As women age, they naturally lose muscle mass. This causes your metabolism to slow, which means you could start building a spare tire by the time you reach your 30s. “When you do weight-bearing exercises, you start revving up your metabolism—and it keeps burning for many hours after your workout,” says Wayne Westcott, PhD, director of fitness research at Quincy College and Prevention advisory board member.
Muscle tissue is more “active” than fat tissue, with each pound burning about 30 calories a day just to sustain itself. So even if you’re sitting on the couch or are stuck at your desk for eight hours a day, the extra muscle mass you develop will burn more calories, helping you finally get rid of that spare tire—and keep it off for good.
While cardio is important and will help melt fat, weights sculpt your body, creating curves and definition right where you want it. They also help fight the effects of gravity, making you much less likely to have arm jiggle in your upper arms.
“One pound of fat takes up much more space than one pound of muscle,” says CrossFit athlete and certified level-1 trainer Cheryl Brost, a 41-year-old mother of two. “So even though muscle weighs more, what do you want all over your body? Something that’s bulky, like body fat, or something that’s lean, and takes up less space, like muscle?”
Curbing age-related muscles loss isn’t just good for your looks; it can protect your heart and help ward off type 2 diabetes, too. “Muscle helps remove glucose and triglycerides from the bloodstream, which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as hardening of the arteries,” says Timothy Church, MD, PhD, a preventive medicine expert at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
“Strength training lowers blood pressure for ten to twelve hours after each session, which gives your heart a break,” says William Haskell, PhD, professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University. “How strength training does this is not completely understood, but it probably has subtle effects on everything from hormones to nervous system regulation.”
You don’t need a lot of space or a lot of special equipment to get a great strength workout, says Westcott. Simply using your own bodyweight through the use of pushups, planks, chair dips, squats, and pull-ups is enough to tone and strengthen your entire body. Bonus: You can do it indoors, which means you don’t have to weather the cold, freezing temps of winter or the scorching heat of summer.
Plyometric strength moves (think squat jumps and burpees) and kettlebell workouts skyrocket your heart rate, which boosts the calorie burn of regular strength training routines. These types of workouts give you cardio, strength, and sculpting all in one, which is a great timesaver, says Freytag.
Strength training is one of the 12 best ways to break-proof your bones. “Lifting weights can help counteract age-related bone loss,” says Ethel Siris, MD, director of the Toni Stabile Center for Osteoporosis at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. “Strengthening your muscles also improves balance and keeps you as strong as possible which lowers your chances of a fall-related fracture.