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Secrets To Staying In Great Shape When You Are Over 40 Years Of Age

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 27 March 2018
Hits: 15828

We all know that getting older is something we cannot change or avoid. We know that time will come when we just cannot move as fast as we did in our youth, and for some it may be in their 30's that they begin to feel some changes. But for most of us, it will be in our 40's that we notice many things that we just cannot do as easily as before. This is also why you rarely see professional sports people continue to play in their 40's and when they do, they are not the same formidable force they were in their previous years. Many of us who competed in sports all our life will have experienced a lot of wear and tear on muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons and the little aches and pains we bounced back from quickly, now seem to take a lot longer to recover from. Even how our body metabolizes and digests food changes in our 40's. Now this doesn't mean you need to give up, or avoid exercise, you just need to be aware of the necessary changes to your training and diet to accommodate the changes to your body. You can still achieve incredible results in your training, you just need to be a lot smarter in how you go about it. This article we show you how.

Exercise Is Critical When Over 40 Just Make Sure You Choose The Right Type

We all know how important exercise is for our health, and it becomes even more important as we age. Most of the clients we see in our Personal Training programs are people over 40 trying to get their health back. They have lost their way for various reasons such as:

  1. Work
  2. Family and kids
  3. Injury or pain
  4. Bad habits and poor lifestyle choices

The things that used to work for them in their 20's and 30's now no longer works!

The answer is not to start trying to crush yourself with exercise. This will only lead to more problems. We have to be much smarter with our choice of exercise, and the volume of training. When you are over 40 it is important to start adding muscle if you are not already. Without weight training, your muscles will atrophy and lose mass.

Loss of muscle also means slower metabolic rate resulting in more weight gain, even though you are not eating differently. This is where people start to add 1-2 kg each year after they hit 40 and cannot work out why. They say to me, "I am eating exactly the same foods and quantities I have always eaten, why am I putting on weight?" To use a car analogy this is like going from a V8 engine to a 4 cylinder but still filling the car up with fuel as if it is a V8.

Add on top of this the is the imbalance that begins to surface as a result of hormonal imbalances between testosterone, estrogen, insulin, and even your stress hormones your body is now moving to a constant state of stress! Hormone imbalance is a big reason why this age group will really suffer from the "no pain, no gain" approach to exercise. Females will have even more hormonal change than males and this must be acknowledged with the type of training and nutrition. It is at this age we start to see people hit the crossroads with diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A 45 year old person with diabetes can expect to live six years less than a person free of diabetes! 

You can read more about this in the article - Type 2 Diabetes prevention is better than a cure

In addition to these hormonal problems the age-related loss of muscle mass starts to create big problems with the muscles and bones. This is known as sarcopenia, and if you don't do anything to stop it you can expect to lose significant muscle mass between your 30s and your 80s. And if you have never done strength training before, it is important to start right now.

We all age differently, and it changes dramatically from the age of 40 if you are not aware of the potential danger that loss of muscle mass can bring. Look at the picture below to see the potential change in aging. This picture shows the aging process of two people.

  • The person represented by the blue line is someone who exercises and adopts strength training program that maintains functional movement skills for their entire life.
  • The person represented by the orange line shows a person who does not use strength training and the steep decline in muscle mass and function is much more rapid where they eventually reach a point where they reach what is known as the disability threshold.


 

We have specific programs for older adults in their 70's and 80's where we try to help rebuild this loss of function and muscle mass. But like anything it is so much easier to prevent problems than cure them. If these people had of used strength training methods much earlier, say in their 40's and continued right up to their 70's, they would not experience the problems they have now.

Good articles to read on this are below:

In addition to helping you maintain your muscle mass, strength training has been proven to build bone density, decrease your risk of falls, provide relief from joint pain and even improve blood sugar control. More on this later.

Is Cardio Training Good?

Cardio training can be okay if used wisely and performed in short bursts as used in interval training. Unfortunately this is rarely the case as people move towards the endurance side of things.

Endurance training such as marathon and triathlon training, are poor choices for over 40's, if that is the only exercise you do. For starters they require a great deal of time, which is possibly the one thing this age group has the least of. Endurance training is really over-rated, and is in many cases compromising your health instead of improving it. Excessive endurance training can lead to all sorts of health problems such as acute volume overload, inflammation, thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle and arteries, coronary artery calcification, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.

While exercise alone can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as three times. The type of exercise is critical, because some exercise can create more problems than it solves!

