Fitness at 40 and beyond
What to know about midlife exercise needs
Turning 40 is a big milestone in life. On the one hand you may feel as youthful as you did when you were 20, but all you have to do is walk into a greeting card shop and you’ll be faced with rows of cards telling you that you are now officially ‘over the hill.’ The truth is, that your physical abilities, and your physical needs will both start to change around this age and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with remaining young at heart, it’s still worth addressing your usual movement workout routine and considering whether there is anything you might benefit from adapting.
Aerobic exercise becomes even more important
Inactivity in itself doesn’t put you at risk of heart disease but being inactive means that you are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and be overweight, and all of these factors do put you at risk. Whether you love or hate cardio, now is the time to ramp up your aerobic exercise to help reverse the increased risk of heart disease. Statistically, you are not yet likely to start suffering from it – heart disease becomes more common in people over the age of 501 – but now is a great time to strengthen your heart in preparation, as exercise is only going to get more difficult as you get older.
Build your bones with strength training
It might seem counterintuitive to start strength training as you age, as the older you get, the more likely you are to start suffering from osteoporosis, but research has shown that strength training can actually help improve strength and balance. As with any movement workout, it’s important to take it easy at first if it’s something new to you. You could start with light weights or dumbbells, or speak to a personal trainer at your local gym for advice on the best strengthening exercises for your age. You don’t want to do too much too soon, so you need to build recovery time into your workouts too.
Move more for mental health and mood benefits
There’s no doubt that the health benefits of physical exercise extend beyond the physical. Physical exercise is increasingly being advocated as a means to maintain and enhance good mental health. In general, findings from research indicate that exercise is associated with improvements in mental health including mood state and self-esteem, with just 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity resulting in improvements in state anxiety and mood that persist for several hours.2
Incorporate interval training into workouts to help ease menopausal symptoms
Exercise may be able to help regulate your mood, manage your weight and relieve hot flashes, which are all symptoms of the menopause.3 High intensity interval training (HIIT) in particular is a great option as it has you working at full capacity for a short period before resting, which can increase your cardiovascular health, but prevent your cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) from raising too high.
You can get fit at any age, so even if you’ve reached your 40s and have yet to discover physical exercise, it’s not too late. The best part is that there are so many options to suit all lifestyles too. If you are a bit more shy or nervous about exercising in front of others then you could take a look at the many online workouts available or could simply go for a walk. If you have a pet dog, this becomes even easier and a lot of the time you won’t even notice that you’re exercising! Or you could grab a friend and ask them to try out a new activity with you. It could be a dance class perhaps? Whatever it is, try to find something you enjoy as this will make you more likely to stick with it. Set small goals, be kind to yourself, recognise your achievements and above all else, try to enjoy what you are doing, knowing that you are also enjoying the many health benefits of physical exercise at the same time.