How to Level Up Your Fitness After 40
Going into your 40s, you may notice that it’s starting to take a little more time for you to be able to get out of bed and going about your day-to-day activities may feel like they are sucking up more energy than they used to. You’re not alone because this happens to all of us.
Don’t worry, you can still live a long life and be a totally functional person as you go into your 50s, 60s, and 70s, but you have to know that your 40s may be the most important years of your life. During this decade, your muscles begin to degrade through sarcopenia. In fact, after age 40, muscles can deplete at an approximate rate of 0.5% per year.
Being fit over 40 doesn’t just mean that you have to go to the gym and be harassed by a personal trainer who’s trying to sell you his weight loss program. While weight loss might be one of the things you may be interested, when you are over 40, it is more important that you optimize your quality of life for the next 40 to 60 years.
Finally, we have to talk about healthy eating. As much as you have been able to get away with your indulgences for your first 40 years, you are going to have to be a bit more thoughtful about your nutrition. Yes, you must be more of an adult when it comes to your eating habits, but don’t think that you have to completely abandon your indulgences.
The Most Important Years
What makes a person’s 40s the most important years of his/her life? The research indicates that measurable decreases of muscle mass and strength starts to become more prevalent for individuals over 40 (Yazar & Yazar, 2019). Moreover, extended inactivity can accelerate the rate of muscle depletion, which mean that fitness and good nutrition has a far more important role for the over 40 crowd.
A consistent fitness and healthy eating program plays a far more critical role in one’s 40s than at any other time of that person’s life up to this point. Although the statistics of heart disease affecting 20- and 30-year olds has grown in recent years, we consistently see a sizable growth in diagnoses beginning to happen during the fourth decade of a person’s life. This has much to do with years of low physical activity and poor eating habits. Luckily, in a person’s 40s, they are still young enough to increase physical activity, as well as breaking old habits and adopting new ones.
Being fit over 40 doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to look like some of the social media fitness influencers with amazing physiques — instead of thinking about these folks as the standard, just think of them as the exception. The first step towards being fit over 40 is to get yourself accustomed to working out consistently. Picture reaching your fitness goals as if you were building a giant pyramid by laying one brick at a time. As much as you would like to reach your fitness goals overnight, just like with building the pyramid, trying to rush things might lead you to overlook important details that inadvertently yields weaknesses in the foundation.
If a weight loss plan is needed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases when a person is in their 40s, seeking a fitness program that is enjoyable enough to do consistently can be a major game changer in the process. The very same goes to a weight loss diet plan — it is only as effective as it is enjoyable. The question one might have may go “I know I need to be consistent, but how do I find these things?” The answer — try out the activities and diets for yourself, and give yourself at least one week to get a glimpse of each before totally diving in head first. If you’re not looking for weight loss, the same applies to you!
Finding the Fitness Program for You
As I mentioned earlier, finding an effective fitness program for those over 40 is an important step that can dictate the path of their senior years.
To be fit over 40, you have to be realistic about your goals and capabilities. For example, being a former collegiate rower, as much as I would like to pull with the same power I did while in college, it’s not going to happen and I have to be willing to accept this fact. Besides being older, I’m also not training as vigorously as I did in crew practice (if you’ve never rowed before, I can promise you that these practices were absolutely brutal!).
For men over 40, it is normal for us to see the young guys at the gym and wanting to lift as much, if not more, than they’re lifting. The number one thing that you have to remind yourself before starting any kind of workout program is to check your ego at the door. I don’t have the actual statistics on this one, but I guarantee that a sizable chunk of a chiropractor’s and sports injury doctor’s business is coming from weekend warriors that thought they could still do what they once did.
Losing weight can be a breeze for a 20-year old, however it is anything but for most over 40. Having a well drawn-out weight loss plan, or general health and wellness plan, can pay huge dividends. As the saying goes, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail”; in other words, having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and plotting out a path to get there is the most effective way to make it happen.
