Nearly a million New Zealanders have contracted Covid since the start of the pandemic. Those who haven’t had it themselves have still been significantly affected. Mother’s Day month is a great time to consider the health and wellbeing of women in the Covid climate.
According to Ministry of Health statistics, women have been disproportionately affected by many of the consequences of Covid. Women make up the majority of our essential support workers – in the health sector, supermarkets and caring roles. Women perform significantly more unpaid work than men, including caring for children and the elderly. Throughout the pandemic, many women have continued with their working responsibilities whilst balancing unpaid caring responsibilities such as looking after sick family members and supervising home schooling. Men are more likely to get standard Covid but women are more likely to suffer long Covid.
This year is going to require continued strength and resilience both physically and mentally. Resistance training exercise is an important activity for women. Resistance training exercise is any activity that builds lean muscle mass to create structural stability. Strong ligaments and tendons support joints and reduce the likelihood of injury during exercise. But you don’t need to be exercising to get injured – many people get injured from the comfort of their own chair. Sitting puts stress on all your postural muscles. If you don’t have adequate muscle tone to support you then your body can adapt to the slumped stance as it’s new normal. This can potentially cause back and neck pain, pulled muscles and tension headaches.
Everyone loses muscle mass at a rate of around 3-5% per decade, but women face additional challenges to structural stability in mid-life. When menopause begins there is a decline in oestrogen, making women vulnerable to a variety of health conditions. Estrogen is needed to help lay down bone, so resistance training is important to rebuild and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Resistance training helps protect against other chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Another benefit of investing in lean muscle mass is the ability to manage body weight more easily. Lean muscle mass is the main determinant of metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn when you are at rest. As lean muscle mass erodes through the middle years of life weight often creeps on. Many women experience a gain of around 1kg per year. Over a decade you can find yourself 10kgs heavier even though you’re moving and eating about the same.
Resistance training also has positive effects on brain function. Some of these cognitive advantages will be from reducing stress, increasing confidence and improving quality and quantity of sleep. But research shows that the benefits of improving blood flow to the brain are far more significant. Weight training has been proven to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s for people at risk, and it can slow the progress of the disease. Alzheimer’s impacts 30% more women than men in New Zealand.
Maintaining lean muscle mass is an important component of health for women of every age. Resistance training just two or three times a week can build a competent, confident body and mind. Being a strong person gives you the independence to look after yourself and the reward that comes from caring for others.