Hit middle age? How to exercise after 40 to stay fit and fab

It might be harder to stay in shape as we hit middle age, but it’s no time to throw in the towel. Experts reveal how to work out after 40 to keep fit.

There are more options than ever to stay fit and fabulous in our 40s, 50s and beyond as the fitness industry increasingly caters for older demographics.

Bespoke gyms, fitness studios and health clubs for people in middle age are sprouting around Australia to meet the different needs of our bodies as we age.

So why the focus on fitness over 40?

It’s no secret that staying active throughout our life helps us live longer, fortifying us against a range of age-related physical ills, disabilities and dementia.

But as Australia’s population ages, health experts are turning the spotlight on the power of positive ageing, and the long-term benefits of staying fit and strong in middle age.

Research suggests the pandemic also encouraged more people to consider their health and wellbeing, and seek out options that suit them.

Nutritionist and personal trainer Tania Monk tapped into the growing desire for tailored workouts post-pandemic, starting the Fit After 40 female-only gym in Warrnambool, Victoria.

She says there’s strong demand for alternatives to the one-size-fits-all gym in this demographic.

“I was training friends out of my garage once everything opened back up, and more and more people started coming,” Tania says.

“The majority of my clients at the time were women; they were overwhelmed by conflicting information on getting back into shape, and put off from even trying.

“And gyms filled with 20-somethings may not be the most confidence-boosting experience when navigating challenges such as perimenopause.”

How are fitness over 40 programs different?

As we age, our muscle mass and strength naturally decline – after the age of 30, muscle mass by about three to eight per cent every decade.

That’s why strength training at least two to three times a week becomes a top priority, Tania says.

“The focus needs to be on heavy compound movements like squats and deadlifts, to help mitigate this loss and even promote new muscle growth,” she says, adding that a high-protein diet is also important.

“A lot of people think they will just go running more, and while that’s great for your cardiovascular health and for your mental health, it’s not doing anything for your muscle mass,” Tania says.

Short bouts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is also beneficial in this age group, helping combat the dangerous fat that develops around our abdomen and organs (visceral fat).

HIIT also increases insulin sensitivity, which lowers our blood sugar levels, is a good stress-buster, and supports muscle mass.

In addition, walking 10,000 steps a day is a good goal to aim for, Tania says.

Fitness over 40: What you should know

Torquay Fitness and Lifestyle personal trainer Carolyn Scott says the key takeaway is to keep moving after 40, as it’s never too late to get back into exercise.

“There will be more niggles and issues within our bodies, (and) your training program should always address any areas of concern and modify accordingly,” Carolyn says.

A proper recovery from a workout session is also important to avoid injury, as well as seven to nine hours of sleep each night to help our bodies repair.

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Written by Elissa Doherty.