it doesn’t just stop with force. Dr. Stacy Sims wants you to increase your training ability to include jumping and running as you get older. The more capable we become of jumping and landing hard, the more stable and strong our bodies become, withstanding falls that can cause damage. Dr. Sims says, “When you do plyometrics, you wake up some very quiet genes within muscle cells that stimulate those cells to improve power and even the composition of the muscle itself in a way that improves the integrity of the muscle, its contractile force, and its response and reaction time.”
You can start building your confidence with jumps by including little ones at first. Begin by lowering yourself into a squat position, feet hip-width apart, and “hopping” to the balls of your toes and back down quickly. Try one set of five or six, with a 30 second rest, for 5-6 sets. Once you’re comfortable with straight uprights, try side hops next!
Finally, speed training is one we rarely hear about outside of athletic circles. However, sprint interval training is very effective in burning fat that can accumulate around the waist. Dr. Sims recommends short, effective bursts that don’t raise cortisol levels. For example, he can start with 30 seconds of going to his maximum capacity and 30 seconds of recovery speed for no more than ten minutes in length. You can do sprint intervals on stationary bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals. Of course, the key to any plan that includes high-intensity, plyometrics, and weight lifting is a substantial dose of rest and recovery. Therefore, allow a full day of rest between days of heavy work.
Jen Thomas is a women’s health expert.
Also Read: Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Crucial For Your Health And Fitness