22 Mar Menopause Fitness Moment: Need A Little Body Image Boost?
Resistance Training Can Improve Body Image
Resistance training is my go-to, feel-good type of exercise and I love finding new reasons why it is so great. Increasing numbers of studies report that resistance training can be a wonderful tool in boosting body image and I’m super excited about this. Body image has been a very personal topic for me and I’m very passionate about sharing any tips that have helped me manage my own experience. When research helps me make that point, I’m even happier. That’s why I wanted to explain all the reasons why resistance training is something you should definitely try.
What is body image?
Body Image is a term used to describe how people feel and think about their bodies, regardless of how their body actually looks. It may sound like a simple description, but the fact is that body image is a very complex construct that is affected by many different factors. Some of those include physical characteristics such as body size and psychological traits such as low self-esteem, depression, low self-efficacy, low confidence, and the need to be perfect. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “people with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder.” Considering that the menopausal transition is marked by an increased risk for depression, it is not surprising that 60-80% of menopausal women report varying degrees of body dissatisfaction. According to Kilpela et al. (2015), there are specific psychological factors associated with body dissatisfaction in older women:
- Thin-ideal internalization
- Cultural perspectives on aging and aging anxiety
- Importance of appearance
- Fat talk and old talk
The fact is that body changes that occur during menopause are normal, but they can increase body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.
How can resistance training help?
Although regularly participating in any type of exercise can help improve body image, some types of exercise are better than others. One of those types is resistance training. There are different pathways by which resistance training helps body image:
Improves self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence
Although all reasons to include resistance training are important, I believe that this one is the most crucial! After 20 years working with clients, I have noticed one common denominator: regardless of the initial motivation for exercising, every single person has felt better because they felt stronger and more capable. There is something very empowering about being able to do things you weren’t able to do. Don’t just take my word for it. Evidence from a variety of studies indicates that resistance training is associated with improvements in self-esteem, as well as “self-efficacy, perceived physical strength, physical self-worth, and global self-worth.”
Lowers anxiety and depression
I’m sure you’ve heard that walking is a great way to lower both anxiety and depression. The research supports that statement, showing a clear link between walking and improvements in mental health. As little as 10 minutes per day appears to have benefits. The correlation between resistance training and mental health is less known but findings of multiple studies report that the “evidence supports the conclusion that strength training alone is associated with both large reductions in symptoms of depression.” Although all types of resistance training are beneficial in lowering depression and anxiety, research indicates that low-to-moderate-intensity resistance training has a higher anxiolytic effect, meaning it reduces anxiety.
While the previous two categories relate more to the psychological changes resistance training can bring about, improvements in metabolism are a more indirect way of influencing body image. It is a much more physiological aspect but still critical in improving body image. Resistance training influences our metabolism by increasing muscle mass, which increases our Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). RMR is the rate at which our body uses energy when resting. Because muscle has a higher metabolic rate and therefore uses more energy, it can increase the number of calories your body burns at rest. Dr. Len Kravitz uses the following example to highlight what it means: 4.5 lbs of muscle mass can increase your RMR by about 50 kcal. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all adds up. Muscle is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it make you stronger, but it makes your body function more efficiently.
How to get started
If you’re ready to get started, here are a few simple steps to keep you safe:
- Always warm-up! This is crucial. It could be a 5-10 min walk or dynamic stretching routine.
- Start with bodyweight exercises and learn the proper form before moving on to adding resistance
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to do technically difficult movements. Let your body adjust to the new workout and always perfect the form first.
- Start with a 20-30 min workout and see how your body feels afterward.
- Always cool-down. Incorporating stretching and/or myofascial release (foam rolling)
- REST!!! Give your body plenty of rest. At least 1-2 days between resistance training sessions.
Stay curious, unafraid, and armed with knowledge!
Dr. Maria Luque
Note: If you’re new to resistance training, consider talking to a fitness professional to teach you the basics. To stay injury-free and to get the most out of your workouts, knowing the correct technique is essential. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, always consult with your physician first.