40 Ways to Stay Fit After 40
It's easier done than said!
Your 20s were focused on your career, then your 30s were focused on your family. So maybe it’s time to put yourself first and make this phase of your life all about you. Your 40s are the perfect time to start developing healthy habits that keep you feeling good for years to come, starting with making it a priority to stay fit. There are so many simple ways you can better your body, which leads to better health overall. These are the best ways to start, according to the experts.
Take a walk during your lunch hour.
One easy way to stay fit throughout your 40s is to move more during the day. Instead of spending your lunch break sitting in front of your computer, take time away from technology and go on a walk. You’ll up your steps for the day and get rid of some stress. According to Harvard Medical School, all it takes is a quick 20-minute stroll to help clear your mind and make you feel like a million bucks.
Stick to a schedule.
When it comes to your workouts, your biggest priority should be sticking to a schedule. “When individuals are in their 40s, muscle mass loss can be common and it can be more challenging to preserve lean muscle mass. That’s why it’s important to plan a consistent exercise regimen that works for you,” says Kelli Fierras, head trainer at EverybodyFights. “Write down your plan as if you were planning for your work week.”
Consider trying newer workouts.
These days, the options are pretty much endless when it comes to your workouts. If you want to do something outside of the box, Dr. Neil Paulvin, an integrated medicine physician in New York City, recommends trying “newer workouts, like ARX or Vasper.”
According to Paulvin, these “help maximize both your time and the benefits you get from exercising. There’s also the CAR.O.L. stationary bike, which gives you a great nine-minute workout that’s the equivalent a 40-minute one!”
Or go back to the basics.
If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to working out, why not go back to basics? Instead of complicating your routine, keep things simple. Grab a jump rope for a cardio session, use light dumbbells to tone your arms, and stick to foundational toning exercises, like squats, pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. You don’t need anything fancy to get in shape. These moves have been around for eons for one reason: They work.
Consume a balanced diet.
Diet is just as important as exercise in staying fit—maybe more so. The Cleveland Clinic says that eating a balanced diet of healthy proteins, healthy fats, small amounts of carbs, fruits, and veggies plays a big role in your health and wellbeing. It gives you energy, allows you to keep up with your fitness routine, and helps fight off disease. Talk about a win-win-win!
Ditch any negative attitudes.
It’s easy to get discouraged while trying to get fit in your 40s—especially if you haven’t been successful with the mission in the past. But it’s time to ditch that negative attitude, stat! “If you have the mindset that getting or staying in shape after 40 is impossible, break it,” says Michael James, a trainer at EverybodyFights. “Trust me—I’ve seen serious changes in every single one of my 40-something clients, and you can make changes, too.”
Dial back the TV time.
Coming home after work and immediately turning on the TV always sounds nice and soothing. Your Netflix queue isn’t growing any smaller, after all. Instead of more sitting (after probably sitting all day at work), take time to go on a walk with your dog before dinner, do some stretching—basically anything that keeps you active for just a little bit longer will benefit your health.
Try fasted workouts.
Fasted workouts are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason: Exercising on an empty stomach could help bring on even more benefits. “Try working out while fasting for at least 16 hours. Don’t worry: You can still drink water and black coffee,” Paulvin says. “Doing so can maximize your growth, help you lose weight, and help develop mitochondrion (which give your cells and muscle tissue energy).”
Water seems to take the backseat most days (especially when you have coffee on hand), but staying hydrated is just as important as eating a healthy diet. “Fueling your body properly and drinking plenty of water is crucial,” says Fierras.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink 3.7 liters a day, and women should drink 2.7 liters a day—more so if you’re working out regularly, in order to replenish lost fluids. Make it your goal, and stick with it.
Commute by bike.
If you don’t live far from work, why not bike instead of drive? Not only does it reduce your carbon footprint, but it can also play a big role in helping you stay fit. A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal found that biking to work was associated with a 41 percent lower risk of dying from all causes, a 46 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer compared to those who drove or took public transportation.
Don’t overload on protein.
More protein means more muscles, right? Not so much. According to the Mayo Clinic, muscle growth comes from strength training—not eating extra protein. A 2017 New York Times report found that most Americans actually eat twice as much protein as they’re supposed to a day, and since the body can’t store it, any extra protein either becomes fat or is used as energy. So maybe rethink those protein shakes and bars—you probably don’t need them, and they could be doing more harm than good.
Focus on flexibility.
If you’re not very limber, now’s the time to start working on it. “As you age, it can be challenging to stay flexible. Therefore, take 10 to 15 minutes each day to stretch to decrease your risk of injury,” Fierras says. “Two things that will help are introducing yourself to a foam roller and doing yoga.” Plus, sweating it out with yoga is a double-whammy: It can count as your daily workout, too!
Don’t spend unnecessarily.
Don’t invest your hard-earned money into an exercise machine you spotted on a late-night infomercial that promises to have you looking toned in days or a supplement that can help you lose weight instantly. Take a second to think about it. Instead of draining your bank account on quick fixes that don’t even work, simply put in the time and effort it takes to see real, lasting change. If you work out and eat healthy, you’ll see results.