For example, endurance-type exercise, such as marathon running, can actually damage your heart and increase your cardiovascular risk by as much as seven times!!

Research by Dr. Arthur Siegel, director of Internal Medicine at Harvard's McLean Hospital found that long-distance running leads to high levels of inflammation that can trigger cardiac events. Another 2006 study found that non-elite marathon runners experienced decreased right ventricular systolic function, again caused by an increase in inflammation and a decrease in blood flow. All in all, such findings are a powerful lesson that excessive cardio may actually be counterproductive.

See the article - What exercise is best for heart health for more on this.

In fact, the following can occur when you exercise too much or too hard:

  1. Your body can enter a catabolic state, in which your tissues break down
  2. Excess cortisol (a stress hormone) can be released, which not only contributes to catabolism but also to chronic disease
  3. You can develop microscopic tears in your muscle fibers (which may fail to heal if you continue over-exercising), and increased risk for injuries
  4. Your immune system may be weakened

There's little benefit, and possibly some harm, to doing cardio for more than 45 minutes at a time, and if you exercise effectively, your workouts should be even shorter. Watch the videos below for more detail on this.

I am not a cardio hater either, I have loved doing this training all my life and have regularly competed in 200km cycle events, half marathons and many triathlons. But I do recognize that I am not the same as I was when I was younger and just how much this type of training now poses to my body.

Great articles to read with more detail on this is here

But Why Do People Use Cardio In The First Place?

Well most people still think that being healthy is all about weight loss. And that weight loss is all about burning calories. Watch the quick video below that explains why this thinking is doomed to fail.

Unfortunately both of these things are not even close to being true. I know many skinny people who are very sick people. And calorie counting never works. That is why Weight Watchers scrapped their points system which their whole method was based on. Achieving great health when you are over 40 requires several things that you will not get from cardio.

  1. Good nutrition - Digestion can be harder when over 40 and something to be mindful of.
  2. Quality sleep & recovery - Lack of these can derail any health program quickly.
  3. Working on mobility of joints - It is in our 40's many notice much more stiffness creeping into their body needing attention.
  4. Adding muscle - As discussed already this is vital to prevent a rapid aging process.

We will discuss each of these in more detail and things to be aware of if you are over 40. But firstly something you may need to consider. Always remember this quote below when it comes to weight loss.

The Effects Of Previous Training

One thing I have noticed now that I am 44 is the things I used to do with ease, and thought nothing of now require much more effort. I have exercised my entire life and played competitive sports from the age of 8 years of age, and participated in everything from distance running of half marathons, triathlons and cycling races to all types of crazy strength training routines. I would easily have trained almost every day of the week for years with a mix of sport, strength and various other activities. But it has just been over the past 2-3 years I have noticed that I just cannot seem to match the things I used to do with ease only 5 or 6 years ago.

It seems like it was just yesterday that I could cycle up a mountain near my house in under 20 minutes without even trying. Now even on my best day and with heaps of training and using every little drop of effort I just get under 21 minutes! I don't feel that I have changed, but it obviously has. In addition to this, I used to be able to back up this ride almost straight away the next day. And even on that ride itself I would have been able to easily add extra distance to the ride and find it easy. Now I just do not seem to have the ability to do this. My body just does not recover like it did, and no matter how hard I try, there is no way I can ride, run or lift weights to the ability I did once before. And definitely not as often.

While there is many people who did not exercise much when they were younger there is also many like me who been training since their youth. While this training will have offered them numerous positive health and sporting benefits, the constant loading on their bodies may also produce some negative problems that will now come back to haunt you in your 40's.

Previous injury is the most obvious thing to consider with training programs. I myself have suffered countless broken bones, ACL tear, and many serious muscle tears that I used to have no residual pain or discomfort with before. But this now becomes a big problem for me on some days. My training must change to allow for the damage I created from years of training. And one thing that really cuts people down in their tracks is.

Osteoarthritis:

This is very much tied to previous injuries and is associated with wear and tear on the joints. A great deal of research has shown a correlation between years of sport participation and osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative condition of the joints, which become painfully inflamed. If you have joint degeneration without pain, the condition is known as osteoarthrosis. With both conditions there is deterioration of the joint ‘cartilage’ – a smooth substance that covers bone endings, allowing bones to glide over each other with minimal friction. Cartilage also cushions force as it is transmitted through the joints and when you have used it up, there is no way to create more!

