I am woman, I am strong

For women who have had breast cancer, pumping iron not only builds up the body, but boosts the spirit, according to a study.

Nearly 80 per cent of women who took up twice-a-week weight-training sessions saw improved scores on quality of life, said the study which was published in the journal Cancer.

“This may seem like common sense to most folks, but there’s really been no literature or science where researchers tried to quantify and verify the effect,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

For the study, the exercise regimen consisted of a bi-weekly meetings for a period of three months where personal fitness trainers assisted in the development of a weightlifting regimen. Participants were then encouraged to follow this program for an additional three months. All women had completed successful treatment of breast cancer within the previous three years.

Researchers then asked women questions about physical well-being, marital happiness, sexual activity and other aspects of life.

Women in the exercise group showed a modest improvement over the contr group on these quality of life issues. They also reported more strength, speed and self-confidence as a result of the work-outs.

Researchers said it appeared that weight lifting had helped them regain a feeling of empowerment and control of their bodies.

“The more women improved on bench press, the better they said they felt overall,” said Kathryn Schmitz, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who co-authored the study. “This may be because breast cancer treatment can reduce the ability to lift and carry things.”

Other health benefits of weight lifting

A prior study had linked the exercise of weight lifting to the prevention of diabetes, when Australian researchers found that those who ate a healthy diet and followed a weight lifting program saw blood pressure fall three times further than those who merely dieted. In this study, participants ranged in age from 60 to 80.

Research has also shown that strength training promotes heart health in people with high blood sugar. This is an important benefit since high blood sugar can quadruple the risk of heart disease.

Weight lifting also helps to slow the growth of intra-abdominal fat, prevalent especially among middle-aged women. Compared to women who store fat in their hips and thighs, these women are at higher risk for heart disease.

And a 1994 Tufts University study said the effects of weight training helped to prevent osteoporosis among older women. Lifting weights increases bone density and reduces the risk of fractures.