Our bodies change as we get older — and so should our fitness routines. Women over 40 need to focus on building muscle, keeping muscle, reducing stress, and getting sleep. Here are the top seven things you need to think about.
Weight Training, Weight Training, Weight Training
Women lose up to 5 percent of their lean muscle tissue per year starting as early as their 30s. Couple that with an increase in body fat due to hormonal changes, and maintaining a healthy weight can be a losing battle. Many older women are intimidated by weight training or make the mistake of thinking more cardio will make them thinner. Too much cardio, however, can backfire, breaking down muscle and leaving you looking flabby. The truth is, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest and the less your skin will sag.
So pick up some weights (and not those puny 3-pound things, either). Take fitness classes that incorporate weights, use weight-training videos at home, or have a trainer set up a strength-training program just for you.
High-Intensity Interval Training
That said, you still need to do cardio. But, like most things when you are over 40, it’s complicated. The trick is to train smarter, not harder. We all know that woman who spends an hour on the treadmill and then hits a spin class but her body never changes.
High-intensity interval training is not just the buzziest workout of the year, it’s an incredibly effective way to burn fat. The cardio-based workouts are short (20 to 30 minutes) but tough. Basically, they work like this: For beginners, choose any cardio exercise and, after warming up, do an easy pace for 90 seconds. Then go all out — as hard as you possibly can — for 30 seconds. Repeat that cycle 8 to 10 times. A more advanced participant would start with an easy pace for 60 seconds or 30 seconds and add that 30-second full-out effort.
You need to do at least two HITT workouts per week. On one or two days per week that you don’t do HITT, a 45-minute low-intensity cardio session, such as a spin class or a long walk or jog, will tap into other fat stores.
In order to build and keep muscle, your body needs protein. The USDA recommends that women over the age of 19 get at least .37 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 130-pound woman should get at least 48 grams of protein each day. So, if you love salad, eat it — but add fish or chicken to it. Eat some form of protein at every meal and get some in snack form too.
For most women, the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is a diet high in protein, with a moderate amount of fat and only a few carbohydrates.
As humans age, our lower backs begin to weaken and fat begins to accumulate around our middles. A strong core helps prevent injury, and core work, in combination with a good diet, can reduce belly fat. Every woman is different, but most should focus on core work at least three days a week. And we’re not talking about sit-ups or crunches, ladies. Forget those. Focus instead on plank exercises, work on a stability ball, do ab work with a medicine ball, or take TRX classes. For best results, find a fitness trainer or look online for core-training videos.
Yoga and Meditation
A regular yoga practice — even once a week — is beneficial to your overall health. Yoga improves flexibility, which helps prevent injury. Meditation calms the nervous system. Even just 10 minutes a day can have a big impact. And there is a growing body of evidence linking mediation and a gratitude practice to human health and happiness. What’s more, because meditation and yoga reduce stress, they reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which contributes to belly fat.
Adequate sleep is important to your overall health. We all know that woman who can function on just four hours of sleep a night, but that’s not the norm. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep to function optimally.
Lack of sleep causes myriad health problems. Too little sleep raises cortisol levels and increases your risk for type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep can cause cognitive decline and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Our bodies also repair themselves during sleep. So if you are working out and not sleeping well, your workouts will not be as effective and you become more susceptible to illness and injury.
Have a doctor check your hormone levels and get on a corrective plan if you need one. Even the best diet and exercise regimen won’t correct hormonal issues. By age 50, most women are in some stage of menopause. Some women sail through the transition with barely a symptom and some really, really feel it.
If you are feeling “off,” have tried losing weight and failed or even gained weight, have no energy, find your thinking foggy, have lost your sex drive, and/or have crazy mood swings, see your doctor. A simple blood panel will let you know where you stand; a medical professional can advise you of the options from there.