Weightlifting is generally seen as a male-only pastime, to develop rippling biceps and a six-pack to rival any male model.
But it would seem that health-wise, lifting weights can be of real benefit to women, helping to cut their risk of developing diabetes.
An eight-year study has tracked the health of almost 100,000 nurses from the US and shows the benefits to their health. Lifting weights, doing press-ups or similar resistance exercises to work the muscles was linked with a lower risk of diabetes as shown in PLoS Medicine.
Recommendations from Government already suggest that adults take strength exercises at least twice a week to supplement cardiovascular exercises.
The benefit seen in the study was on top of any gained from doing aerobic workouts that exercise the heart and lungs - something which adults are meant to do for at least 150 minutes a week.
Those women who took part in a minimum of 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise and an hour a week of strength work had the most substantial risk reduction when compared with inactive women. In fact they managed to cut their odds of developing type 2 diabetes by a third.
Women who engaged in at least 150 minutes a week of aerobic activity and at least an hour a week of muscle-strengthening activities had the most substantial risk reduction compared with inactive women. They cut their odds of developing type 2 diabetes by a third.
It’s already widely documented that exercise can help to cut the risk of a number of diseases including heart disease and some cancers, but this suggests specific weight work can now help to beat diabetes.
Adding resistance programmes to exercise plans already recommended by the NHS will give added protection from the disease.
There are areas in the study which are not watertight - The Harvard Medical School researchers looked only at Caucasian nurses and the study relied on the participants reporting how much exercise they did, rather than it being strictly measured.
It seems that a greater muscle mass acts as a shield against diabetes.
Carrying extra weight greatly increases your chances of getting Type 2 Diabetes, and if you are overweight every kilogram you lose could reduce your risk by up to 15 per cent, according to Diabetes UK.
This training, together with a balanced diet and cardiovascular work could give you the all-round protection you need against a whole host of health issues, not just diabetes.
If you’re new to weight training, here are some female-friendly workouts that you can do quite happily at your local gym:
Press Up – There is a misconception that weight work relies on dumbbells, heavy weights and lifting machines. The humble press up relies on you holding your own bodyweight, which counts as an easy way to do weight baring training. The great thing about press ups is that with no equipment needed, you really can do them anywhere.
Tricep Dip - A chair or low bench is useful for this one. You need to sit with the bench behind you and your hands on the bench. Raise yourself with your legs in front of you and then literally dip your arms until your bottom is nearly touching the ground, then push up again. This one is quite tough on the uninitiated and you’ll really feel the burn!
Low-weight dumbbells- Don’t go crazy looking for massive weights that you’ll damage yourself with. Instead find some dumbbells that feel easy to hold, so when you start lifting them you’ll begin to feel resistance. There are loads of lifting exercises you can do with these, including bicep curl (just lifting the weights up with alternating arms) or by holding your arms outstretched with a weight in each hand.
Calf stretch – Find a staircase and then stand on a step with your feet half off the end of it. Raise yourself up and down, feeling the stretch on your calf muscles. This will burn quite considerably as it’s a muscle not often used in this way, but it will build up the muscle a treat.
Sit-up – A great one for getting toned abs. Simply find a space on the floor, grab a mat, and lie down. Bring your knees up with your feet still on the floor, and then with your hands by your head lift your torso up and towards your knees. It’s important to use your core muscles to do the lifting up, don’t use your back and don’t start doing it with a jerky bouncing movement – it should be a smooth movement.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to take part in strength work, but just a short amount each week to supplement and exercise plan can really help to stave of diabetes and make you feel a whole lot stronger.
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