Research on footballers and rugby players suggests that they are at increased risk of osteoarthritis around their knees, hips and ankles during and after their playing careers. This risk is significantly increased if they have sustained an injury in those areas or a lack of stability that they ignored and compensated around. Although contact sports appear to carry the greatest risk of degenerative joint disease, sports like tennis and track and field, with their constant pounding of joints, can also lead to problems in later life, although these tend to be less severe and less likely to preclude sporting activity. Again, previous injury to a joint is a good predictor of future problems.

As I said earlier many of the 40 year old people we see are for rehabilitation programs. Bulging disc injuries and knee injuries are by far the most common problems we see. Exercise for these people is very difficult and it is at this age they really start to pack on the weight and their previous strategy of trying to exercise more to get out of this is no longer an option. Only a well designed program will be able to make positive changes for this person.

Let's discuss what this program is.

1: Adjust Your Nutrition & Assist Your Digestion

You have to acknowledge that you must make some small changes to your nutrition once you hit 40. The things you could eat and get away with before, you will now a pay a price for. Plus at this stage of your life it is fair to say you have more on your plate than ever, your body has a lot more stress to deal with than at any other time in your life. You need to make sure you are fueling your body with good quality foods, with a great emphasis on green vegetables and quality protein.

The green vegetables are like nature's anti inflammatory foods so this helps to reduce the stress on your system. Quality protein contains the essential amino acids and nutrients needed to repair damaged muscles and assist the recovery process from training that now takes a lot longer than it used to.

You might need to adjust your portions to account for your engine being smaller than it used to be. A great infographic from Precision Nutrition gives great ideas on how to do this.

Drinking more water, and avoiding sugar as much as possible are also extremely important for any age but even more so here due to the amount of stress.

One last thing to be aware of is the potential problems to your digestive system, mostly due to stress. Excessive stress shuts down the digestive system as it shifts blood from the gut to the arms and legs in preparation for fight or flight. I regularly find clients having digestive troubles that lead to bloating, water retention and a host of other health problems making any exercise program almost impossible. To assist the digestion process make sure you have enough fiber and foods to encourage good "gut health".

I like to use probiotic supplements, bone broths, organic yoghurt, and even psyllium husk to assist myself and many others with this.

A great video about digestion and the value of adding fibre to your diet is shown below.

2: Ensure You Get Quality Sleep & Recovery

There is no doubt that stress and lack of sleep is a big killer of all health and fitness plans and at this age it is fair to say many people are under enormous pressure in work and home life. Stress easily can affect your sleep and begin to create all types of damage and problems that make it hard to recover from any training efforts. 

An unchecked stress response can cause repeated spikes in blood pressure increasing the chances of a stroke. You will begin to stockpile fat around the abdomen due to the high levels of the stress hormone cortisol being activated lowering IGF-1 and maintaining high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. This endless supply of cortisol greatly weakens the immune system and exposes the body to deadly diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Signs of burnout are not limited to physical symptoms as they can be emotional and behavioural. If you are not sure you are in the burnout stage ask yourself these questions.

  • Are you feeling less motivated to work or exercise for example?
  • Are you tired, even if you have had a good sleep?
  • Are you constantly moody?
  • Do you find it hard to enjoy things you normally find fun?

These are all signs that you are overly stressed and exhausted, and it is time for you to make some changes.

Difficulty sleeping, anxiousness, easily irritated, feeling tired, headaches, changes in normal dietary habits, increased consumption of alcohol, lack of motivation, procrastination, isolating yourself from family and or friends, are other signals you are exhausted. 

You can read more about this in the article - 7 ways to avoid burnout from ruining your health

It is really easy for a person in this state to avoid exercise for they are running on empty. In reality it is the exact opposite, they need exercise more than ever. However the choice of exercise and what intensity is used is really important. We find that less is more, in regards to training volume is important when it comes to training with over 40's.

The intensity can and should remain high, just the frequency of workouts should be no more than 3 in a week. Mixed in between should be some easy workouts with an emphasis on restoring energy and vitality. For example Yoga or light mobility and stability workouts and walking outdoors are good examples.

More training does not equal better results. Only quality training can reap big rewards and at this age your body needs longer between sessions in order to produce quality training. This is known as progressive overload and is a well known science among professional athletes striving to get the best out of their training for optimal performance. 

If you are under a lot of stress and know you are not getting enough sleep, you just cannot add stacks of heavy training on top of this and expect great things to happen. This is like a jockey whipping a tired horse. Your body will need a more gentle approach until you address what it really needs.

