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Strong Women Stay Young

May 2005, Vol. 10, No. 1
ISSN 1540 5273

Reviewed by Jacquelyn W. McClelland, Ph.D., North Carolina State University.

Strong Women Stay Young, Miriam E. Nelson and Sarah Wernick. New York: Bantam Books, 2000, 270 pp.

As we age past midlife many of us seem to slow down and have more aches and pains. We experience changes in our bodies that leave us with less strength, vitality, balance, muscle, and energy, and more fat and flab. It becomes harder to keep off unwanted weight even though we are eating less. Exercise and sports activities are enjoyed less and less. We eventually even find ourselves less sure of our 'footing' and more prone to falls and feelings of frailty.

Many people believe these changes are an inevitable part of getting older. However, the authors of the book, Strong Women Stay Young, report that while aging plays a role, physical inactivity is a major contributing factor and one for which we can do something. They say strength training is the key to being stronger, feeling younger and being more vigorous.

Strong Women Stay Young was written to help people, especially women, 'turn back the clock' by participating in two 30-minute sessions a week as a part of a scientifically proven (research-based) strength-training program. This program can be done at home without costly equipment or in a gym. Participants in the strength-training program have replaced fat with muscle, reversed bone loss, and improved energy and balance. The book is a revised edition of the original Strong Women Stay Young that was based on solid, albeit small, studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This newer version was written in response to questions from readers and newer information concerning strength training effects. Published in 2000, it includes:

The book is organized into 4 chapters in which the authors cover what strength training can accomplish, the process of making behavior change, how to safely do strength training, and how to continue a lifetime of fitness.

In chapter one, the authors begin by explaining the problems that people face and what strength training can do to alleviate those problems. They discuss the value of strength training for improving balance, lowering risk of falling, improving strength and increasing bone density. They explain the research behind their statements and debunk myths associated with strength training. They also include in-depth discussions about nutrition and the pros and cons of taking supplements, hormone replacement therapy, and other medications for preventing or treating osteoporosis. The information is practical and research-based, however knowledge has increased since the publication of the book and, thus, some of the information such as that concerning medications, needs updating. For the strength training alone though the book is worth reading. Engaging in strength training does something no osteoporosis medication can, it reduces the risk of falling by improving balance and strength, both of which are needed in later life and add to positive health outcomes. Balance starts to decline as people enter their forties even though it happens so slowly we can't see it. If we do nothing to counter the subtle changes, we will have obvious diminished balance by our seventies and eighties which may lead to falls and injury. The authors offer a balance test to help you rate yourself in the area of balance.

In chapter two, the authors discuss the stages one goes through to change behavior and the equipment needed for working out. They explain the theory behind behavior change and the 5 stages of change (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance). Some people move quickly through each of these stages while others get bogged down and stay at a stage or quit. The authors suggest ways to motivate yourself and to eliminate obstacles when struggling to continue. The authors explain that you don't need to join a gym or buy costly equipment or weight machines because you can get the same benefits from a strength-training program done at home with inexpensive equipment. They give a detailed description of the equipment that is needed (ankle weights, dumbbells) and suggest numerous vendors. They also recommend having a container to store the weights, a sturdy chair, a towel, and comfortable clothes for the workout.

The third chapter covers the workout program. It introduces the basics for safe workouts, explains eight exercises with fully illustrated instructions, shows how to create a program tailored to individual needs, and gives suggestions for staying on track.

The fourth and final chapter provides additional strengthening exercises, a complete program to do at a gym, important information concerning hiring a personal trainer, general pointers about home gym equipment, a section for strength training for men and selected questions and answers about strength training.

The book is well organized, complete with all the practical and technical information needed by the layperson to do strength training and is also easy to read. Throughout the book there are positive and inspiring quotes from women aged 35 to 92 who have used this program to improve their strength and fitness. The only weaknesses that I found include the fact that the book was published in the year 2000 and needs up-dating in certain areas where the science has changed and the fact that the authors are so detailed and complete in their discussions that you may feel that you are never going to get to the actual information about the exercises. However by the time you get there you have learned a great deal about the body and your needs for strength training.

These concerns notwithstanding, Strong Women Stay Young is an important and compelling contribution to the field of public health education. It offers practical information for anyone who wants to ensure that they stay strong and fit. It is extremely practical and flexible so that, given a little effort, anyone should be able to develop their own personalized workout by following this book. I highly recommend it not only to Extension Educators who are involved in this specific area of health promotion and education but also to anyone interested in finding ways to strengthen their bones and improve their quality of life. It is my hope that the authors will consider writing a new revised version to update the latest scientific information and that they will continue to give all the necessary details for a safe and beneficial workout.

Reviewer

Jacquelyn W. McClelland, Ph.D.
Professor, Nutrition, Extension Specialist
Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
North Carolina State University

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