Exercise is important throughout our lives, but it becomes even more important as we age. The risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and functional decline all rise as we get older. Staying active can mitigate health concerns and help you live longer, according to studies. What’s more, fat redistribution, a slowing metabolism, and weight gain are linked to falling estrogen, according to a study by the Women’s Health Research Institute. But women over 40 may not be able to exercise quite like they did in their 20s and 30s.
With kids — and maybe parents — to care for, work responsibilities, and menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness and poor sleep, you can find yourself short on time and motivation. Exercise starts to seem more like a luxury than a necessity, but there’s nothing further from the truth. Here are a few tips for exercising smarter, not harder, after 40.
Let 30 minutes be enough
If life feels too hectic or you feel too exhausted to even think about an hour at the gym, lower expectations and let a half-hour be enough. Though cardio and strength training should be a priority (as we outline below), a walk around the block is sufficient on those days when you feel like you just can’t. The irony can be that even if you have to drag yourself out the door, you’ll likely feel a lot better once you’re ready to come back inside.
Get your heart rate up
Low-impact exercises like biking, dancing, and swimming are fun ways to raise your heart rate, and elevating your heart rate improves both heart health and brain health. No matter which activity you choose — focus on something you like, that you will do consistently — cardiovascular benefits occur at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum effort. So be sure to hit that target for at least 30 minutes at a time.
Embrace strength training
Loss of muscle strength begins around the age of 30. And in the first few years after menopause, most women go through rapid bone loss, according to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. That’s where strength training comes in. Strength training builds muscle, strengthens bones, and helps improve metabolism.
Shore up your core
The core includes your abdominal and back muscles — basically everything between your collarbones and hipbones. The reason you should want a strong core has nothing to do with bathing suit season and everything to do with posture, balance, and functional movement. Pilates is ideal for strengthening the core (and the pelvic floor). Yoga is, too.
Focus on your form
One good way to avoid exercise injuries is by dialing in your form. Warm up properly, pay attention to your breathing, watch your posture, and take rest when you need it are all essential for exercise success. Steer clear of fitness instructors who don’t emphasize good form or classes that are too large for the instructor to pay attention to everyone.
Listen to your body
When we’re younger we might be tempted to push past a pain. That can be a really bad idea for an aging body. If something hurts, stop. Find something else to do instead. If your pain involves chaffing from running or cycling, Mia Vita™ Gel Intimate Skin Moisturizer and Mia Vita™ Personal Lubricant & Moisturizer can help.
There’s a saying that you can’t outrun a bad diet. No amount of exercise can counter a diet filled with processed food, sugar, and alcohol. Conversely, a poor diet can’t fuel a great workout. Focus your healthy eating on lean protein, which helps build and repair muscle, and whole fruits and vegetables, which are filled with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
To learn more about exercise after 40, read If You Do One Thing, Just Get Up and Move.