Great articles to read with more detail on these topics are below.

3: You Must Work On Your Mobility & Flexibility

Once you hit 40 it is funny how you notice it takes a bit longer to get started on cold days and how muscles seem to stiffen up a lot more than they used to. As we age our muscles start to lose some of their elasticity and if we are not doing regular mobility sessions to keep this in check we begin to stiffen. Another reason for the stiffness has nothing to do with stretching more but more to do with the lack of muscle and stability. As we begin to lose muscle the body senses it is becoming unstable and potential danger to joints is a real threat. To overcome this it creates a new method of stability, known as stiffness.

This is where in some cases people actually get stiff from stretching too much, and not doing any strength work or stability drills to teach better stabilization strategies for the body. This is common to the hypermobile person and something to be aware of.

But generally most of us will fall into the category of needing to address areas of limited flexibility at this age. You may have gotten away without stretching before, but now you will pay a big price for neglecting areas that need attention. This does not mean you need to stretch everything or take up 5 classes of Yoga per week, you just need to use a simple checklist of stretches and identify the ones that need work and devote time to doing this.

Watch the videos below for ideas on this.

There is also tons of information with many of the best stretches and mobility drills you can watch in our article - Mobility Of Flexibility Which Comes First & Why?

I find with most people in their 40's the most common areas of stiffness are the thoracic region and the hips, which funnily enough are the areas where many injuries will originate from.

4: Strength Training Is The Best Exercise When You Are 40

When it comes to exercise you cannot beat strength training and adding muscle. The older we get the more important it becomes. And at this age it is pivotal in trying to keep the hormone imbalance caused from aging process and our stressful lifestyle from getting out of control. As we discussed earlier muscle is a key regulator of hormones and when we lose too much muscle these hormones begin to wreak havoc on our body.

This does not mean you have to be a gym junkie and hit the gym 5 times per week. And this is not good anyway as we discussed in key point 2. The type of strength training we do also makes a big difference for you can easily add muscle sitting on a machine, but you will lose a lot of function in doing so. Bodyweight exercises and Pilates style training while much better than machine training and have some great exercises to do, will not promote much muscle growth. You must progress to more difficult exercises that require full body integration. We refer to this as functional strength training and this really involves performing exercises in a standing position.

There essentially is 7 Key Patterns that govern and control all movements we make.

These key or foundation patterns form the base for any similar movements we make in life, so when you train these movements and enhance their stability, timing, coordination, strength, speed and power you really become bulletproof! Key exercises that utilize these movement patterns are deadlifts, push ups, squats, lunges, single leg exercises, wood-chops and various pushing and pulling exercises. The over 40 person needs strength, but they need a training program that allows for the changes in their body that will not only prevent any injury or loss of stiffness but be able to enhance the skills needed for life.

And if you are thinking how is this going to help me lose weight. These exercises are also the best ones for achieving that as the demands on the body in terms of metabolic rate is tremendous.

Do You Need More Help?

if you require more help I suggest downloading our detailed reports that we just released in 2020 due to the overwhelming large number of people in their 40's suffering from extreme health problems due to Covid lock-downs. We spent several months putting together these special reports that cover everything from exercise instructions, nutritional requirements for different ages, how to handles stress, and even discuss ergonomic set-ups. Both of these reports are very specific to the over 40's who are trying to juggle demands of work, family and the constantly changing modern world. Both of these reports will provide you with everything you need to know about maintaining your health and living your life to the fullest.

Click the image below to see more and download your PDF copy.

  

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 200 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily.

Summary

We cannot stop the ageing process, it is a fact of life. We just need to recognize the needs of our body changes as we age and that we cannot do things we used to do in our younger years when we felt bulletproof and invincible. This does not mean we have to wrap ourselves in cotton wool either. We need exercise more than ever, we just need to be smart about the choices of exercise and how it is going to contribute to good health. Fitness training should take a back seat if your health is compromised, so you can focus on the things your body needs. Always remember you cannot solve a health problem with a fitness solution.

Health solutions require managing stress levels, getting good sleep, eating good quality food and using exercise to enhance muscle and how you move. If you do this you will enjoy your 40's and still be able to do many amazing things and not head into your 50's with aches and pains and a future riddled with pain.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about any of our programs click the image below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a free consultation to see how we can help you.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Precision Nutrition
  • Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions - by Evan Osar
  • Athletic Body Balance by Gray Cook
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Stuart McGill
  • Back Pain Mechanic - by Stuart McGill
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek