Strong Not Skinny: The Case for Focusing on Strength and Not Appearance
A few years ago, the phrase “strong not skinny” began swirling around social media. It was seen as an empowering battle cry for women of all ages who’ve long felt that to be considered attractive and to be successful in your career you must be very thin. Now, there’s growing evidence that the “strong not skinny” message may have backfired. Women feel just as bad about their body shape and size as they did before; the old pressure to be super-thin is still there, with an extra layer—you now have to look athletic, too.
The Evolution of Strong Not Skinny to a “Fit Ideal”
An ongoing study at Maastricht University shows that women have embraced a more “fit ideal” over the past few years, but that ideal is still distorted by unrealistic images in the media. Every year, half the participants are exposed to the so-called “fit ideal” through images of very athletic and very thin women in the media. The other group sees photos of women who fit the “thin idea”—super-skinny women such as supermodel Kate Moss.
The Struggle for Women
In each case, before and after seeing the images, researchers ask them how they feel at that very moment about their own body image. The findings show that there is no difference between the women seeing the “fit” and “thin” ideals. In both cases, women feel worse about themselves after looking at the test photos showing celebrities with bodies that are hard to achieve and maintain.
Why You Should Focus on Being Strong not Just Skinny
Medical research says functionality, not looks, is where your focus should be, particularly as you age. You should be more concerned with being strong, and all the benefits that come with it, and put less emphasis on the cosmetics. This is not an argument that watching your weight isn’t important. It is. But if you take care of your muscles, they can help you ward off the extra pounds.
The number one fitness genre last year was strength training, according to a company that tracks professional fitness class trends. Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength training is the only proven treatment. Sarcopenia is a major component of the frailty syndrome, which is a strong predictor of disability, hospitalization, and early death in older people. You need to replace that lost muscle to prevent weakness, maintain your physical independence, and fight disease.
Building Strength Offers a Wide Range of Benefits
Strength training has been shown to help reduce high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain cancers. Lifting weights can help you sleep better, be more agile, and improve your mood. Strength training reduces the risk of cancer-related death by 31 percent and the risk of premature death by all causes by 23 percent, according to a study by medical researchers at the University of Sydney School of Public Health.
As you age, your metabolism slows down, making it harder to maintain your weight, and weight-gain increases the chances of developing one or more chronic diseases. Strength training builds muscle, and muscle can burn up to three times more calories than fat does, thus helping you lose weight as you lift weights.
What Should Your Ideal Weight Be?
So, what is your ideal weight? Should it be any different when you’re in your 50s or older? Age doesn’t play a role in determining your recommended healthy weight; it is based on your height, frame size, and gender. For example, a woman who is 5 feet three inches could weigh anywhere from 107 pounds to 135 pounds and still be considered at a healthy weight.
Even being five or 10 pounds overweight isn’t cause for alarm, according to medical researchers. When you start adding 11 to 22 pounds additional pounds, you’re looking at a three-times higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, according to one Harvard Medical study. Your risk goes up even higher when you add more than 22 pounds.
It is, of course, critical that you watch what you eat in order to keep off the additional pounds. Strength training three times a week will make it that much easier.