Forget pilates, yoga or even a quick walk in the park. Women over 50 should try lifting weights and other strength-training exercises if they want to alleviate menopausal symptoms.
Our study found that older women who weightlifted for two months built up upper and lower body strength. And although the women didn’t lose weight, they were more confident, happier – and even received compliments from their partners.
Concretely, the women climbed stairs more easily, had less pain in their knees and hips and could easily get down and get up when playing with their grandchildren.
On top of that, unpublished results from this study revealed that after three months of the program, the women also lost significant inches around their waist.
Menopause, mood swings and wonky bits
Menopause usually occurs in women between the ages of 47 and 55. There are physical and psychological symptoms associated with menopause. The physical changes are driven by a loss of estrogen hormones. One of those changes is increased belly fat, which is a risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The other is muscle loss. Muscle loss means women become weaker and more likely to develop problems such as osteoporosis.
Previous studies found that menopausal symptoms such as joint pain and back pain are psychologically driven and are more prevalent in white women. For Afro-American women, symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are more common. Data does not yet exist for black South African women.
We wanted to find a way to alleviate these symptoms, improve women’s health and reduce their risk of injury due to the weakening of their bodies.
lift the weight
examined how 30 minutes of strength training, five times a week, could benefit a group of women aged 55 to 65.
The women exercised in small groups with a personal trainer doing exercises targeting the upper body, torso and legs. The program gradually tightened over the two months. However, it did not exceed 80% of the maximum effort they could exert. The intensity was tested once a month so that it could be adjusted.
Our results show that the study design was not only successful, but that the women preferred the daily routine.
This means older women have a feasible and affordable way to improve their health and body strength.
Turning theory into practice
On average, the retirement age for women is 65. This means that for 10 to 15 years after menopause, women are still economically active.
The results show that their health, risk of injury and ultimate productivity can be improved.
More importantly, however, women over 50 are more than capable of high-intensity resistance training and can benefit from this type of physical activity.
The good news is that strength training can have tangible results. Many women give up on less strenuous exercise programs, such as walking, because they feel there is no benefit. Now they know they have an alternative.
Candice Christie, principal investigator, received funding from the Medical Research Council of South Africa for this research. Research team members Tegan Crymble and Janet Viljoen benefited from this funding allocation. Janet Viljoen received a scholarship from the Deutsche Akademiese Austausch Dienst (DAAD) during this research project.