The Diverse Population of Weight Lifters

While the weight room has long been the province of young males, anyone with a clean bill of health—young, old, male, female—can benefit from weight lifting. There are hard-core "muscle" gyms where large men grunt like wildebeests in heat. There are all-female gyms for women who prefer a more genteel atmosphere. Our experience, however, is that most gyms are equal-opportunity employers: If you show up regularly, learn the basics, and act relatively civilized, you'll be fine.

It wasn't long ago that women and muscles mixed about as well as oatmeal and sushi. Strong, muscular women were considered "unlady-like" or worse, "butch." This, of course, reeked of sexism, but it was just part of the raw deal women had to endure. Now that strength and muscles are chic on Madison Avenue—thanks in part to women like Carla Dunlap, Madonna, Gabrielle Reece, and scores more—women have come to see that weight lifting burns unwanted calories as well as enhances their appearance, self-esteem, and performance on the playing field.

Weight-bearing exercise alone will not delay the onset of osteoporosis, but it does help. However, many nutritionists also recommend that women especially need as much as 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day to help preserve their bone density.

From a medical point of view, there's good reason for women to lift weights. Osteoporosis, a serious health risk related to decreased bone density, is a major concern for women as early as the age of 40. Lifting weights regularly can help prevent or delay the onset of the conditions and can often strengthen brittle bones. Furthermore, exercise also has a tendency to reduce cramping during menstruation. And there's ample research that shows that lifting combined with aerobic exercise is extremely good for pregnant women since having strong supple muscles helps during delivery, and strength training after labor will get them back to their prepregnancy weight more quickly.

In many ways, "act your age" is one of the most damaging sayings we have in our culture. For some reason, there seems to be a societal expectation that once you reach the age of 50 or so, you're "middle aged" and supposed to sit around and take it easy.

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