Strength and weight training has huge benefits for women as they get older

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DUBAI // Experts have warned women in their 40s to do more strength training if they are to avoid more serious health problems later in life.

From bone disease to heart disease, strength or weight training has been proven to counteract many of the biological changes women go through as they get older.

“There are many reasons why strength training can benefit anyone, but it can be more important and beneficial the older we get, especially for women,” said Lii Schacht, a doctor of naprapathy, a mix of chiropractics and physiotherapy.

“When women get closer to the age of 40 ... our bodies start to lose muscle mass, which indirectly reduces the metabolic rate. We start to lose bone mass and bone density, which makes us more prone to injuries.”

Ms Schacht said body fat and visceral fat [around the organs] increases by the time women reach menopause, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

“During menopause the ovaries stop making oestrogen, which inhibits the production of cortisol and insulin increases, which leads to fat gain. Strength training for women over 40 helps to rebuild muscle tissue and increase bone density.

“It also helps to prevent diabetes, lowers cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, decreases the risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, depression, increases pain resistance, improves oxygen supply to cells, which has anti-ageing benefits, and helps prevent dementia, reduces stress and boosts the immune system.”

Ms Schacht says it can also help to maintain healthy tendons, ligaments and joints. “You will stimulate and activate your brain, which stimulates the nervous system and increases the balance and coordination, which as you get older can help prevent you from falling and getting a fracture.”

Squats, pushing and pressing movements, pulling movements and lunges are all important for the body to build muscle and bone strength. Resistance training also builds up the nervous system, unlike purely cardio exercise, such as running, which does not challenge the nervous system.

“Functional movements such as the squat are important because it works mobility and strength,” said Ms Schacht. “Many women imagine that they would bulk up by doing weights but this isn’t the case and just isn’t possible because we don’t have the hormones.

“Even everyday tasks such as carrying the kids, shopping, opening doors, require these kinds of movements, which is why this kind of training is so important.”

Dr Humeira Badsha, a founding member of Emirates Arthritis Foundation, recommends weight training for women, especially as they age, to prevent osteoporosis and to strengthen joints.

“We are seeing a rise in low bone density. Despite increased awareness about osteoporosis and arthritis, women are not making the lifestyle modifications to impact on this.”

According to Dr Badsha, women of certain nationalities and cultures tend to spend very little time exposing their skind to sunlight and as a result suffer higher rates of vitamin D deficiency and bone disease. Several pregnancies and diets poor in calcium may also be more prevalent among some nationalities, she said. Bone disease was becoming increasingly prevalent in the UAE, she said.

“We see osteomalacia in quite young women, sometimes in their 20s, because of severe vitamin D deficiency. Osteoporosis is also quite common.”

Raising awareness is vital to prevent the debilitating condition. “Prevention is better than treatment, and prevention should start in childhood,” said Dr Badsha.

Dr Shereen Habib, a specialist in women’s health, said for older women “bone density is usually our main concern and exercise, especially with resistance or weights, helps prevent osteoporosis”.