By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Is your body changing faster than you can keep up on the treadmill? The big 4-0 is no longer seen as "over the hill" but it is still true that significant body changes begin to affect your health as you reach 40. Plus, your gym workout may be losing its power.
But you can do one thing to change this trend and reverse several key health concerns of the over-40s. What is it? Weight training. If you think lifting weights is for buff guys in their 20s, think again. Weight training offers significant benefits for women of all ages, and particularly as you enter your fifth decade.
What Health Changes Happen at 40?
For most women the age of 40 heralds in the era where fertility begins to decline and estrogen levels fluctuate. Hormonal shifts pre-menopause cause hot flashes, problems sleeping, mood swings, depression, and night sweats.
Loss of estrogen is connected to increased bone loss, which puts women over 40 at risk of osteoporosis.
The risk of heart disease also rises, due to an increase in cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, and a greater concentration of belly fat. This fat can be more difficult to lose as your calorific needs change while you activity levels often go down.
The good news is that a simple weight training regime can help protect against these risks. Weight training is not only for building muscle - it helps lower stress, burn fat, and lower the risk of heart disease too.
Types of Weight Training for Women Over 40
Only around 21 percent of women weight train two or more times a week, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Do yourself a favor and start being one of the weight trainers.
You don't need to run through a lengthy routine every day. A set of the following exercises is great for overall health and wellbeing: squats, dead lifts, pull ups, reverse lunges, push-ups, inverted rows, and planks are ideal for full-body health. Ask a trainer at the gym to guide you through the correct technique for these moves.
Use light weights to start with, steadily progressing to heavier weights to challenge your muscles as your technique improves.
Use a weight heavy enough so you feel tired at the end of the repetitions so the last repetition is a real effort. You can use free weights or weight machines - free weights require more coordination and effort in keeping stable.
Weight machines are better for beginners. Always keep the weight controlled through the entire movement rather than dropping it out, which is unsafe and not as effective. Give your muscles a break between sessions so they have time to grow and repair.
If you're looking for a reason to pick up the weights in the gym, here are seven advantages of strength training for women over 40.
1. Benefit from Increased Muscle Mass by Lifting Weights
Muscle mass declines with age - both men and women suffer this, although women are often hit harder because they do not train their muscles as they age, according to a 2002 study from Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center, Omaha.
If you don't want to have to ask for help moving furniture in your home, or you want to be able to walk, run and exercise as you age, increase your muscle mass with regular weight training.
2. Improve Your Bone Density Over 40
As you hit the age of 40 your bones begin to lose their mineral content much more quickly. Estrogen loss increases bone loss.
Weaker, more brittle bones are prone to fractures and can affect your posture. Studies show that weight training can help slow down the process of bone loss. In a 2013 study from Universidade de Brasília, DF, Brazil women taking part in weight training exercise had higher bone mineral density than women not taking part in these exercises.
And in a 2006 study from the University of Leeds, UK high resistance weight training resulted in a significant increase in bone mineral density according to 14 different study groups. '
3. Improve Your Heart Health with Weights
Weight training can help improve cardiovascular risk factors in women over the age of 40, according to many different studies.
Why is this important? As you age your cardiovascular system has to work harder to keep blood pumping round your body.
Your arteries begin to narrow and you are at greater risk of stroke and heart disease.
A 2010 study from the Research and Sports Medicine Center, Government of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain demonstrates that resistance training improves cardiovascular risk factors in obese women.
Further, a 1996 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Aging showed resistance training reduced heart rate and blood pressure and therefore reduced cardiovascular stress when women carried out daily tasks.
4. Lift Weights to Beat Age-Related Weight Gain
Muscle is metabolically active so, unlike fat, it helps burn calories. The more muscle and less fat, the more calories you burn both while you are working out and for the rest of the day.
A 2010 study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Food and Nutritional Sciences, Adelaide, Australia showed that resistance weight training combined with a high-protein diet improved weight loss and favorable changes in body composition from fat to muscle.
5. Get Better Sleep by Training with Weights
One of the most common complaints from women over the age of 40 is the increasing difficulty in falling asleep, and in getting quality sleep.
All exercise is good for improving sleep patterns, but weight training can be particularly helpful for women aged over 40 because it helps to balance the hormones.
A 2005 study from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center demonstrated that weight training significantly improved sleep quality as well as improving body strength in older adults.
6. Lifting Weights Helps Increase Your Energy Post-40
It may not feel like it at the time, but lifting weights can actually give you more energy.
Women aged over 40 often feel increasingly tired and drained - the hormone-balancing effects of weight training help to boost your mood and give you more energy. A 1996 study from the University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, Vermont, and the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota says that a resistance training program brings improved strength and endurance in older people.
7. Can Weight Training Lower Your Cancer Risk?
You are at greater risk of breast and ovarian cancer over the age of 40. Evidence is not clear whether weight training actually lowers the risk of cancer through its hormone-balancing mechanism.
But one 2011 study from National Analysts Worldwide in Philadelphia shows exercise in general lowers estrogen and progesterone levels in pre-menopausal women at high risk of breast cancer, thus presumably lowering the risk of breast cancer.