Get Fit After 40

Once you pass the age of 40, your exercise program should be tweaked to meet your body's new needs. Let our step-by-step guide help.

By Holly St. Lifer


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Change the Pace
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Step 1: Change the Pace

    Step 1: Change the Pace

    If you've been doing the same workout, it's time to branch out. Vary the intensity of your workouts for continual results.

    There are four basic cardio levels that you should move through within the same workout:

    -- Moderate zone (your breathing is slightly deeper than at rest)

    -- Steady-state zone (breathing is deeper and you're going at a good clip)

    -- Aerobic zone (deep, still breathing and the pace is challenging)

    -- Threshold zone (your breathing is sharp and your muscles are working to fatigue)

    Try this: Twice a week, do interval training, alternating bursts of sprinting with bouts of moderate pacing to recover. Spiking your heart rate burns more calories. You can even incorporate speed play into your everyday life -- speed-walk to a meeting or walk up the stairs in slow motion (slowing down means you use more muscles and less momentum).

    Mix up your fitness routine every month or so by rotating your favorites or trying something new.

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Step 2: Circuit Train

    Circuit training -- hopping among several cardio activities within a single workout -- also propels you past the status quo.

    Try this: Do activities that focus on different muscle groups in one session. For example, run, then use the elliptical machine, then bike. Because you rest some muscles and fire up others you won't get tired as quickly and you'll be able to work out harder.

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Step 3: Lift Weights

    If you're not strength training two or three times a week, start now.

    Once you hit age 30, your lean-muscle tissue, which acts as a calorie burner, decreases by about a pound a year if you're inactive. "Resistance training is your best defense," says exercise physiologist Douglas Brooks of Mammoth Lakes, California. "Without it, even if you run a marathon every day, you'll still lose muscle."

    Try this: Find some basic moves that work the major muscle groups (shoulders, chest, back, abdominals, glutes, legs, and arms) and stick to them. More important than variety is progression, Brooks says.

    "The number of reps doesn't change, but as you get more fit, to continue to see results, you have to increase the resistance regularly so your muscles always fatigue between 8-12 or 12-15 reps," he says.

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Step 4: Make Posture a Priority

    "Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from chronic shoulder, neck, and upper-back pain," chiropractor Howard Sichel says. The main culprit: poor posture. But you can fix a slouch with an on-the-spot Pilates move that straightens your spine, lowers your shoulders, and flattens your abs, Sichel says.

    Try this: The next time you're sitting or standing, inhale through your nose, lifting abdominals in and up (think of pulling your navel in and away from your thighs). Exhale while maintaining this vertical lift. Repeat three times.

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Step 5: Adjust Meal Times

    Studies show that when you eat can be as important as what you eat.

    "Many women skip breakfast, then eat two large meals a day," says University of Texas exercise physiologist John Ivy, coauthor of Nutrient Timing (Basic Health, 2004). "The combination of eating a lot infrequently boosts insulin production, which increases fat storage."

    Try this: To keep insulin levels low and your metabolism humming along, Ivy recommends eating six small meals throughout the day. You'll notice the effect immediately: "Your energy level will be even all day, and you'll no longer feel famished," he says.

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Step 6: Fuel Up Before Working Out

    Exercising on an empty stomach deprives your body of crucial energy.

    "When you don't have enough calories available, your body breaks down muscle to use instead," says Karen Reznik Dolins, director of nutrition at Altheus, a health and sports performance center in Rye, New York. "Less muscle slows down metabolic rate." You'll also get fatigued faster, and you won't be able to perform as hard or as long.

    Try this: Eating within an hour after working out helps your body optimize the use of different nutrients. At this time, your body is the most primed to convert carbohydrates into glycogen and to use protein to aid muscle growth.

    Eating after a workout also reduces cortisol-a stress hormone responsible for fat deposits around the abdomen-which rises during high-intensity workouts and remains high until you eat. Opt for fruit and yogurt, or a peanut butter sandwich.

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Step 7: Consider Supplements

    In your effort to stray healthy and fit after 40, attending to your joints and bones should be a top priority. Supplements are a good way to give your body the nutrients it needs.

    Try this: Talk with your doctor before you begin taking supplements. Supplements that have been shown to help joint pain and improve bone health include:

    Vitamin D: Studies show that it reduces your risk of fractures by improving bone-mineral density; it also helps you absorb calcium. Daily dose: 800 international units (IUs). Consult your doctor if you're currently taking more than 1,000 IUs a day.

    Calcium and magnesium: Calcium is essential for bone health, but magnesium is just as important. When you take calcium alone, it can lead to a magnesium deficiency, which actually contributes to bone loss. Daily dose: 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 milligrams of magnesium.

    Vitamins C and E: Take these antioxidants together an hour before a workout. They prevent that stiff, achy feeling that sets in 48 hours after a strenuous workout.

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Step 8: Avoid Injury

    As you age, your body has more potential for injury. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your injury risk.

    Try this: Stay in the game with these guidelines:

    Get your body ready. Warm up with 10 minutes of rhythmic activity (march in place) or your intended activity at a slower pace.

    Cross-train. It's a proven way to avoid injury and mental burnout. If you typically walk or run, cross-train by lifting weights or doing yoga or Pilates.

    Take rest seriously. During any vigorous activity, micro-tears occur in your muscles. Take a day off between vigorous sessions -- or work different muscles on alternate days -- to allow muscles to repair themselves and become stronger.

    Massage your muscles. Grab a firm, small ball and roll on it wherever you feel tight or tense, such as your shoulders or lower back.

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