If you’ve never exercised, starting can feel overwhelming. But remember that keeping fit in mid-life can more than double the chances of a healthy retirement, according to a new government campaign. So how to get fit after 40 – is designed to get you started and keep you moving.
- The first step to getting fit is to set a goal. Determine why you want to start a fitness routine — to lose weight, get stronger, or improve your overall health. Once you have a goal, you have something to work toward.
- A sudden radical overhaul of every aspect of your life is highly likely to end a week later in despair (or in the pub). Create mini goals, and realistic dreams. If team sports are more your idea of fun, then find a local league but remember than you need to do more than one five-a-side knockabout a week to really build fitness.
- Try a range of different classes and activities until one sticks – it might be boxing, or spinning, or 30 lengths of your local pool every morning. Whatever it is, build it into your life until it never even occurs to you that you “don’t have time” for fitness.
- Another key is to start slowly and then build slowly. Don’t be surprised if, after your first workout — even a brisk walk — you’re sore. Some soreness is to be expected. But if you’re so sore that you can’t move, you may have overdone it and should take it a little slower.
- If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, break your workout into 10-minute intervals. Any exercise counts as long as it’s sustained for at least 10 minutes at a time and is of moderate to vigorous intensity.
- To build over time, slowly replace physical activities that take moderate effort, such as brisk walking, with those that require more vigorous expenditures of energy, like jogging.
- As with all habits, it’s harder to form than it is to break, but be firm with yourself: rain never hurt anyone. For the competitive at heart, it’s worth looking into one of the new range of high-tech pedometers, such as Fitbit Ionic Adidas Edition – $50 off for Fitbit’s Summer Sale. You can duel with a friend to see who can take the most steps over a given period – or set yourself a daily goal.
As you progress, keep challenging yourself. One technique is called interval training — adding intense spurts at regular intervals during the workout. If you’re walking, increase your speed until you reach the next street sign, for example, and then drop back to your usual brisk pace until you reach the next sign; repeat the pattern for the length of the walk. If you’re biking, add some steeper hills to your path to raise your heart rate.
First Steps to Middle-Age Fitness and getting Fit after 40
Walk more, and walk faster
It’s hard to overstate the benefits of walking. Indeed , it’s hard to find any drawbacks at all, unless you don’t look where you are going (iPhone zombies, put that screen down). A report from the Ramblers Association and Macmillan Cancer Support found that if everyone in England regularly walked for half an hour a day, it could save 37,000 lives a year. It also cuts the risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and has been shown to have protective effects against dementia. We should all do it a lot more.
Taking 10,000 steps a day is a basic requirement for optimal health, like drinking adequate amounts of water each day. This is in addition to, not a replacement for, regular exercise, and will help to get you up out of your chair and counteract some of the effects of too much sitting.
Get on your bike
Cycling is a great, low-impact exercise that has the handy benefit of also getting you from A to B. If cycle commuting is impractical or makes you nervous, find a local park route or get on a stationary bike. Start by building confidence and endurance but when you feel ready, throw in some resistance intervals – whether that’s a minute hard, a minute easy at the gym or a hilly route on the road. Study after study has shown that HIIT – high intensity interval training – is a highly effective form of fitness training, and its short albeit-not-very-sweet nature makes it easier to fit into a busy day. But you do have to push hard for those short periods.
Don’t take it too easy
Many people avoid taking up a new exercise they perceive as high impact or too stressful on their bodies, whether that’s pounding the pavements or lifting weights. But low volume aerobic exercise such as running – at whatever age you take it up – can help increase bone density, which is particularly helpful for women in later life. Strength training can be even more beneficial for maintaining bone density and muscle mass, which also diminishes from middle age. A study in the journal Biogerontology last year recommended that all adults should do resistance exercise, aerobic training and have a higher daily protein intake. All of these serve to preserve – and indeed build – muscle mass. So if you find the cardio machines in the gym boring, talk to one of the trainers about learning how to lift weights.
Don’t give up if it hurts
The first time you try something new, you might well hurt a bit the next day. That’s just Doms – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – and is simply your muscles protesting at being made to work hard. You’d feel it at any age. It’ll last a day or two, then go. Stretch it out – and keep your joints mobile and active. Poor mobility can cause pain, and put you off starting a more vigorous routine (which would, actually, help ease it) and it’s all too easy to have poor mobility if you sit at a desk all day.
