Finding the fountain of youth

tosca-rIt’s that time of year when everyone’s making (and breaking?) new year’s resolutions. One of the top resolutions every year is losing weight and/or getting in shape. Want to know the key to losing weight, getting in shape and finding the fountain of youth? It’s weight training. What? Yes. If you make one resolution this year to help you look and feel great (and younger!), make it starting a weight training program. I’m not talking about adding little pink 1-5 pound dumbbells to your cardio routine; I’m talking about heavy, progressive weight training with serious weights. Don’t take my word for it; there are plenty of inspirational, fit women over 40 out there. Here’s a pic of Tosca Reno, fitness author and trainer. Wanna guess her age? Bet you didn’t guess mid-50s. If you think there’s only a few, gifted women who can achieve and keep a great body over 40, you’d be wrong. With commitment and a bit of hard work, anyone can do it.

Need a little motivation? Here are great reasons to start weight training:

Counteract the muscle loss that comes with age.
Muscle mass declines with age. Around age 30, you begin to lose muscle mass and function, a condition known as age-related sarcopenia. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. Not only does this make you look older, it contributes to increasing frailty with age and can limit your mobility and independence. Weight training allows you to prevent or reverse age-related muscle loss.

Strengthen bones to avoid the health issues that come with bone loss as we age.
You’re probably more familiar with the bone loss many women face as they age, known as osteopenia when it’s lower than normal and osteoporosis when it’s full-blown. Certain medications can also cause bone thinning. Weight training improves bone density and can reverse osteopenia. I’m one of those who earned an osteopenia diagnosis due to medications I had to take. I totally reversed the condition with weight training rather than taking additional medications or supplements. Numerous studies demonstrate strength training’s ability to increase bone mass, especially spinal bone mass.

Recomposition your body to add feminine curves in the right places.
In fitness circles, we like to talk about “body recomp.” This means you’re increasing the amount of muscle in your body while decreasing fat. The results in a tighter, leaner physique and beautiful curves in all the right places. Worried that lifting weights will bulk you up or make you look masculine? Very few women have the natural capacity to gain too much muscle; we don’t have the testosterone. Extreme female body builders are naturally gifted, log in WAY more time and poundage in the gym than the average woman, and/or take supplements or steroids to achieve that level. Take a look at these top female fitness models. There are some physiques to covet, ladies.

Raise your resting metabolism to increase your body’s ability to burn calories and lose fat.
You thought copious amounts of cardio was the only way to lose weight? Nope. A pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh the same, but they have different energy requirements. Muscle burns more calories than fat. People who are heavily muscular typically have a high basal metabolic rate, or BMR, which means they burn a significant number of calories, even when resting. Add curves, burn off the flab? Yes, please.

Are you convinced? Wondering how to get started? You can take one of two routes – workout at the gym or workout at home. I’ve done both and each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Hit the gym
The biggest advantage of going to the gym is the range of equipment. You’re going to have more choice of dumbbells, barbell and plates, and machines to use at the gym. This is probably the best bet for the more advanced, too, because you’ll have access to heavier weights as you progress. For instance, advanced females can squat more weight than they can safely lift and get over their heads to rest on their shoulders. A gym will have a squat cage or a Smith machine to address this problem. The next big advantage of the gym is most will have personal trainers you can hire to help you get a program in place to meet your goals. This is especially good if you’ve never lifted before. A trainer will help you learn the correct form, too.

The drawbacks for the gym? Obviously, it’s an ongoing expense that may be difficult for some to afford. You have to make the effort to get there. You may find the best time for you to go is also the best time for a lot of other folks to go (read: after work), causing crowding and long waits for certain equipment. Some folks – especially beginners – are intimidated by power users at the gym and feel self-conscious. Generally, everyone’s focusing on their own routine and are not looking at or thinking about anyone else. Most regular gym buffs can appreciate any new user making the effort to improve their body, too. If you do end up at a gym where you feel uncomfortable, try another one. There are plenty out there. Some cater to the testosterone-laden, but most have a wide range of members and make everyone feel welcome.

Workout at home
You may be surprised to know you can get a great weight workout at home with a little investment. Especially for beginner to intermediate lifters, a set of dumbbells and some great weight training DVDs are all you need to see real results if the gym is not your thing. First, you’ll need equipment. You’ll at least need a set of dumbbells to start. A barbell and plates and a weight bench can be added if you have the money and the space. Powerblocks are a great set of stacking dumbbells that take up very little room and offer enough range for the beginner to intermediate lifter. Next, you’ll need some DVDs or an online weight training workout. I’d recommend DVDs for beginners because these will stand in place of a personal trainer to teach you the exercises with the correct form. My personal favorite and an industry leader is Cathe Friedrich’s weight training workouts. Cathe offers a range of workouts: cardio, cardio and weights mixed, and serious weight training. She’s the best DVD instructor for gym-style weight training with heavy weight and she really stresses proper form. Although equipment and workouts for home will cost you, it’s a one-time cost and not a recurring expense like a gym membership. Think of it as an investment.

The main drawback I hear people mention for working out at home is motivation. At home, you get distracted from your workout, interrupted by people and phone calls, or the couch and TV remote are calling you. If you know you have a problem with self-motivation, home workouts may not be for you. For the rest of us, set a time to workout, stick to it and don’t let yourself be interrupted. Pretty soon you’ll find the positive changes in your body provide plenty of motivation!



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