the author at 65 Julia Hubbel

Why it might well save your health and improve your life

Yesterday I read an article from a woman who began weightlifting a while back and who has been enjoying some of the many benefits you and I can garner from this useful activity.

Granted…until further notice, those of us who are dedicated gym pigs (my hand is up) are roped off for now, but give it time. This woman was making some good arguments for why anyone might want to start. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here is her piece:

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Lift Weights As A Woman
Mental and physical benefits of traditional strength training

I penned a long response which I realized was another article. This one. Here’s my primary motivation: I really want to dispel some of the ridiculous myths that surround the business of lifting weights, especially for women, although this really speaks to us all. To wit:

First, that you going to swiftly end up looking a female Arnold. Will you PLEASE.

Not only is this is silly, but I can guarantee you that after 46 years of very dedicated lifting, as long as you steer clear of drugs, and I most certainly do, this is highly unlikely. Even so, to get real bulk requires years, dedication, and also the kind of body that responds that way. It helps to be short and squat. I have lifted massive weights at times in my life, and what it did was make me strong. Not huge. I built some size on my body but nothing like what folks love to point to as an excuse to avoid lifting. This is likely the single biggest and most pervasive lie about lifting out there. Balderdash.

This is true: The truth is, regularly lifting moderate or heavy weight will build lean muscle, fill out, define, and firm the physique, and provide an extensive list of health benefits.

Second: Weight lifting does nothing for my health.

Oy. That’s classic. You can reduce your chances of an early death by up to 46% if you lift. From that linked article:

Strength training can keep you active and independent in your golden years, says study author Jennifer Kraschnewski, M.D. Not only does it strengthen your muscles, resulting in better stamina and balance, but it also increases your bone density.

Together, those factors reduce your risk for falls and fractures — major causes of disability for older people. (author bolded)

Even better? Here’s the kicker: “Older adults have the ability to achieve strength similar to those decades younger by engaging in simple strength training routines,” says Dr. Kraschnewski.

I can’t improve on that. I live it. At 67, after nearly fifty years, lifting has done extraordinary things for my balance, body confidence and overall strength. Some dimwit who saw the above photo accused me of taking steroids. My drug of choice is codeine, for serious, life-threatening injuries. Outside that, the only other drug I take is caffeine. With cream, thanks. Oh. Wait. I forgot. My other drug is chocolate almonds…okay, and Krispy Kreme hot donuts….

Third: I have to have special expensive food to lift weights.

Really? Funny. I eat pretty much what most folks eat if they care about their bodies (except for the donuts and almonds). That varies among all of us, and is as unique as a footprint. I don’t use supplements, special shakes or anything else. None of it. Most of it you discharge anyway as it’s not much use. Find a good nutritionist, figure out what YOUR body needs. Period. End of story.

Fourth: Cardio is the ONLY way to lose weight and get fit.

Kindly will you get OFF it. This is not an either or. Both types of exercise are beneficial. And if I may, exercising is not a weight loss program.

D’ya mind if I call that out one more time?

Exercising on its own IS NOT a weight loss program.

The science is in: exercise won't help you lose much weight
We've been conditioned to think of exercise as a key ingredient - perhaps the most important ingredient - of any weight…

Both weights and cardio will get you fitter.


You will not drop size until you overhaul your lifestyle program, but that’s another article entirely. Even that may not work if you can’t sustain it for the rest of your life. I have. I dumped some 85+ lbs back in 1987 and it’s been gone since. That is hard damned work. The older I get the more challenging it is cause I need less calories now than at 31 when I started. I work incredibly hard to be fit- it’s not something I can quit. It’s a daily, regular, constant set of habits. I allow myself treats, but not often and not for long. It’s too hard to get back what I lose.

Still, it’s not about thin. It’s about fit. Functional fitness.

From the above Inside Hook piece:

Bill Quick, a NASM certified personal trainer with 40 years of experience in weightlifting, points out, speeding metabolism due to more muscle is one of the many perks. Not only does weightlifting burn calories, but the more lean muscle you build, the more fat you are burning, even when in a resting state. Implementing both weights AND cardio will provide your body benefits for all systems.

Which means that ALL our organs work better. I would recommend the incredibly intelligent reporting by Medium peep Shin Jie Yong, who explores all kinds of issues from microbiome and exercise to how overeating affects our immune systems. Very smart work and excellent reading. Our bodies’ microbiome works more efficiently with exercise. EVERYTHING does.

From my own experience: the combination of both regular cardio- which builds my lungs and heart, AND weight lifting, which builds my muscles, has made all the difference. The more muscle, the more efficient the healing, the more efficient the calorie use. It’s about balancing. The body does best with variety. We are designed to both move and use our muscles.

I want functional fitness so that I can be fully in life. Fully in life. What that means to you is completely different. For some people, and this is totally legitimate, it means being able to get back up off the living room floor after playing with Legos with the grandkids. I’m not making fun of anyone. That is very real. A great many people cannot do that even in their fifties.

Fifth. If I just do X I’ll get a six-pack. In three weeks.

Folks, we all have that sixpack. It’s everyone’s abs under the fat. EVERYONE has that. The only way you get to see it is if: you’re born that way, you are willing to suffer greatly to starve yourself to that point and endanger your health along the way, or you’re a professional, and it’s part of your job, which I might posit isn’t a whole lot of fun. For them, maybe, but if you didn’t sign up for that kind of daily, endless discipline, let it go already. I have on occasion seen mine, but you wouldn’t want my workout program.