4 Ways to Optimise Your Fitness After 40
The first step is to simply get moving, but beyond that you’ll want to tweak your workouts for your 40-year-old self. This does not mean taking it easy — it means tailoring your workouts so you can be in the best shape of your life, even if you’re 40 or beyond.
A well-rounded fitness plan includes three types of activity: cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise that targets your heart, strength training that targets muscles and prevents the muscle loss that comes with advancing age, and flexibility training to keep you limber and preserve balance.
1. Work on Flexibility
Research published in the American Journal of Physiology found that an inability to touch your toes while in a seated position (sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you) might mean your arteries have become stiff, and you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.2
The study found participants’ flexibility scores correlated with their blood pressure, cardio-respiratory fitness, and other measures of heart health. Plus, losing flexibility — which happens as you get older if you don’t do anything to stop it — increases your risk of injuries and makes it harder to stay active.
Yoga and foam rolling can be useful for increasing flexibility, and I also recommend active isolated stretches.
With Active Isolated Stretching, you hold each stretch for only 2 seconds, which works with your body’s natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique also allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity.
2. High-Intensity Exercise Is for People Over 40 Too
Research presented at the May 2014 EuroPRevent meeting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands found that men who begin intensive exercise after age 40 get similar benefits to those who started prior to age 30 — as well as show several health advantages compared to men who do not exercise.
For instance, both exercise groups (those who started prior to 30 or after age 40) had resting heart rates of about 57 to 58 beats per minute, much lower than the men who did not exercise (who had resting heart rates of about 70 beats per minute).
Four minutes of exercise performed at extreme intensity four times a week may also improve your anaerobic capacity by 28 percent and your VO2 max and maximal aerobic power by 15 percent in as little as six weeks.
For comparison, those who performed an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week only improved VO2 max by 10 percent, and their regimen had no effect on their anaerobic capacity.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) even boosts your body’s natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), which will help address the muscle loss and atrophy that typically occurs with aging.
Your production of vital human growth hormone increases by as much as 771 percent during an HIIT workout. The higher your levels of HGH, the healthier, stronger and more “youthful” you will be.
3. Recover Between Workouts
This is especially important when you’re exercising at high intensity. One of the key concepts of HIIT is that the intensity and amount of time spent working out are inversely proportional.
Meaning, the greater the intensity the less time you spend working out. Moreover, as intensity goes up, you also need longer recovery times in between sessions, so the frequency of your workouts also goes down. At most, you might be able to do HIIT three times a week. Any more than that will likely be highly counterproductive.
4. Try Exercises That Work Your Core
With exercise, sometimes the simplest of movements result in the greatest gains to your fitness, and this is certainly the case with core exercises, such as planks. To do a plank, you hold your body (the trunk portion) off the ground, making sure to hold it in a straight line.
Planking will help build your deep inner core muscles that lay the groundwork for that six-pack look. As your abdominal muscles become stronger, your mid-section will tighten. While building strength, planks also increase flexibility in your posterior muscle groups.
The muscles around your shoulders, collarbone, and shoulder blades will expand and stretch (an area that often receives little attention), as will your hamstrings and even the arches of your feet and your toes.
They’re also excellent for balance and posture, because in order to do a plank correctly you must engage your abs to stay upright. Side planks or planks with extensions are particularly beneficial for building balance, as are planks performed on a stability ball.
For strength training you should ideally work out every other day (or every third day, when starting), never on consecutive days. Working out breaks down muscles and the rest builds them back up. Begin with whole-body exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, or squats. Then you can home in on specific muscles and add exercises such as bicep curls and triceps extensions. Three sets of 10 repetitions is a good starting point. Although free weights and weight machines are effective, consider using resistance bands, which are lengths of stretchy material that work muscles without your having to lift actual weights.
12-week fitness plan
This activity plan for beginners, combining running and strength and flexibility workouts, will get you into the habit of regular exercise in 12 weeks.
The plan is structured but flexible enough to allow you to fit the exercise sessions around your other weekly commitments.
Before starting each week, plot in your calendar what days and times you’ll be exercising. This will help you stick to the plan. Don’t forget to factor in one rest day (on a day of your choosing) per week.
All you need to get started is any type of MP3 or digital media player, or smartphone, and a pair of running shoes.
Get your Weekly fitness plan designed by the NHS subscribing below to the Couch to 5K running, 5K+ and Strength and Flex podcasts and print the 10-minute workout series.