The Single Best Way to Stay Fit for Life

Whipping yourself into shape is one thing. Keeping yourself there is another.

Find a rigorous sport that you can participate in year-round. In the famous Harvard Alumni Health Study, which looked at more than 7,000 men and was published in the journal Circulation, men who exercised with more intensity had a 31 percent lower rate of coronary heart disease than men who rated their intensity as low or moderate. And previous results from the long-running study showed that vigorous exercisers had a 25 percent lower death rate from heart disease than those who engaged in non-vigorous sports such as bowling or golf.

"A lot of older guys get into seasonal activities like softball leagues, but then for the rest of the year, they watch somebody else do them on television," says David Pearson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a fellow with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and a professor of exercise science at Ball State University.

Pearson suggests lifting weights 3 days a week while you experiment with other sports. Strength training will help you lose weight and perform well in any sport. While some of the most popular sports for men over 40 are individual activities—nearly 3 million men between ages 45 and 54 swim, and 2.5 million cycle—Pearson advises finding a club to help you stay committed.

"You can always make an excuse for not doing something yourself, but it's human nature not to let the group down," he says.

No matter what sport you pick, the benefits aren't purely physical. Establishing a strong network of people outside your family and coworkers can improve your health. Many studies have shown the importance of friendship in long-term health–especially in men, who are notorious for losing connections with friends as they get older. In one new study, for example, low social satisfaction increased sick leaves among men by up to 26 percent. In the meantime, you can fight off those holiday pounds with The Secret to Avoiding Winter Weight Gain.

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