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Published in Health, Mind & Body/Exercise & Fitness
Recently the two Maidas took a series of tests to compare their strength. Maida Lois didn't hold back. "I got competitive," she admits; "I tried hard."
It didn't help: Maida outscored her daughter on three of the four tests. These days, she does her own lifting. "After all," she tells Maida Lois, "I'm stronger."
* * *
In high school, Evelyn wore a size 16. At age 30, she had her first child and her weight climbed to over 200 pounds. Then she came to work at Tufts University. "I started doing aerobics and got down to 160 pounds. I was thinner, but complete flab," she recalls. What's more, her weight loss stalled. Inspired by her colleagues' research-and the success stories all around her-Evelyn started strength training, and dropped the last 30 pounds.
Now 38 and the mother of two, Evelyn recently attended her twentieth high school reunion. She recalls a thrilling evening: "Some of my girlfriends never got back in shape after having kids-and there I was in a slinky black evening dress, size 6."
* * *
Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., author of Strong Women Stay Young, is one of the Tufts University scientists who developed this remarkably successful exercise program. Her research created news worldwide when the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Nelson's study followed 40 postmenopausal women for a year. All were healthy, but sedentary; none was taking hormones. Half the volunteers-the control group-simply maintained their usual lifestyle. The others came to the Tufts University laboratories twice a week and lifted weights.
Most women begin to lose bone and muscle mass at about age 40; in part because of this, they start to slow down. And that's exactly what happened to the women who didn't exercise. One sedentary year later, their muscles and bones had aged, and they were even less active than before.
The women who lifted weights changed too-but in the opposite direction. After one year of strength training, their bodies were 15 to 20 years more youthful.
* They became stronger-often even stronger than when they were younger.
* Without drugs, they regained bone, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
* Their balance and flexibility improved.
* They were leaner and trimmer, though eating as much as ever.
* The women were so energized, they became 27 percent more active.
No other program has ever achieved comparable results.
What strength training can do for you:
A challenging, progressive strength-training program can build muscles and increase strength in women of all ages. But Miriam Nelson's study proved that the benefits go even further. Besides the great gains in strength, here's what strength training does:
* Halts bone loss-and even restores bone
Each year after menopause, a woman typically loses one percent of her bone mass-even more during the first five post-menopausal years. Over time, she may develop osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become so porous they easily break. Strength training stopped the clock here too. The women who didn't exercise lost about 2 percent of their bone density over the year of the study. But the women who strength-trained not only didn't lose bone, they gained 1 percent.
* Improves balance
Our ability to stay in balance declines with passing years. As a result, falling becomes a significant hazard later in life, especially if bones are weak. The women who didn't exercise showed an 8.5 percent decline in balance over the study period. In contrast, the women in the strength-training group improved their balancing ability-their test scores went up by 14 percent.
* Helps prevent bone fractures from osteoporosis
The improvements in strength, bone density and balance have special significance for women because they dramatically reduce the risk of fractures from osteoporosis. This is a serious problem: a woman of seventy faces 30 percent odds that she will break her hip if she lives another twenty years.
Hormones, calcium supplements and medications offer a degree of protection from bone loss. However, strength training not only builds bone, it cuts the risk of fractures by improving strength and balance to help prevent falls. What's more, all these benefits come without worrisome side effects.
* Trims and tightens
Participants in the JAMA study were asked to maintain their weight over the year. Though the scale didn't change, their appearance did. Instead of dropping pounds, the women who exercised lost inches.
* Helps control weight
Strength training is a dieter's best friend. First, it promotes aerobic activity, which burns calories. Second, it boosts metabolism. That's because muscle is active tissue and consumes calories; stored fat, on the other hand, is inert and uses very little energy.
* Energizes and revitalizes
After a year, the non-exercise group became 25 percent less active. But the women in the strength-training program were 27 percent more active than before. It makes sense: The stronger you are, the easier it is to move.
The most exciting part of this study was something harder to measure: the transformation of the volunteers. They didn't expect their bodies could change much, not at their age. But after just a few months they were stronger, trimmer and more energetic than they ever dreamed they could be again-and they were thrilled. Who wouldn't be?
Features of this book
Strong Women Stay Young is based on a scientifically-tested exercise program developed at Tufts University, so you can rely upon its safety and effectiveness. The book will be helpful even if you've done strength training before. Unless you received accurate information, you may not be getting the full benefit you deserve for your efforts. For instance, many women, misled by popular advice, faithfully lift soup cans in hope of improving their muscles. Or they work out with three-pound weights week after week in a "Tone and Firm" class. Sadly, these approaches don't make you stronger. Weights must be considerably heavier than soup cans to make a difference. And if you don't systematically increase the load as your muscles develop, you won't progress very far.
Before you begin, you'll answer a few simple strength-assessment questions to determine a safe starting point. As you grow stronger, you'll add weights. No matter how fit you are now, no matter how quickly or slowly you progress, the program will always be right for you.
The Strong Women Stay Young program features:
* Eight simple exercises done standing or sitting down-no sweat, no special clothes.
* Fully illustrated step-by-step instructions that you can customize to your needs.
* Important new information on muscle, bone, balance, and fitness.
* Progress logs for the critical first twelve weeks.
* Bonus: complete strength-training program to do at the gym.
Is this book for you?
* Have you lost strength over the past decade?
* Do you ever say, "I know I should exercise, but I just don't have the energy"?
* At the end of a normally busy day, do you feel tired and worn out?
* Do you notice fat where there used to be muscle?
* Do you feel older than you'd like?
* Is it more difficult to maintain your weight-even though you're eating less?
* Are your favorite sports harder and less fun than they used to be?
* Do you look at your older female relatives and worry that someday you'll be just as limited physically as they are now?
For many women past 35, these changes-the loss of strength, the lack of vigor-are painfully familiar. If you're experiencing them, you may have figured it's all an inevitable part of getting older. Wrong! Scientists at Tufts and elsewhere now know this isn't true. The main reason most people slow down when they get older is that they lose about a third of their muscle mass between ages 35 and 80. Yes, aging plays a role. However, inactivity is a major factor-and that's something you can address.
If you've lost strength, you can regain it. If your energy has sagged, you can raise it. If you've lost muscle and gained fat, you can reverse it. If you've become flabby, you can get trim. If you feel old, you can feel younger, stronger and more vigorous-perhaps better than you've ever felt in your entire life.
Strength training, we have learned, is a fountain of youth.
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