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How to Get Healthy and Fit Over 40: A Guide to the Basics

The world of health and fitness can be overwhelming, especially for middle-aged women. With a plethora of quick fixes, exercise hacks, complicated diets, and expensive supplements available in the market, it is easy to lose track of what really matters.

First of all, let me just acknowledge that it’s normal for us as humans to want the quick fix or a shortcut. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting to find an easier way to get to your desired state of health with the smallest amount of effort.

But unfortunately, those normal human desires can distract us from the tried-and-true basics of what actually works and instead can lead us to fall for fad diets, useless supplements, and ineffective “fat-burning” workout routines that promise the world but often underdeliver and leaving us feeling even more hopeless and frustrated than before.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The truth is, there are no shortcuts to good health and fitness. And chasing shortcuts and jumping from diet to diet or fitness routine to fitness routine is actually what prolongs the process.

But … believe it or not, the basics work really well when we create a regular routine that we can be patient and consistent with.

In this blog, we’ll focus on the most critical basics of good health and fitness. Because when you master the basics, you end up moving boulders instead of pebbles in your journey. And that’s what we’re all after right — getting the maximum benefit from the least amount of extra effort.

The seven fundamental elements I’m sharing in this blog will allow you to prioritize your health and well-being without wasting your time on ineffective, constantly-changing strategies.

Common health issues that come up in middle age

Since I work with lots of middle-aged and menopausal women, I hear it all. many women in this age group are struggling with:

  • Gaining weight despite not feeling like their eating more calories
  • An unexplained increase in belly fat
  • The loss of muscle mass and an inability to gain muscle
  • Menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping
  • Mental health concerns, mood changes, increases in anxiety and depression, and brain fog
  • Persistent inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness
  • Concerns over cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • Issues with blood sugar regulation, insulin sensitivity, and chronic health conditions like pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes

These women are also frustrated with the lack of good information about what’s happening and what to do about it and as a result they are left feeling:

  • Unhappy with their changing, aging bodies
  • Fearful of old age, getter weaker, and becoming frail
  • Worried about doing too much too soon and being set back by pain and injuries
  • Conflicted because they know they need to make a change but are unsure of how to go about it

Why we need a simpler plan and better information

Each one of the pain points cited above has hundreds of possible solutions.

But some of those solutions are so specific that they only knock over one domino at a time.

And some of these solutions are complicated, miserable, expensive, and difficult to maintain — which means you likely won’t be able to do it long enough to see the benefits or maintain those benefits long-term.

I’m all about efficiency. I want solutions with maximum overlap — one task or “to do” that knocks down many dominos at once. And I don’t have time to piece together a multi-step process that adds 100 things to my daily to do list.

I want to knock down the most dominos with the least amount of stuff added to my list.

And I’m guessing that you do too.

Because let’s face it, your time is valuable.

The basics of getting healthy and fit over 40

#1 Move daily

First and foremost, it’s essential to move more throughout your day on a daily basis.

You don’t necessarily have to do a workout every single day, but taking the dog out for more walks, getting up from your desk often, or even doing housework can help get your daily movement in. You can also try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from your office or grocery store, taking a walk around the block during your lunch break.

It all counts. All of these simple daily movements add up to increasing your daily step count, so you can be efficient with your efforts, since none of us have an endless amount of time to devote to being healthy.

This is also the category for things like yoga and stretching — both are great ways to stay mobile.

People like to throw around the 10,000 steps per day number but a 2021 meta-analysis found that even a modest increase in steps per day may be associated with a lower risk of death.

So if 10,000 steps feels overwhelming, don’t fret — whatever amount you can realistically manage is fine as long as you’re trending upward with daily movement.

It is well-established that higher daily step count averages are associated with better insulin sensitivity (meaning a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes) and reduced obesity. But, while an increase in physical activity (in the form of taking more steps) is great for improving overall health, a 2022 study showed that it’s not enough on its own to help you lose weight (if that’s your goal). Losing weight requires a focus on eating fewer calories, weight training, and adding a cardio workout routine.

#2 Lift heavy weights at least 2x per week

Weight training is a key component of good health and fitness. Lifting weights is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass as you age, which prolongs your ability to live your life without physical limitations — like climbing the stairs, getting up from the toilet, and carrying groceries.

Lifting weights is even more important though, for middle-aged and menopausal women, who may not realize the important role strength training plays in preserving bone density and joint health, reducing hot flashes through perimenopause, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

During perimenopause and the menopause transition, our estrogen levels decline and ultimately flatline post menopause. Estrogen is our muscle-building hormone, so as we lose it, it becomes much more difficult to maintain muscle and build muscle.

When we lift weights regularly:

  • we train our muscles to be more functional in daily life
  • our bone density increases
  • our balance and coordination improve making us far less likely to fall and fracture a hip
  • we improve dilation and construction of blood vessels which can reduce hot flashes
  • with more muscles comes better blood glucose control, which helps reduce your risk of developing diabetes

The current guidelines recommend strength training at least twice a week and, for best results, work with a weight that’s heavy enough to challenge for 4-6 reps (not 10-20 reps) and where the effort to complete each set is a 7-8 out of 10. To get the most out of your time in the gym, you want each set to be tough enough that you need a full 90 seconds to 2 minutes of rest between sets.

