News

Resistance Training Benefits Older Women as Much as Older Men, Study Finds

older woman lifting weights

LWA/Dann Tardif/DigitalVision/Getty

Key Takeaways

  • At one time, the general consensus was that resistance training was beneficial for older men, but offered no particular benefit to older women. 
  • According to a new study, resistance training is good for older women’s health, too.
  • For women over the age of 50, this type of training can increase muscle mass and strength.

It’s time to put to bed the outdated myth that resistance training is only for men. The first systematic review of whether older men and women reap different resistance training results was published recently in Sports Medicine, and it found no differences between the sexes when it comes to changes in relative muscle size or upper body strength.??

The menopausal hormone changes that often occur in women over the age of 50 may influence the outcome of resistance training, which is why this was chosen as the age threshold for the study.

Another motivation for conducting the study was to influence the common industry perception regarding differences in adaptation between males and females. “We wanted to show that there is less of a difference than many people perceive,” explains Mandy Hagstrom, PhD, one of the study authors and a lecturer in the department of exercise physiology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Mandy Hagstrom, PhD

Our study is important as it shows that older males and females benefit in a similar manner in terms of relative improvements in muscle strength and size following resistance training.

— Mandy Hagstrom, PhD

Study Findings?

Researchers compared the muscle mass and strength gains in 651 older men and 759 older women between the ages of 50-90, most of whom had no prior resistance training experience.

“In contrast to common industry perceptions, we thought that the relative changes would be similar between sexes,” Hagstrom says. And they were right—older adults can benefit significantly from resistance training, regardless of sex.

“It's also possible that older males and females may benefit from slightly different exercise prescriptions, with males focusing on higher-intensity strength training, and females aiming to accrue a higher volume (i.e. more sets and repetitions),” Hagstrom explains. However, it’s still important that the actual exercise programs should be designed to reflect individual goals, regardless of sex.

Kevin Bailey, CPT

Resistance training strengthens muscles to maintain joint stabilization. This helps keep them functioning properly and decreases or even eliminates pain and injury.

— Kevin Bailey, CPT

“Our study is important as it shows that older males and females benefit in a similar manner in terms of relative improvements in muscle strength and size following resistance training,” Hagstrom says. This has important implications for exercise professionals, as well as those undertaking exercise, in terms of what to expect following resistance training.

“I hope this study may encourage older adults who haven’t participated in resistance training before to give it a go,” Hagstrom says. “I also hope the findings will encourage older females, in particular, given the knowledge that they will experience similar improvements to their male counterparts.”

What Is Resistance Training?

Also known as strength training, resistance training incorporates exercises designed to improve strength and endurance. It’s often associated with weights, but resistance bands and body weight can be used, as well.

“Resistance training strengthens muscles to maintain joint stabilization,” says personal trainer, health and wellness coach, and motivational speaker Kevin Bailey. “This helps keep them functioning properly and decreases or even eliminates pain and injury.”

Another benefit of resistance training is tied to sustainable weight loss. “It increases lean muscle tissue in the body, which increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which determines the amount of calories that you burn, even at rest,” Bailey explains. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.”

John Fawkes, CPT

As you train, what you're doing is applying strain on the muscle and bones in targeted areas. This activates cellular growth in the muscles and bones, maintaining their strength and vitality as you age.

— John Fawkes, CPT

Why Is Resistance Training Important for Older People?

Resistance training is a great way to increase bone density, which is particularly important as you get older. “As you train, what you're doing is applying strain on the muscle and bones in targeted areas,” explains John Fawkes, nutrition counselor, certified personal trainer, and managing editor at The Unwinder. “This activates cellular growth in the muscles and bones, maintaining their strength and vitality as you age.”

With advancing age, the body turns to your bones as a source of essential minerals, like calcium and phosphorus. “It does this for a variety of reasons, but often to help balance your blood pH. You can't live with unbalanced blood pH,” Fawkes says.

At the same time, you have a harder time replenishing your bones with the minerals from the foods you eat. “Resistance training can help activate bone and muscle cell growth in a way that’s really crucial to overall longevity,” Fawkes explains.

He also points out that women are more at risk for bone health-depleting conditions like osteoporosis. “With that in mind, women past menopausal age should especially consider working resistance training into their routines one to three times a week to help combat weakened bones,” he says.

How to Get Started With Resistance Training?

Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s best to ease into strength training. Fawkes recommends working with a set of resistance bands to perform bodyweight-only routines, then working your way to dumbbells.

“This will help you ease into resistance training at a more manageable pace,” he says. “Plus, it will introduce staple resistance-training movements like squats, lunches, deadlifts, rows, and lat extensions for you to really understand good form before introducing heavier weights. Without that form nailed down, you risk strains and injuries.”

Kevin Bailey, CPT

If you feel depleted before the workout, have a light day or an active recovery day, where you do some light cardio, stretch and leave. Remember, slow and steady wins the race and keeps you safe!

— Kevin Bailey, CPT

Working with a certified fitness trainer will help you learn proper form and lifting techniques. This isn’t only for safety reasons, but primarily to ensure you’re working the correct muscles for each exercise. “A great example is the standing or seated back row exercise,” Bailey says. “You want to make sure you are consciously contracting the muscles that were supposed to be activated and engaged.”

Above all, listen to your body during resistance training. “You want to feel like you could have done more after the workout is complete, not complete exhaustion,” Bailey says. “If you feel depleted before the workout, have a light day or an active recovery day, where you do some light cardio, stretch and leave. Remember, slow and steady wins the race and keeps you safe!”

What This Means For You

If you want to incorporate resistance training into your fitness regimen, initial advice from a qualified trainer can help you master proper form and technique, and create a personalized plan that works for you, your lifestyle and fitness goals.

 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jones M et al. Sex Differences in Adaptations in Muscle Strength and Size Following Resistance Training in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 2020 Dec. doi:10.1007/s40279-020-01388-4