How To Be Fit Over 40
Almost everyone notices small changes in their body as they age-although the degree and pace that these changes occur depend on several factors. Genetics plays a strong role (the old adage “look at your mom to see how you’ll age”) is partially true. But, even with a strong family history of obesity, the choices you make in diet and exercise can greatly influence whether you’ll have the same weight problems your parents may have.
Starting in a woman’s 40’s, changes in hormones can cause body fat to accumulate in the abdominal area-turning her body into a more “apple” shape. In addition, there’s a slow decline in muscle mass and BMR (Basal metabolic rate). BMR is a measure of how many calories a body uses in a day. The average person’s free fat weight (all your body’s parts such as muscles and organs, except for fat) burns approximately 60-70% of the daily BMR, with physical activity accounting for 15-30% and the thermic effect of food (the calories burned digesting meals) the remaining 10%.
Numerous studies have shown a progressive decline in a woman’s physical fitness with increasing age. This decline is attributed to a slow loss of muscle mass and to a reduced daily physical activity level. With muscle mass accounting for a large portion of daily metabolic rate, any loss of this tissue reduces the amount of calories burned through BMR each day. It becomes a circle of reduced physical activity leading to less muscle mass and lower BMR. Over time, if a woman doesn’t compensate by taking in less calories she’ll see a slow increase in fat weight.
So, how do you turn around these changes in metabolism and muscle mass? By increasing physical activity (both cardiovascular and strength training), reducing fat intake and increasing complex carbohydrates and fiber intake. The goal is to keep your internal furnace burning hot with a consistent exercise program, and stoking the fire with high quality fuel.
Aerobic exercise boosts metabolic rate during activity and for a short bonus period of time afterward. The extra calories burned from daily exercise bouts can add up to substantial fat loss over time. In addition, exercising for as little as 30 minutes, three days a week can help keep your bones strong and slow age related bone loss.
Strength training builds muscle mass, a metabolically active tissue (read- burns more calories than fat) increasing daily metabolic rate with every pound of muscle gained. Adding both aerobic and strength training exercise to your fitness program can help stave off the age related decline in muscle mass and keep your BMR burning fuel like someone decades younger. In fact, a recent study that compared high level female athletes between 18-69 years old found there was little difference in body fat, muscle mass and BMR between the youngest and the oldest athletes.
Exercise is only part of the metabolic equation. Diet plays a big role in age related fat changes. No matter what you may have heard or read, the bottom line in weight gain or loss is a simple “calories in versus calories out” equation. If you take in more calories than your expend, those calories will be stored as fat, but if you take in less calories than you expend each day you’ll lose fat.
Here are a few tips for incorporating metabolic boosting dietary changes:
- Eat small, frequent meals to boost metabolism and avoid causing your body to have a ”feast or famine” response of storing more calories from each meal and slowing metabolic rate
- Always eat breakfast-it’s been shown to increase metabolic rate by up to 5%
- Make fiber your friend! Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and consider taking a fiber supplement with meals.
Many of the grudgingly tolerated age changes in weight and fitness aren’t inevitable, and can be avoided by not “going gentle into that good night” (my favorite 40+ mantra) and by making a commitment to your fitness and health. Rethinking your preconceived ideas about aging can change your future and make every decade your best yet!