Don’t focus on the journeys of other people.
If the fitness influencers you’re following on Instagram don’t inspire you—or, worse, make you feel bad—unfollow them. One mistake people make in their attempts to get fit is focusing on other people’s journeys more than their own. Instead of sulking and wishing you were further along than you are, keep working toward your goals. Don’t picture someone else as your driving force—envision a better version of yourself. That’s the only thing you should be striving toward!
Heal your gut.
If you want to stay as fit as possible after 40, one of the first things to address is your gut health. “Your gut is damaged by antibiotics, stress, and fast food,” Paulvin says. “You can heal your gut through probiotics, glutamine, and other supplements. Time-restricted eating—basically, eating at the same time every day—can also help.”
Toss your scale in the nearest trash can.
If being fit has revolved around the scale your entire life, get that thing out of your home immediately. It’s probably doing more harm than good. “People tend to obsess over the scale, but that only tells you one number. It doesn’t show your body fat percentage or lean muscle mass, which are much more important,” James says. “Think about how you feel—and how your clothes fit—instead.”
Make use of subscription programs.
Nowadays you can up your fitness level right in the comfort of your living room. There are so many different types of workout subscription programs available online depending on which types of exercise you enjoy. You can find online yoga and Pilates classes, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Zumba and dance, cycling—whatever you want, whenever you want it. Plus, most programs cost a fraction of the price of a gym or studio membership.
Understand that something is better than nothing.
If you’re very busy one day and don’t have time to head to the gym or do a full-on workout, don’t just plop on the couch. “In your 40s, you’re probably invested in your career, or may have younger children, which means limited time to yourself to workout. But something is always better than nothing,” Fierras says. “Find 10 minutes to do a quick, effective workout, even if that simply means a handful of bodyweight exercises, like pushups, squats, and dips.”
Make use of cutting-edge recovery tech.
Recovering after a workout has gotten way more advanced than just grabbing a foam roller. “You can use recovery tech to help work out more effectively and recover faster,” Paulvin says. “Halo Neuroscience works on certain areas of the brain to increase athletic performance, and equipment such as light therapy and Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy (PEMF) can help your body heal faster.” Even cryotherapy—which is more mainstream—has been shown to aid in helping with sore muscles. Check to see if there are any fitness or wellness centers in your area that offer the treatments.
Switch up your routine.
If you’ve been doing the same workout your entire life, try switching things up. “Your 40s is a great time to change up your workout routine and learn a new skill. Decades of the same workout can put excess stress on your ligaments, cause muscular imbalances in the body, and can be boring,” James says. “Try out something new. Some of my clients’ favorites are HIIT classes, boxing, swimming, and stand-up paddle boarding.”
If you’ve been keeping up with your workout schedule, why not give yourself a reward for that dedication? For every, say, week you don’t skip a workout—or whatever time frame works for you—treat yourself to something you love, whether that’s a trip to the spa or a brand-new piece of super-stylish activewear. When you have something to look forward to, you’ll be excited to push yourself toward that goal every day.
If if hurts, don’t do it.
No pain, no gain…right? Well, not necessarily. Feeling the burn during a workout because of how hard your muscles are working is definitely different than experiencing pain. “It’s so important to listen to your body while exercising. If it hurts, stop what you’re doing immediately,” Fierras says. If you push through the pain, you could set yourself up for an injury—possibly something that can keep you from working out for weeks.
Check your hormonal levels.
In your 40s, it’s important to get some tests done by your doctor to make sure you remain as healthy as possible throughout the years to come. “You should at least know your testosterone, fasting insulin, and cortisol [levels],” Paulvin says. “Testosterone helps build muscle, develop bone, and helps with brain function. If your insulin is high, you’re not going to lose weight as easily, and may have problems gaining muscle. And problems with cortisol can affect sleep.” Once you get your levels in check, your health and wellbeing will benefit on multiple levels.
Since you lose your muscle mass as you age, the Cleveland Clinic recommends doing strength training at least two times per week on nonconsecutive days. Lifting dumbbells or using resistance bands helps create and restore your muscle mass. These exercises also help boost your resting metabolism, too—which can help you stay fit in the long run.
Get your nightly seven-plus hours.
Don’t cut yourself short in the sleep department. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, getting enough sleep each night is crucial in protecting your mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life—especially in your 40s and beyond. If you don’t get enough sleep, it could even increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke; make you feel hungry when you’re not; and cause your energy levels to plummet.
Give red light therapy a go.
If you have a red light therapy pod in your area, it could soon become your favorite way to recover between workouts. Being in a pod—which are often located at spas, wellness centers, and even dermatology offices—feels like lying in a tanning bed, minus the skin damage. Instead, you’re left with less wrinkles, glowing skin, reduced inflammation, and a better-healed body.
“Laying in the red light therapy pod for 15 minutes two to three times a week delivers deep healing of your muscles, tissues, tendons, and joints, all while reducing oxidative stress and fatigue from your workouts,” says Dr. Marsha Dirks Prada, D.C., a chiropractic specialist and co-owner of Denver Sports Recovery.
