FITNESS OVER 40: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START
Yes you really do need exercise for looking and feeling good and coping with the menopause.
If you are desperate to tackle your post-40 “middle age spread”, banish that thought. It is true that hitting mid life means we become more susceptible to hormonal fluctuations and our metabolism slows down leading to unintentional weight gain – despite no massive changes in diet or exercise. But you can’t target that middle age spread or any other area – if you cut calories the areas you lose weight from will depend on your body type. So instead focus on a whole body approach.
Some cut carbs to look good and lose weight, but in fact carbs are essential fuel to any good fitness programme. Don’t start cutting things out of your diet. Your body is changing and needs to be properly nourished to cope with the changes with mental clarity – so it isn’t working against itself.
Exercise might be the last thing on your mind (especially if you are menopausal) but I urge you to see turning 40 as a renewed need to focus on being healthy. You can be forgiven if this is new to you. Growing up in an era when we didn’t really understand the benefits of fitness, exercise was something we just had to endure at school which means it’s not necessarily a habit we’ve carried through into adulthood. If you’ve relied on your youth and your body’s ability to spring back, you’re certainly not alone.
But once you lose muscle mass and skin elasticity, it springs back no more. You can of course rebuild muscle mass but it will be harder. Exercise becomes as much about feeling well as looking good. This life stage is the time to make healthy lifestyle changes and not only eat right but to exercise right.
The good news is, it’s never too late to start on fitness. Having a good foundation and strong muscles, good functionality and mobility will allow you to lead a more active life and be more confident, to look and feel your best. To mitigate the symptoms of the menopause, have more energy and balance your moods. Combining a healthy diet with cardio and strength training will give you a wonderful balance and build a long lasting relationship with fitness that will carry you through feeling positive and strong well into your 70’s. No excuses – let’s do this.
1) What type of exercise?
It’s important to make sure you are doing the right types of exercise for you and your changing body. If you haven’t found something that keeps you motivated and inspired, now is the time to find your “I can’t live without” workout. Exercise helps reduce stress by increasing the endorphins in the body so finding something that makes you happy is key.
This is also the time to introduce resistance/weights to sessions. I don’t mean body building, but building some muscle strength. Improving your body efficiency through functional training exercise will help you carry out daily activities safely and reduce your risk of injury. As we age our bone density will decrease and by loading your bones with weight you will increase muscle mass and help prevent the early onset of osteoporosis.
2) How often?
I would aim to be physically active every day, with 2-3 weighted sessions in your weekly workouts and two more that are cardio-based (running, power walking, swimming, cycling). I would also absolutely recommend adding pilates or yoga for added strength and mobility, increasing muscle mass. All go towards building lean muscle and strengthening bones.
The NHS suggests 150 minutes of moderate intensity workouts a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intense activity if you are already active. My recommendation is 30-35 mins of exercise a day for five days a week. And don’t forget that rest is equally important. Your body needs to heal and it helps you avoid injury.
If you are starting out I would seek advice from a professional on getting started. Whatever activity you choose it’s important to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down and to break up long periods of not moving with some activity.
3) Where to start?
There are so many brilliant home workouts available if you are uncomfortable going to a gym. So look to social media and find a trainer you can connect with, someone who understands your needs at 40 plus. See Jo Wicks workouts on Youtube. Or try my beginners workout on Instagram @katerh_fitness.
Spinning, jogging, walking and swimming are all wonderful ways of raising the heart rate and adding some intensity to your week. Resistance bands are excellent if you don’t want to try hand weights to add some strength gains to your workouts. Or wear ankle weights to add a little density to your walk.
Words: Kate Rowe-Hamm, personal trainer.