What kind of body do you have?

The body tends to fall into several categories: mesomorph, endomorph, ectomorph. Some have a combination. How we respond to weight training (as in, can I get cut up? will I bulk up?) depends a great deal on where the body holds its fat, what you eat (85% of what we look like) and how you lift and how often.

Here’s a good piece to explain this:

The 3 Body Types, Explained
Most of us can slot our overall build into one of three general categories (recognizing that there are a wide variety…

How tall you are, your individual proclivity to develop muscle, how often you lift and how heavy you lift all play into it. As with all things, it depends. My ex-husband was a national champion gymnast. His part-Guamaian island heritage dictated that his 2% body fat sat right under the skin, keeping him smooth. His coach was brutal about what he couldn’t help by genetics.

Weights, which can be translated to simple body weight exercises or small hand-held weights, or just using your kitchen counter to do pushups and triceps work are all essential parts of overall health. You don’t want your mother’s underarm tricep wings? Weight work. Want to able to launch yourself out of your easy chair? Squats. Weight work.

Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

You don’t have to choose to do what I do in order to want strength. But here’s one piece. Since I turned 60 I have undertaken some 40 major expeditions all over the world. Some of them have involved very serious injuries, including breaking my back in eight places (horse) having my ribs kicked in and my shoulder stomped (horse) falling down stairs (just being stupid) and smashing my pelvis. Every. Single. Time. I got up and walked to safety. Every single time I was able to get away from the danger. And in a few weeks, back at the gym, on the horse, whatever. And every single time the doctor said that had I not been in that kind of shape I’d have been dead or a quadriplegic.

That is what being fit gets me. Okay, in trouble, but I get out of it in one piece.

I happen to love adventure travel and I have no intention of stopping. That means I have to work extra hard to be able to withstand significant injury or challenges. The side benefits are pretty good. I have more energy and enthusiasm than most people I know. I LOVE being alive. Some days I ache all over but warming up makes it go away. One good kickboxing session makes my whole day, and then I use weights all day long while in quarantine to break up the monotony of being inside too long.

I am no professional athlete. I’m simply determined. Pig-headed enough to keep after it and disciplined enough to know when to put the chocolate almonds away. Motivated enough to want my body to serve me for a very long time and along the way provide me with options as I age as opposed to reasons for why I can’t climb those three stairs, or can’t walk that 500 feet or whatever.

Look. I’m not addressing disability. I have a few of my own. But when you and I have working limbs, I struggle to comprehend how it serves us to come up with a million excuses when some of the folks who do work out are in wheelchairs, or they are missing limbs.

I recently and respectfully took a much younger woman of size to task in an article wherein she made this breathtakingly inaccurate claim :

What is the reason for body building, body slimming, body sculpting? It is to impress other people.

Not only is this incredibly misinformed, it is nothing more than one person’s badly skewed opinion offered as fact. She has her right to her opinion. But she is dead wrong to make such a statement that every single one of us who is the gym is there to “impress.”

I might suggest that she check in with my 80-year old Medium buddy Helen Cassidy Page about this idea about “impressing other people” at the gym. My take? Based on what I read, Helen seems to want stronger bones, a stronger body and better fitness. Neither this 67 yo lifter nor that 80 yo lifter shows up and punches weights just to show off. We just want to keep on showing UP. It feels good, it keeps us vital.

Shall I repeat from the above?

“….reduce your risk for falls and fractures — major causes of disability for older people.”

You’re damned right we lift. And at some point I can guarantee you it doesn’t have anything whatsoever with trying to impress anyone.

It keeps us FIT. It reduces our vulnerability. It gives us joy in our movement. Keeps us out of hospitals and doctors offices for lifestyle-related illnesses. Do I really need to continue?

Fit isn’t thin. Fit isn’t skinny. FIT is FIT.

Any size, any age, any gender, any body type.

Weights help you and me get FIT. How far we take that, what it does for us is individual. Weight work, the way I see it, is a means to an end, to help us feel better. What I use it for is different from what you might use it for, but I guarantee you that I don’t lift just to go parading around showing off my striated shoulders. Nope. I use them in my work. On more than one occasion those striated shoulders saved my goddamned life.

Given that as a tall, thin white chick I am the poster child for osteoporosis, weight work isn’t negotiable. It’s a prescription.

There is nothing like having real body confidence in life, as you and I age, and as we inevitably diminish. Age-related muscle loss or sarcopenia begins in our twenties and gets worse as we age, as does lung capacity. You and I can slow that process way, way down with weight work and an aerobic program.

I could go on, but you get the point. Strong for strength’s sake isn’t the point, at least for me. It’s not a competition. It’s about confidence. It’s about quality of life, not quantity of muscle bulk. It’s about being in life in full, not being subject to unnecessary health issues or problems. It’s about training for my eighties and beyond.

Working with weights is a gift to our health. If that’s brag worthy for you, have at it. For my part, I just need to be able to pull myself up a tree as quickly as possible when and if certain large, toothy mammals happen to make a sudden appearance.

Photo by Francesco De Tommaso on Unsplash