Maybe you’re not sure how to start lifting weights for a full-body workout. Or maybe you think you’d have to spend hours at the gym or bench press a hundred pounds to gain benefits. But lifting light weights is different from heavy lifting, which involves lifting the heaviest weight you can to make muscles bigger. “Light lifting is a type of resistance training that improves strength and preserves lean body mass,” says Brook Benten, personal trainer and co-author of Lift Light, Get Lean: 28-Day Weight Training Plan for Safe and Easy Weight Loss. “You’ll lift lighter weights for a number of repetitions, then take a break. This increases muscle endurance, which is what helps you perform daily tasks such as carrying grocery bags or doing yard work more easily.”
Obviously, “light” is subjective: What feels light to one person isn’t the same for someone else. “The weight you use should be light enough so that you can perform about 12 to 15 reps before your muscle becomes exhausted,” says Benten. “Typically, that’s between five to eight pounds for most women, though it’s fine to start lighter.” Even better? Light lifting also can be done anywhere, indoors or out, and you only need a basic set of dumbbells to get started.
As with heavy lifting, focusing on technique is critical. “The key is that if you’re using good form and lifting to the point of fatigue, you will likely feel stronger after just a few weeks,” says Keli Roberts, American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer. “Doing light lifting several times a week should be your goal, and don’t skip a warmup, which is increasingly important as we get older.”
Ahead, learn more about the full-body benefits of light lifting:
You can lower body fat.
Aging slows the metabolism and makes it easier to gain body fat, especially around the waist and hips. But regular light lifting, along with regular cardiovascular exercise and healthful eating, can build lean muscle mass, says Benten. With consistent light lifting, your body will look leaner and more toned, and your clothes will fit better.
You’ll preserve muscle mass.
There’s no way around it: “Starting in your 30s, if you’re not growing stronger, you’re losing muscle mass,” says Roberts. “And with lost muscle mass, body fat starts to creep up.” In fact, muscle mass decreases 3 to 8 percent per decade after age 30, and at an even faster pace after age 60. Light lifting can slow the decline.
You can improve bone density.
Perimenopausal and post-menopausal women are at higher risk for osteoporosis due to declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. But using weights encourages cells to form new bone to offset age-related declines in bone mineral density. “Activities like walking are great, but that doesn’t do anything for the bones in the upper body, which also need resistance training to stay strong,” says Roberts.
You’ll feel better.
Exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin, which reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. And you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment every time you complete a workout. “But don’t beat yourself up if miss a day,” says Benten. “Applaud yourself for what you did accomplish, and get back on track. One missed day doesn’t have to become three missed days.”
You can improve core strength and balance.
Light weights can help build your core to make it easier to maintain good posture and protect your body against falls due to sudden changes in movement, such as if you sidestep to try to avoid a crack in the sidewalk. “Ultimately, lifting helps you gain more muscle, which is what keeps you young and independent,” says Roberts.
Arricca Elin SanSone has written about health and lifestyle topics for Prevention, Country Living, Woman's Day, and more. She’s passionate about gardening, baking, reading, and spending time with the people and dogs she loves.
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