At age 41, I feel grateful of what my body is able to do. Theres no doubt that our body changes after having children and as we grow older we can give ourselves a hard time over wrinkles and sagging skin and feeling out of sorts due to hormone fluctuations. There is no doubt that menopause can have a big impact on mood, confidence and energy levels, and many women feel a sense of loss of their youth, unable to keep up with the societal expectations which are portrayed in the media.
There are many studies relating to poor body image among younger women, but research suggests that body image perceptions may also be low in older women too (Peat, Peyerl, & Muehlenkamp, 2008). Poor body image and body dissatisfaction are of concern in older women and this is evidenced by their association with eating disorders, dieting, smoking, and cosmetic surgery (Grogan, Fry, Gough, & Conner, 2009; Haas, Champion, & Secor, 2008; Peat et al., 2008.) Yet there seems to be a lack of support for women who want to find a way of managing these issues. I see them suffer in silence, excluding themselves, and often developing coping strategies or unhelpful habits which compound their situation further.
Research has also shown us that low confidence and negative body image can also be a barrier to participation in physically active leisure activities (Allender, Cowburn, & Foster, 2006). Which I personally feel sad about as I think that women can gain so much personal strength and power from physical activity and strength training in particular.
Did you know that from the age of 30, women lose between 30-50 percent of their muscle mass (Daley et.al 2000) that’s one of the reasons why many women struggle with weight gain as they get older. However, strength training can prevent the loss of muscle function and deterioration of muscle structure associated with the ageing process.
Strength training tends to be neglected in place of cardio and pool based training among women over 40, but it’s important to know that strength training participation is an important element of physical activity for midlife and older women because it helps women to maintain muscle and bone mass and reduces risk for numerous chronic diseases (Seguin et al, 2013).
I’ve studied and coached many different fitness programmes over the 22 years which I have been working in the industry. I’ve worn the leotard, the thong and the shell tracksuits and have lived and participated in all the trends and approaches over time. I honestly believe strength training and gymnastics has had the greatest impact on my clients and as well as my physique. I now use heavy weights for low reps and I’ve never been stronger or leaner. Yet I still see women avoiding lifting weights because they think that they are going to get big or look masculine.
If you want to get lean and toned, and stop the ageing progress related to muscle loss, I would encourage you to lift weights! You will feel amazing too, it’s great to feel strong and powerful shifting objects and gaining a sense of satisfaction from making progress.
I’ll admit that over the years, I have struggled with body image too. It has often been exacerbated by competing in weight-based sports (fighting) and growing up having to control your weight, feeling that I have to be perfect (no one ever told me I had to be) the pressure to be the fit as possible fitness instructor, and recently, being around younger elite athletes wearing hardly any clothes (CrossFit.) But I have learned to manage body image struggles through exercise, and lifting weights has made an important difference. I try not to compare myself to others- although the competitive nature of sport makes this inevitable. I avoid social media and its filtered images as much as possible, and I focus on enjoying my training, making progress with it and helping others through my work and through sharing my story.
I’m really grateful to have so many competition pictures which remind me that I am strong and powerful rather than focus on the negative thoughts and feelings which occur when you have a mental struggle. Where no matter what others tell you, you do not believe them. I think it’s important to be honest and human rather than present the idea that you are invincible. I think that women have had a tough time recently and it’s important to recognise that many athletes and slim people struggle with body image issues too.
I hope that this article has given you the motivation to take action and do something positive which will impact on your health, your confidence and how you feel in your body. I hope that this article will leave you feeling empowered and inspired to go and lift weights!
If confidence is a barrier to strength training in the gym or attending a strength training-based class, I’d recommend a few PT sessions to learn some fundamental movements.
Please email me, or reach out to me on social media, if you want help with building your confidence, a training programme or some personal coaching sessions to sculpt your body.