Why strength training is so important for women as they age

May 11, 2022
Weights with a resitance band on top

Choosing high-quality workplace wellbeing programs has taken on a new urgency given reports of increased stress, burnout, self-reported poor health and ultimately attrition of women in the workplace. Well-rounded wellbeing offerings include a physical training component that can serve a dual purpose in chronic disease prevention and mental health management.

I talk a lot about helping team members break up sitting time, move more, and increase aerobic activity. Given the aging workforce, offering a strength-training program as part of your approach is vital.

After menopause, many women have a significant decline in bone mineral density, muscle mass, and joint health. All of this might not be very noticeable at first, but over time, it impacts other health issues.

A typical (but mostly avoidable) part of aging is sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the process of our muscles becoming smaller over time. If you know any sedentary women over 80, have a look at their legs. The longer you live, the smaller your muscles' circumference becomes when you do nothing to reverse the process. Hormonal changes, individual protein requirements, and inactive lifestyles can also make some women much more susceptible to the changes that occur because of sarcopenia.

Muscle loss occurs over the lifespan (typically starting in our 30s) but becomes more rapid after menopause. Because of muscle loss, women tend to lose strength in their hips and legs, and with reduced strength in these areas comes slow and insidious changes in mobility and balance, which eventually poses a risk for falls.

Reduced bone mineral density (BMD) is another important and related issue for peri and post-menopausal women. BMD loss can occur at any time in adulthood but increases for women during the menopausal transition. Bone mineral loss can also lead to osteoporosis.

Because BMD loss typically progresses with few symptoms and little pain, many women don't discover that they have low bone mass until they break a bone. Not surprisingly, osteoporosis and fracture rates in women also increase after menopause.

But it's not all bad news. We have an excellent and effective medicine to help combat muscle loss, regulate body weight, and slow the reduction of bone mineral density by prescribing strength training.

The Benefits of Strength-Training

There's still a fair amount of resistance (pun intended) to this medicine. Overall, women tend to gravitate towards cardiovascular exercise and shy away from strength training.

Strength-training women have overall lower cardiovascular disease risk, better cognitive function, a lowered risk of certain types of cancers, and improved overall mental health. [1] Strength training has also been associated with reduced rates of major depressive disorder. [2]

Having more muscle also burns more calories. In a 2018 study done at Brigham Young University, researchers found that the women who participated in regular strength training sessions had lower body fat and higher fat-free mass (muscle and bone). They also found a relationship between more frequent or intense training and better body composition.[3] But the benefits don't merely stop at weight control. Women who strength train have better overall bone mineral density and maintain much more muscle mass as they age.

Even remote workers can benefit from home-based body weight or resistance band exercises, which can be integrated throughout the workday. Performing smaller sets throughout the day also allows breaking up of sitting time and more movement.

Assessing your Program's "Age-friendliness" for Women

If you have a formal strength program in place, here are some questions to ask your provider:

  1. Have the participants been screened with a standardized tool (e.g., ParQ+) before starting the program?
  2. Are you following an established protocol? Our national guidelines recommend muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least two days a week (including all major muscle groups).
  3. Do your programs include training on posture?
  4. Have you provided safe exercises for those with lowered bone mass (e.g., avoiding movements that require you to bend forward from the spine or have quick, twisting motions)?
  5. If you have programs specifically for women, are you including balance exercises that target centre of gravity, postural cueing, strength for balance, and multisensory training?

Keeping employees healthy and well is a challenge in this "new normal." Ensuring that programs are safe and effective for all team members is crucial. I'm always happy to discuss how to assess your strength (and other wellbeing programs) to align with an aging employee population and specifically to support women at work. Please book a time to meet here.


[1] Rosen, S. E., & Mieres, J. H. (2016). Exercise and Strength Training in Post-menopausal Women at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease: Need for Strategies to Improve Adherence. Journal of Women's Health (15409996), 25(10), 981–982. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2016.5976

[2] Moraes, H. S., Silveira, H. S., Oliveira, N. A., Matta Mello Portugal, E., Araújo, N. B., Vasques, P. E., Bergland, A., Santos, T. M., Engedal, K., Coutinho, E. S., Schuch, F. B., Laks, J., & Deslandes, A. C. (2020). Is Strength Training as Effective as Aerobic Training for Depression in Older Adults? A Randomized Controlled Trial. Neuropsychobiology, 79(2), 141–149. https://doi.org/10.1159/000503750

[2] Burrup, R., Tucker, L. A., Le Cheminant, J. D., & Bailey, B. W. (2018). Strength training and body composition in middle-age women. Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, 58(1/2), 82–91. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.17.06706-8

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