Try blood-flow restriction training.
If you haven’t heard of blood-flow restriction training, you’re not alone. Relatively new in the fitness world, it involves wearing high-end pressure cuffs or bands on your limbs while lifting weights—and it’s endorsed by science! A 2017 review of research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that blood-flow restriction training can make your workout more effective.
“Cutting off oxygen to certain muscles will increase certain hormones to help build muscle with much lower weight and less time spent working out,” Paulvin says. Work with a trainer to get started to ensure you’re using the method properly.
Change your perspective on exercise.
One of the main reasons so many people don’t want to exercise is because they see it as a chore. Instead of dreading it, find something you look forward to and enjoy doing every day. That might mean changing your idea of what exercise is. Instead of only thinking you’ll get fit through high-intensity interval training or sweat-inducing cycling classes, focus more on mood-boosting, low-impact activities like hiking and yoga.
Create a sustainable program.
Starting up a workout program not only gives you a schedule of what to do every day, but it also keeps you accountable and motivated. “Find a program that works for you, whether it’s a couch-to-5k program, workout app, group fitness class, or a workout your trainer put together for you,” Fierras says. Once you get in the habit of training every day, it will become something you love and really look forward to doing.
Don’t be afraid of modifications.
Some workout programs have you doing burpees, jump squats, and other intense moves that your body might not be able to handle in your 40s and up—well, not yet, anyway. There are plenty of ways you can modify different exercises that still bring on the benefits without the potential for burnout or injury.
Don’t push yourself too hard.
If you don’t feel ready to tackle more weights or more difficult movements, don’t! Overdoing it can only ultimately set you back if you end up hurting yourself or burning out. It’s best to stick to what’s working for you.
Don’t laser-focus on cardio.
Doing heavy cardio sessions on the elliptical or treadmill are only going to go so far. Instead, James recommends focusing on other forms of training to stay fit. One of his top picks? Starting to use weights (even small ones!), which is when the majority of his clients really start to notice changes in their bodies.
Sometimes staying fit doesn’t involve moving at all. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, revealed that dedicating yourself to a daily meditation session can do wonders for your health, helping with stress, anxiety, depression, and banishing pain. There are numerous free apps that can help you get started as you’re guided by a calming instructor, and all you need is a few minutes a day to start feeling its effects.
Put. Down. The. Phone.
How many times have you taken a five-minute break between exercises, just to scroll through social media or catch up on texts and emails? When you’re working out, make every minute about working toward your goals—not about what everyone else is up to. After a set of push-ups, do a one-minute plank. Between sets of squats, do a series of 30-second hamstring stretches.
Find a workout buddy.
If you’re looking for a way to stay accountable for your workouts everyday, look no further than a fellow fitness-loving friend. (Yes, that might mean making one at the gym first!) “Motivation is the key to success,” Fierras says. “Find a workout buddy or someone to keep you active and engaged with your workouts.”
Eat more plants.
The world is going more plant-based for a good reason. Wholesome plant foods—fruits, veggies, plant protein, and whole grains—offer more vitamins and minerals. Need convincing? A 2019 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that vegans tend to be healthier overall, and further research out of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine showed that switching to a plant-based diet can lower your risk of dying from heart disease, prevent diabetes, aid in weight loss, and even fight off cancer and help keep your brain healthy.
Drop the “gym-timidation.”
When you’re just beginning your journey to get in shape, it’s easy to get a little discouraged. Walking into a gym and being surrounded by a bunch of fitness buffs who already look like they’re in great shape can quickly make just about anyone feel self-conscious. The next time you experience a case of so-called “gym-timidation,” remember everyone starts somewhere—no one can lift heavy weights or run 10 miles on the treadmill without starting with small dumbbells and an out-of-breath jog first.
Invest in a fitness tracker.
One of the best ways to motivate yourself to keep pushing through your workouts and reach your goals is to invest in a fitness tracker. They keep track of how many steps you’re taking in a day (aim for around 10,000!), and they also tell you where your heart rate is at while exercising, how many calories you burned, and track your sleep to make sure you’re getting enough every night.
Work with a trainer.
You might not feel like you know enough about fitness to throw yourself into a routine, and that’s completely normal. That’s exactly what personal trainers are for. Ask around and see if your friends and family have worked with anyone great in your area, then sign up for a consultation and initial workout with them, which is usually free of charge. If you like working out one-on-one with an expert, consider sticking with them until you feel like you can manage on your own. You’ll get the support and motivation you need, and you’ll also have a plan that works for your body and specific needs.
Do at least one small thing to be more fit every day.
Staying fit in your 40s doesn’t just mean immediately signing up for the neighborhood Equinox. A lot of staying fit has to do with those tiny changes you can make in your day-to-day life. “Try to do something every day, even if it’s a long walk,” James says. “Making intentional, healthful actions helps keep us disciplined and helps influence other healthful actions throughout the day, too.” And to really get the body of your dreams, start doing more of the 40 Best Fitness Moves When You’re Over 40.
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