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Pumping iron!

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but when it comes to losing weight and protecting her overall health, nothing beats a set of dumbbells.

Many women today are getting hip to the fact that weight training isn’t something just for bodybuilders. (And, no, you won’t bulk up like one if you start lifting weights; women just don’t produce enough testosterone for that to happen.)

But what weight training can do is help you develop strong bones, maintain joint health and flexibility, boost your metabolism and stamina and help you get a good night’s rest. It can help you combat body fat—particularly the kind that gathers around your stomach, which has been linked to an increased heart disease risk—and lose weight. Your body naturally burns fewer calories as you age. However, the more toned your muscles are, the more calories they burn.

In addition to the numerous health benefits it provides, weight lifting is also easy to do at home. You don’t need an expensive gym membership and you don’t need traditional dumbbells. You can use homemade weights such as plastic soft-drink bottles filled with water or sand. Elasticlike bands, called resistance bands, that work different muscle groups are another inexpensive option. Other exercises, such as push-ups and squats, use your own body weight.

Getting results

Before you start any new fitness program, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider if you’ve been inactive for awhile or suffer from health conditions such as diabetes.

Once you get the OK, try these tips to help you get the most out of your weight training:

  • Hook up with a trainer or other fitness specialist to learn the proper way to lift weights. You’ll get better results and reduce the risk of an exercise-related injury.
  • Warm up with five to 10 minutes of activity. A brisk walk can help warm up your muscles and get your heart pumping before your weight-training routine.
  • Choose a weight that tires the muscle after 12 repetitions. The weight should be just heavy enough so you can barely complete the move 12 times without causing pain. As you get stronger, gradually increase the amount of weight you lift.
  • Work through the motions in a slow, controlled fashion. Don’t rush!
  • Make sure you breathe! Breathe in as you lower the weight and breathe out as you lift it.
  • Avoid exercising the same muscles two days in a row. Alternate the days you work your upper and lower body.

Start slowly and try to work up to 20- to 30-minute weight-training sessions at least twice a week. With a regular regimen, you’ll notice improvements in your physique in just a few weeks. And, you could see a 50 percent increase in your strength in just six months.