When you hit your 40s, you learn very quickly that the exercise and diet routines that sailed you through your 20s and 30s just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Yes, your metabolism has slowed, and so has your body’s natural production of human growth hormone and your thyroid hormones (which regulate your metabolism). If you’re a man, you’re producing less muscle-building testosterone. If you’re a woman, less estrogen. And ladies, I hate to say it, but burning energy can be even harder for you, as you inherently have a worse muscle-to-fat ratio than your male counterparts.
Here’s the video primer: better weight-loss habits
But that doesn’t mean that dropping weight in your 40s is impossible. Quite the opposite, actually. With a targeted routine, a little discipline, and a few smart steps, you can flatten your belly and get your younger body back in no time. Here’s how—and for more great health advice, don’t miss The Truth about Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant.
Rethink The Connection Between Diet and Exercise
A decade ago, you probably could get away with eating whatever you liked as long as you hit the gym a couple times a week. No longer. “While some people may have no problem increasing their time at the gym, they do not always put the same time into their nutrition,” says Liz Blom, a registered dietician and wellness coach. “Skipping meals, poor food choices, and a few beers with friends can surpass physical activity.”
While exercise is essential, 30 minutes of hardcore cardio is going to burn a few hundred calories, tops—not enough to make up for a single cheeseburger. Studies fail to show that a physically active person is less likely to gain weight than an inactive person. On top of that, since exercise increases your appetite, there is evidence that working out can sometimes nullify or even reverse weight-loss efforts. To top it off, sticking with a healthy diet is usually easier than sticking with an intense exercise regimen. So stop guilt-tripping yourself about skipping the gym—worry about what’s on your plate. And while you’re rethinking your diet, be sure to read about the 7 Best Foods for Your Heart—and Your Lifespan.
Supercharge Your Fiber Intake
Fiber works wonders when it comes to keeping your weight down. “High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, so you’re likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer,” explains Blom. “And high-fiber foods tend to take longer to eat and to be less energy-dense, which means they have fewer calories for the same volume of food.
She urges men to consume an average of 38 grams of fiber a day and women 25 grams per day—beans, nuts, whole grains, and brown rice are all good sources for this.
Eat to Off-set Your Body’s Decline
Due to the natural process of sarcopenia, we all begin to lose muscle mass around age 30 at a rate of 1 percent per year—a process that only speeds up once you hit your 40s. “This is a health problem for many reasons, but one of the main ones in regards to weight is that our basal metabolic rate is primarily determined by the amount of lean muscle mass we have,” explains Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, as well as a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and the vice president of The Obesity Society.
As our muscles shrink, our metabolisms slow down (according to Apovian, the average person burns about 200 fewer calories per day at age 45 as compared to age 25). So what’s someone in his or her 40s to do? Well, eat a diet rich in protein—the most satiating of the macronutrients, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer and less tempted by between-meal snacks. But if you’re going to snack, make sure it’s one of these Perfect High-Protein Snacks.
Eat the Right Protein
Of course, not all protein is equally good for you. “Most men think ‘protein’ means a big steak,” says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “That may have a lot of protein, but a well-marbled steak also has a lot of fat—more than can be trimmed.”
Instead, Apovian urges that men build meals around healthier protein sources: lean turkey, chicken, salmon, and plants. Protein bars or powder can be good, but they should be unsweetened (none of those candy bars pretending to be health foods) and ideally draw on whey and casein as their protein sources. “Whey contains particularly high levels of the amino acid leucine, which stimulates the protein synthesis that protects lean muscle tissue, thus keeping the basal metabolic rate at an optimal speed,” explains Apovian. “Casein, on the other hand, digests slowly, over the course of several hours, to keep blood sugar steady and keep us feeling full longer.”
But hey—if you are eating a steak, here’s how to cook one at home like a pro.
The common belief is that cardiovascular exercises burn calories and strength training builds muscle. That’s true—to a point. While cardio is great for your heart, increasing lung capacity and decreasing stress, that doesn’t mean you should do it exclusively, ignoring the weight-loss benefits of strength training.
“Losing muscle mass contributes to a slower, compromised metabolism, and a softer, rounder shape,” says Apovian. “Muscle mass must be maintained and built up—especially as we age—in order to lose weight and keep it off.”
That doesn’t mean you need to look like The Rock. Working out with weights a couple of times per week is enough to reverse the loss of muscle mass. Not only that: like cardio, strength training has also been shown to lower stress levels, while also improving cognitive abilities, protecting against bone loss, and reducing risks for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Emphasize Total-Body Movements
In order to get the most weight-loss benefits out of strength, you should emphasize total-body movements. “Squats and deadlifts will pay off much more than isolating muscle groups with curls and dumbbell raises,” says Tyler Spraul, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com. “These movements create the largest calorie-burning effect, especially if you are lifting heavy.”
He adds that full-body moves also help exercisers iron their own physical imbalances that naturally develop over time. Once you get more confident with these techniques, you can increase weights in order to see added calorie-burning, particularly through the “afterburn effect” as the body continues to burn calories even after leaving the gym. Bonus: Here are the 15 Easy Ways to Look a Decade Younger.
Hack Your Salads
Salads can often be worse than the sum of their parts. That’s especially true if ordering in restaurants where the kale or spinach is drowned in dressing, croutons, or other delicious and unhealthy toppings, and where the salad itself is large enough for two meals.
If you’re having a salad, keep the dressing to olive oil and balsamic vinegar (and not too much of it) and maybe a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese, but no more. And keep in mind that there are other ways to get your vegetables, beyond salads. “Roast any veggies you like—cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini work well,” says Ayoob. “Just cut into same-size pieces, toss in a plastic bag with some olive oil, instead of brushing them with oil, which saves some calories but still delivers the flavor.” For more help re-hauling your diet, here’s our Stay Lean For Life Eating Plan.
Cut Out the Midnight Snacks
“Cutting out those carbs later at night is really going to help [lose weight],” says Jamie Logie, a certified personal trainer, strength training specialist and nutritionist who hosts the podcast Regained Wellness. “That unused energy from the carbs is more likely to turn into body fat as your body is slowing down at the end of the day and less likely to burn them off.”
Add to this that after 40 your metabolism starts to drop like a rock and you have some major challenges. Logie advises you to cut out your eating after 8 p.m. or so, or at least be sure to stick with protein or vegetables that keep blood sugar levels down. So maybe swap out that piece of chocolate cake for a carrot, and you’ll be in shape in no time.
Make Friends With the Doggie Bag
Get in the habit of splitting your food when you go to a restaurant. As soon as your meal arrives, mentally (or even physically) cut it down the middle, and know you will be taking half home for lunch the next day.
“You won’t have offended anyone because you participated in the meal,” says Darius Russin, a board-certified physician and nutrition expert. “And, you’ll have food tomorrow so you won’t do any groceries.”
Eat for Hormonal Balance
Men’s testosterone levels start to drop in their 40s, which can cause fatigue, sleeplessness, weakness, depression, as well as weight gain. But the right diet can influence this hormonal balance, according to Apovian.
“Men should include egg yolks and foods that are rich in zinc in the diet, such as seafood, spinach, mushrooms, and lean meats, to boost testosterone production,” she says. “They should limit or eliminate added sugars, which decrease testosterone, and also soy, which imitates estrogen in the body.”
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