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Fitness in your 40s

By: Jennifer Dorcy

Aging is not fun or glamorous. We all know it happens and yet, somehow, it sneaks up on us.


One day you have boundless energy, you ‘miraculously’ recover from tough workouts, the calories that you eat just ‘disappear’, and working the day after a night out with friends can be done successfully on three hours of sleep.


Then, seemingly overnight, it all changes.


Now you wake up with neck pain that lasts three days because you slept ‘wrong’. Suddenly you have to make choices like:

  • Do I lose sleep to watch the game (of Thrones) and show up as a shell of a human for work tomorrow?

  • Was it a good idea to agree to help your child move when now, a week later, you can still barely get out of your chair?

  • Do I take the stairs and let everyone witness me floundering for air like a fish out of water, or take the elevator?

  • Should I eat this CINNABON® CINNAMON SWIRL CHEESECAKE or just rub it directly onto my thighs?

We can’t stop aging. However, we can slow down the process. There are things within our control to keep, or make, our bodies strong and healthy again. No, you can’t turn the clock back to your actual 20’s (personally I wouldn’t want to go back there), but you can ‘feel’ like you are in your 20’s or 30’s again. It isn’t magic; it’s exercise. And not hours and hours of back-breaking, powerlifting, body-building style exercise. It is realistic, reasonable exercise that everyone can do to help them become healthier versions of themselves.


Finding joy in workouts

A recent study showed that cardio workouts can even be fun. In one 16-week study participants took an hour-long Zumba Fitness® class 3 times per week. Barranco-Ruiz et al. found that it was an effective strategy for improving health-related physical fitness in sedentary women. The participants all got healthier by dancing.

Find a dance-focused class near you, and soon you'll be running up those stairs, with no worry about floundering for air! You'll find it gets easier with time, and the socialization from group exercise promises to benefit your mental health, too.

If not now, then when? (Still now)

“Some data suggests that peak muscle strength in early life is a very strong predictor of preserved strength later in life,” says Roger Fielding, Ph.D., a lead scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. Among the numerous studies involving younger women and resistance training, he says, “the improvement in muscle mass is probably a bit larger than it is in older women.”


So, the sooner you start weight training, the greater your strength can be, and the less muscle you will lose as you age. Our bodies might feel like they don't need to workout at 21, but starting earlier will benefit your muscles in the long run.


But if you haven’t started yet, there's still time. Tufts University conducted a study on women in their 50’s and 60’s using a full-body, twice-weekly workout. The results after a year showed that the average muscle mass increase was almost 3 pounds; the strength gains ranged between 35-76%. The researchers theorized this effectively made their bodies 15 to 20 years younger in a single year.


So, regardless of your age, let’s get moving! (And then splurge on that CINNABON® CINNAMON SWIRL CHEESECAKE.)


Healthy at any age

There are a myriad of other ‘anti-aging’ benefits that accompany regular exercise routines. A long-term study conducted by sports scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) found that people who lead active lifestyles are around 10 years younger in terms of motor skills. For example, a 50-year-old who exercises regularly is as fit as an inactive 40-year-old. With that level of fitness, you could help your son move and still be able to get out of that chair! (Although, do you really want to help anyone move?)

If you combine cardiovascular activities with your strength training routine and a healthy diet, then you get your metabolism going, keep/take the weight off, reduce menopausal symptoms, lower blood pressure, and lower bad cholesterol. Being physically fit and active also helps to fight depression and promote better sleeping patterns. This translates to delaying or preventing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate activities such as walking or raking leaves can help to achieve these types of benefits. Sedentary behavior and physical inactivity are among the leading modifiable risk factors worldwide for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

"Before Magic Cream, she was my grandma!"

Now if I offered you a Magic Cream guaranteed to make you healthier and probably decrease your body fat. Would you buy it? Ask the beauty industry, and it's a firm YES!


Well, here’s how the Cream works:

  1. Use it Monday through Friday.

  2. Use it either in three 10-minute sessions or one 30-minute session.


... okay, that was a joke, but is almost that simple. Study after study shows that daily cardio and twice-weekly full-body strength training leads to measurable changes in participants' health. These changes lead to younger internal body clocks which translates to stronger bones, improved heart health, increased mental health, weight gain prevention, decreased cognitive decline, and a healthier, longer life. Honestly, who wouldn’t buy that?!

So, why aren't we doing it?

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the adoption of a physically active lifestyle has remained low due to various reasons: personal barriers associated with perceived limitations in self-efficacy, lack of time, and misconceptions of the volume of exercise necessary for cardiovascular health benefits. Despite the evidence supporting the cardiovascular benefits of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity performed even in bouts of at least 10 minutes, the level of adherence of the general population to the guidelines remains unacceptably low. (See Lavie et. al.)


Let’s look at those barriers and try to find a solution.

  1. Self-efficacy – Hire a personal trainer, or take group exercise classes. Having others to support you can be a positive effect, especially when you don't believe in yourself.

  2. Time – Schedule your health into your day; this is a non-starter. If you do not make time for your health, then it will not make time for you. I guarantee you the time required for the diseases that you acquire later will be much more time-consuming and costly than exercise.

  3. Misconceptions – I hope we just covered those here. If you aren’t doing anything now, then start small with just 10 minutes per day and build up from there. Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise.


You can't ignore a whole list of pluses

Here are some of the benefits of exercise we've covered:

  • Keeps bones strong

  • Prevent muscle loss (we lose ~3-5% muscle each decade starting in 30’s and ~1% muscle loss per year after 40)

  • Improved heart health

  • Increase in mental health

  • A University of Maryland School of Nursing Study showed exercise gave participants “an overall sense of well-being and psychologically felt better with less depression and more energy.”

  • Prevent weight gain

  • Can help to manage stress

  • Can help manage the symptoms of menopause

  • The right types of exercises can delay (or even prevent) cognitive decline, which is a common result of aging

  • According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “Exercise improves cognitive [memory] function in older adults with subjective and objective mild cognitive impairment. The benefits of physical activity were apparent after 6 months and persisted for at least another 12 months after [our study] had been discontinued.”

  • Improve physical function and decrease the risk of falls.

  • Live a longer, healthier life

  • According to the CDC, People who are active ~150 minutes a week decrease their risk of all-cause mortality by about 33% when compared to inactive individuals. (that’s 30 minutes per day, 5 times per week)

  • Benefits start with any amount of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity. So, three 10-minute sessions of moderate-intensity walking are the same as the 30 minutes straight.

So, do you still want to buy that Magic Cream?


Works Cited

  1. Barranco-Ruiz Y, Villa-González E. Health-Related Physical Fitness Benefits in Sedentary Women Employees after an Exercise Intervention with Zumba Fitness®. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(8):2632. Published 2020 Apr 11. doi:10.3390/ijerph17082632

  2. Lavie C.J., Ozemek C., Carbone S., Katzmarzyk P.T., Blair S.N. Sedentary behavior, exercise, and cardiovascular health. Circ. Res. 2019;124:799–815. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.312669.

About the Author

Jennifer is a mother of 2 and a high-school science teacher, specializing in biology and environmental science, with 20 years of health and fitness experience. With a Master's in Education and a passion for exercise and cooking, she enjoys sharing the positive effects of a healthy lifestyle with others. You can find her posting gorgeous food shots on Instagram @thehungryplantbasedathlete, and vote for her to be on the cover of Ms Health and Fitness every day until October 31st here.

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