As we age, it gets tougher to keep our bodies in great shape. Our bones become smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable to serious injuries. We start to lose strength and cardiovascular health. Even our skin begins to lose elasticity and sag! But we don’t have to sit back and let it happen—we can fight these physical changes with easy exercises to improve health, something many of us think about after we turn 40.
Physical activity not only helps you feel (and look!) better, it can help stave off common health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, back pain, osteoporosis, and more. Exercise also tones muscles, reduces the appearance of body fat, and creates a leaner and slimmer body. You may not look exactly as you did at 20, but you may find you look even fitter!
If you’re in your more mature years, you may think it’s too late benefit from an exercise plan. And I know it can be tough to find the mental and physical motivation to start exercising! But it is in these years that you must be even more diligent about your health choices. It’s only going to get harder to maintain any type of activity, and you could start struggling to complete everyday activities. Taking action now can lead to a lengthier and better quality of life—the sooner, the better.
You can start these exercises in your 40s and beyond to stay healthy, happy, and looking as great as you feel!
Easy Exercise Plans to Start Now
To Prevent Heart Disease
Cardiovascular workouts, 3–4 times per week
Among 40- to 59-year-old women, coronary heart disease increases nearly 10-fold. So trust cardio to keep the heart strong, whether it’s by running, spinning, dancing, rowing, or swimming. You’ll achieve maximum cardio benefits when you exercise at 80% of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes. You should be pushing yourself to an 8 out of 10 for effort, so you’ll definitely be feeling your workout. If you’re barely breaking a sweat on that walk or bike ride, try picking up the pace to reap more health benefits. (Although research shows that walking 15–20 minutes a day also reduces your chance of heart attack or stroke.)
To Prevent Osteoporosis
High-impact activities, 1–2 times per week
While you may already know that calcium can keep your skeletal system strong, high-impact, weight-bearing exercise can help build bone strength, too. Aerobics, dancing, jumping jacks, jogging, and racquet sports can all keep your bones strong and protect against osteoporosis, which greatly increases the risk of bone fractures as we age.
To Prevent Arthritis
Strength training, 2–3 times per week
Chronic joint pain and stiffness can affect adults of all ages, but the risk of arthritis increases with age. Now is the time to start protecting your body with strength training to prevent those aches and pains, or to lessen them if they have already set in. The best news? You don’t have to install a home gym to do it.
The Growing Stronger Routine is a three-part routine developed specifically as a strength training routine for older adults, and is recommended by the CDC. The exercises are done by lifting a load (body weight or a dumbbell) and holding it for a count of two to four, and then lowering it for another count of two to four. You then repeat the motion, smoothly and slowly for 10 repetitions. Exercises include squats onto a chair, stair step-ups, and bicep curls.
Other great options include bicycling, heavy gardening such as hoeing or digging, skiing, lifting weights, or doing pilates. Pick something you enjoy and will stick with!
To Prevent Depression
Yoga, once per week
Research suggests yoga may be especially beneficial to reduce stress and regulate mood, to combat the increased risk of depression in women between the ages of 45 and 64. Even a yoga class at the local recreation center can help lower mental distress. You can even double up on benefits with certain styles of yoga, which can include weight-bearing and/or cardiovascular exercises.
To Prevent Back Pain
Planking for 90 seconds, 3 times per week
Back pain strikes most people for the first time between the ages of 30 and 40, and it only gets more common as we get older. A strong core can help! The plank is a great move that tones all of the core muscles of the body. Not only does planking work the abs, it also challenges the muscles in the chest and those surrounding the spine. As your muscles get stronger, your midsection will support and take stress off your lower back.
A correct plank is done with your wrists stacked under your elbows, and your elbows positioned under your shoulders. Your legs should be outstretched behind you, and your feet should be shoulder-distance apart. Now push the floor away from you with your feet! Also, be sure to pull your belly button into your spine to activate your abs. Hold your position for 30 seconds, come down to your knees to take a short break, then repeat the exercise two more times. As you get stronger, try holding the position for 90 seconds solid. I like to plank on my exercise ball!
Just Get Active!
No matter how you exercise, anything is better than nothing, but it’s best when you choose activities you enjoy doing alone or with friends. You’re more likely to stick with things you like! As a beginner, you’ll want to pace yourself and choose a routine that’s not too complex or overwhelming. It’s OK to ease into it.
As a final word, never lose sight of why you’re exercising, be it increased longevity, reduced stress, fewer health conditions, increased muscle strength, better endurance to play with kids and grandkids, or to see all the sites of Europe. Keep sight of your motivation, and you’re sure to succeed!
I’m Kay Hunter, Orange County image consultant for men and women over 40. I transform mature professionals, active adults, and seniors into more successful and confident versions of themselves. By expressing yourself through style and fashion, you’ll get that boost of confidence, visibility, and value you need to get to the next level. Enhance the joy of living—because great style is ageless!