#3 Get your heart rate up regularly

Cardiovascular exercise is also an important part of being fit over 40 because it’s crucial for improving heart health, lung capacity, and endurance.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for AT LEAST:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking, swimming, raking the yard) OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week (like running, shoveling heavy snow, high intensity interval training, aerobic dancing) OR
  • some combination of both spread throughout the week.

For more on these guidelines, check out this post.

Keep in mind that these are the minimum recommended amounts to avoid negative health consequences.

Sadly, the vast majority of people fail to meet even the minimum recommendations.

It’s not a glamorous solution, but increasing your physical fitness through cardiovascular exercise done on a consistent basis is pretty much guaranteed to make your life better and get you feeling more fit over 40.

#4 Increase your protein intake

Protein, in conjunction with strength training) is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass as we age, especially as estrogen levels decline during menopause.

Most of us are not eating enough protein to combat the loss of muscle tissue and this is contributing to that myth that metabolism slows in middle age (it actually doesn’t slow until our 60s).

Not only is protein important for muscle growth, but the amino acids in protein support all sorts of vital processes in your body, from muscle repair to a healthy immune system.

First, track your protein for a few days to get an average of how much you’re eating. Then gradually increase your protein over time. Ultimately, we want to aim for 1.8-2.0 g/kg of body weight per day, divided into chunks of 25-30 grams, spread throughout the day.

Want more simple nutrition tips? Grab our No-Brainer Nutrition Habits Guide here — it’s a FREE tool that we designed to help you build better nutrition habits without having to start your whole life over from scratch. 

#5 Sleep hygiene is essential.

Good sleep is essential for maintaining healthy hormone levels, reducing stress, and improving cognitive function.

Failing to get enough sleep alters hormone levels, hinders recovery, keeps us being active, and can drive up your cravings for foods that work against your fitness goals.

This is an area though where I, as a coach, see a lot of fixed mindset issues. “I’m just a bad sleeper” or “I’ve always been a bad sleeper and everyone in my family are bad sleepers” are things I hear often.

Sleep hygiene is a skill — one that we should focus on developing because of how fundamental it is to every aspect of our health. It is something we can improve if we stop letting this fixed mindset get in the way.

It helps to create a nightly routine. It’s like the difference between hitting the shut down button on your computer versus just yanking the plug out of the wall. You need a process to signal it’s time to shut down to your brain and a routine that allows you to transition from alert to relaxed.

Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, avoid electronic screens an hour before bed, and avoid caffeine late in the day. Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.

#6 Have a stress management toolbox

Stress is a significant factor that contributes to disease and a wide range of health problems, from inflammation to diabetes to depression.

Seriously, name an issue and I bet stress is linked to it. Why is that? Well, because prolonged, persistent internalized stress hijacks the functionality of every system in our bodies. This is great when you need to run from a bear. Not so great when you live your whole life that way.

Stress in life can feel overwhelming and totally out of our control at times. But sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of leaning toward calm to interrupt the stream of stress chemicals so we can get a grip.

To combat stress, create a toolbox of stress-relief techniques that work for you. This may include spending time outside, spending time with friends and family, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in creative activities. It could also be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to disconnect and sit quietly.

Find a few go-to things that work for you and make a list so that when you feel overwhelmed by stress, you can pick something from your toolbox to help take the edge off and switch your nervous system from OVERDRIVE to CRUISE or PARK.

#7 Increase your fiber intake

Fiber is important for managing cholesterol levels, reducing blood sugar spikes, optimizing nutrient absorption during digestion, keeping your guts healthy and happy, and helping you feel fuller on less food volume, which is super important if your goal is to avoid weight gain or maintain your current body weight.

Once again, though, this is an area where many of us fall short of the minimum recommendations.

Our schedules and the demands of modern life can often keep us on the go and put us in situations where we’re eating foods that are more “convenient” which often are low in fiber. So, when eating convenience foods, we miss out on all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber our bodies need from whole grains, oats, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Women should consume at least 25 grams of fiber daily, and men should aim for 38 grams or more. (The typical American gets a mere 16 grams per day.)

Keep it simple to stay fit for life

With all the advice, tools, apps, and hacks available nowadays, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. It is important to remember that good health and fitness come from the basics and there is no shortcut.

Making small, manageable changes to your daily life is a sustainable and far more effective way to achieve your health goals. Far too many of us are finding out the hard way that looking for a way around these basics is a waste of precious time.

By focusing on daily movement, strength training, regular heart-pumping exercise, more protein, better sleep hygiene, stress management tools, and increased fiber intake, you can create a foundation on which you can build any other health optimization strategies.

So, to get fit over 40, let’s stop falling for gimmicks, quick fixes, and workarounds and finally just commit to real, simple, basic healthy changes that will last a lifetime.

This is the focus of our latest program — StrongHer in 6. We’ll take you from zero to hero with these habits in 6 months so you can stop feeling frustrated with your body and start feeling stronger — physically and mentally — for the years ahead of you.

Because mid-life shouldn’t be a health crisis and menopause isn’t the end of your story.

Check it out here

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Hi, I'm Alison

I’m the Founder + CEO of Miles To Go Athletics.

My own journey has taken me from always-injured-and-in-pain-farthest-thing-from-an-athlete in my 30s to ultramarathoner + competitive weightlifter in my 40s and beyond. So I firmly believe that athleticism is accessible to EVERYONE and is actually the key to better quality of life.

My team + I are here to help you stop putting your life on hold due to pain, injuries, and “getting old” and instead get back to the things you really want to be doing – like being active with friends & family, chasing bucket list goals, and feeling badass at any age.

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