Engaging in weight training can be a huge benefit for someone looking to be fit over 40. As I have mentioned it before, after age 40, muscle mass begins to deplete at an approximate rate of 0.5% per year, and the rate increases in each passing decade. While lifting weights is not going to completely eliminate the muscle depletion process (aka sarcopenia), as the researchers from Hurst et al. (2022) put it, “resistance exercise is recommended as the first-line treatment for counteracting the deleterious consequences of sarcopenia in older adults.”
As far as the proper workout program for those over 40, there isn’t one template format that can be applied to everyone. Personally, I am biased towards lifting weights and using the rowing machine for cardio, meanwhile others may prefer hiking, Zumba, or pilates. The most important things when it comes to exercise selection is that they present some level of a challenge and that you will do consistently, at least 2-3 times a week.
Why Nutrition is So Important After 40
When it comes to the nutrition, to be fit over 40, it is important that you know you can still indulge in your favorite foods, snacks, and drinks without compromising your health, just as long as it is in moderation. Gone are the days where you could eat out every day without gaining a pound because you’re not a kid anymore. By adopting the 80/20 strategy, in which you plan your meals for the week and 80% of your meals are healthy, while the remaining 20% you can indulge in whatever you want. In other words, let’s say you eat your three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and have two snacks, and that totals up to 35 eating opportunities throughout the week. With the 80/20 strategy, 7 of the 35 eating opportunities in that week, you are allowed to indulge!
Here’s the great thing about those over 40 that adopted the 80/20 strategy during their weight loss journey — after a couple weeks, most clients who successfully lost weight loved the way they felt when eating healthy for those 80% of the meals so much that they often bypassed their opportunities to indulge. Some of these folks said that while they still liked to have their cheat meals or snacks, it often led them towards feeling groggy and bloated; in comparison, these same clients reported feeling more energetic and sharper when they ate healthy.
As I tell my clients, as much as I would love living in a perfect world where I gave them a weight loss or general health diet plan and they followed it verbatim and without question, that is not reality. The 80/20 strategy can be a great way to ween someone over 40 off eating garbage food all of the time because it introduces them to healthier eating habits without being overly restrictive. Nevertheless, I have had some clients whose diets, prior to working with them, relied almost entirely on fast food for reasons like traveling all the time for work or a lack of time, in which I even went so far to modifying it from 80/20 to 50/50, then every other week, I would increase the healthy eating by 5% until we got to 80/20. One of these clients that started at 50/50 now practices 90/10, and occasionally 95/5.
As far as protein consumption for those over 40, it becomes far more important because of the risk of muscle depletion that starts taking place as we age. While the RDA recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, it can be argued that after age 40, protein consumption may have to be higher than that. In fact, Houston et al. (2008) compared test subjects in their 70s, in which one group consumed 0.8 g/kg/d and the other group 1.1 g/kg/d. These researchers found that after three years, the high protein group lost 40% less lean mass than the RDA standard group!
Protein consumption is not only beneficial to salvaging people over 40 from losing muscle mass as they age, but because of its satiety, it can be an important piece to effective weight loss transformations and general weight management. When one is satiated, the less likely he is to overeat or snack uncontrollably! While the RDA standard of 0.8 g/kg/d should be looked at as the bare minimum for protein consumption, recommendations for those over 40 tend to range from 1.0 to as much as 2.2 g/kg/d, but it is important that you keep your goals and needs in mind when it comes to protein consumption — in other words, if you are mostly sedentary, you probably don’t need 2.2 g/kg/d.
I don’t know about you, but it sounds almost surreal to hear myself say that I’m 40. While for some people, weight loss may be the first step to get taken care of to be healthy in their senior years, just focusing on general health and wellness in their 40s can be hugely beneficial. By taking it one step at a time and making small changes each day/week/month, you can reduce the risk of having an uncomfortable doctor’s visit in the future. Cheers to your journey to being fit over 40!