Ask anyone over 40 if it’s more challenging to monitor their weight, fitness and health than when they were in their 20s and 30s, and chances are, you’ll find plenty of consensus. While it happens little by little, day by day, aging seems to creep up on us and catch us unaware.
That’s not to say that everyone ages poorly, or that it’s all bad news. Certainly, getting older is inevitable, and genetics are influential, but there’s a lot you can do to maintain your health and fitness, and your attitude plays a role as well.
A common request of health and fitness professionals is how to fight fat after 40, as this seems to be the decade when undesirable physical changes become more noticeable.
Here we examine the common physiological and psychological changes that take place as we age beyond 40, and then offer valuable recommendations on minimizing health declines and weight gain.
Common Effects of Aging
- Skin and hair – It’s no surprise that skin loses its elasticity, is more dry and wrinkles. Hair also thins, loses pigment (grays) and can fall out.
- Bones – Bones lose mineral content and become less dense and weaker.
- Height – Compression of the vertebrae and spinal discs cause a decrease in height – as much as two inches by age 80.
- Hearing – Changes in the ear make it more difficult to hear high frequency sounds and changes in tone.
- Vision – As the lenses of the eyes become less flexible, it’s common for people in their 40s to need reading glasses. Night vision can decline as well.
- Sleep – Circadian rhythm changes can cause disrupted sleep and less sleep overall.
- Heart and lungs – The heart and lungs become less efficient, thereby decreasing endurance and increasing perceived exertion during physical activity.
- Kidneys – As they decline in function, the risk of dehydration is greater.
- Metabolism and body composition – Metabolism slows and hormone changes result in less muscle mass and more body fat. Starting in your 30s, you can lose more than one-half a pound of muscle each year, and by age 75, the amount of body fat a person has can be double what it was in young adulthood.
- Brain – Blood flow to the brain decreases and memory declines.
When it comes to fighting fat over 40, clearly a slowing metabolism is a key area to address. But some of these other effects of aging, such as decreased endurance, weaker bones and lower quality of sleep, also impact lifestyle and the ability to maintain a regular exercise routine.
Optimizing Health and Weight Management
Despite the multitude of products available today that promise to combat aging, unfortunately there is no magic bullet. Some may offer limited relief or slow the progression of aging signs, but none can completely stop this natural process. Consider the following tips to maintain health and fight fat after 40:
- Commit to regular exercise – This may seem like a no-brainer, but 40-somethings can be stretched thin between their careers, raising kids and taking care of their own aging parents. Exercise must be a non-negotiable, ideally 3-6 times each week, which may require some creative scheduling, but it the most effective way to fight fat and maintain health.
- Incorporate interval training – Add intervals to workouts every few sessions, where you alternate high-intensity bursts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes with steady-state, active recovery periods. Or combine cardio with quick sets of intense strength-training exercises for maximum efficiency. Interval training is highly effective at burning calories and increasing your metabolism during and after workouts.
- Strength train consistently –- Fight a flagging metabolism and improve muscle tone by activating the muscles by working with weights, strength machines or resistance bands. Talk to a trainer if you need help to get started on a routine, and aim to hit the major muscle groups by lifting 2-4 times each week.
- Try yoga and Pilates – While these modalities generally aren’t big calorie-blasters, they address core strength, balance and flexibility, which positively impacts your posture, stability and range of motion.
- Cross train – Avoid doing the same workout every session if possible. Your body adapts over time to the stresses you place on it, and eventually you stop making fitness gains. For better results, vary your routine to continue challenging the body and keeping your motivation high.
- Add more activity – Most of us tend to sit too much when we need to move more. Take regular walks, bike to the health club, do housework and gardening, stand and pace when on the phone, walk through the mall and fit in some calisthenics during TV shows. Instead of meeting friends for coffee, schedule a walk and talk session, play tennis or golf or go bowling.
- Eat regular meals – Skipping meals, like breakfast, slows the metabolism even more and can backfire because you’re more likely to overeat later when you are ravenous. Always eat breakfast, even if all you can tolerate in the morning is a piece of fruit or a yogurt and some water. This jump-starts your metabolism and energy for the day. Don’t snack all day, but eat regular meals instead.
- Opt for a healthy diet – Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, whole-grain breads and pastas and low-fat dairy products as much as possible. You can periodically treat yourself, but try to limit high-fat and sugary choices such as baked goods, ice cream, fancy coffee drinks, chips and candy.
- Watch portions – Restaurant meals typically are large, so eat only half and take the rest home for another meal. At home, use smaller plates and slow down when you eat to savor each bite. Try to avoid eating in the car or on the run so you can enjoy your food.
- Drink plenty of water – Again, it may seem obvious, but drinking water is essential to warding off dehydration and fighting fatigue. People often overeat by mistaking hunger for thirst, so keep a water bottle with you and use it often.
- Limit alcohol – Wine, beer and mixed drinks are highly caloric, and don’t fill you up. Cut back on intake and substitute sparkling water or low-cal drinks instead.
- Manage stress – Stress leads to a spike in cortisol, which can lead to poor food choices, mindless overeating and increased belly fat. Find a way that works for you to better manage stress, such as prayer, meditation, journaling, yoga, a support group and more.
- Sleep – Lack of sleep also can increase appetite-stimulating hormones, resulting in more hunger pangs, poor judgment and excess calories consumed.
- See your doctor or a dietitian – If you are practicing healthy lifestyle habits and don’t feel like you are controlling your weight, visit your physician to rule out any hormone imbalances or underlying issues, and/or consult with a dietitian who can recommend a personalized nutrition plan.
- Maintain perspective – Don’t get discouraged if you don’t look like you did in your 20s, as most of us cannot accomplish that without surgery and extreme intervention. Appreciate your health, stay positive, identify areas to be grateful for and avoid stressing too much about a bit more body fat.
Remember to stay positive and use these tips to maximize your overall health with aging. Stay fueled.