Three mindset shifts for midlife fitness success

Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right ~ Henry Ford

When starting a new exercise or nutrition program, most people focus solely on the external behavioural changes they need to make in order to see results.

The number of days they need to work out. How many reps and sets of each exercise they’re expected to perform. Keeping daily calorie intake within a certain range. Drinking enough water. Making sure they’ve packed their gym bag and left it by the front door.

While each of these contributes to success, in my experience, mindset trumps them all.

According to the dictionary:

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This is precisely why, in addition to providing exercise and nutrition recommendations to my clients, I also work with them to create mindsets that set them up for success.


3 Mindset shifts for midlife fitness success

Mindset shift #1 : Become the driver of your own health

With all of the conflicting information about exercise and nutrition available to us (not to mention the hundreds of programs out there promising ‘guaranteed’ or ‘money back results’…), it’s not surprising that many people feel overwhelmed and confused about what the ‘best’ fitness and nutrition approach for them might be.

Rather than passively following the ‘program of the week’, choose an activity that you enjoy and a way of eating that you can actually stick with for the long term. When it comes to fitness and health, what matters most is consistency. Do anything consistently and for long enough and you’re bound to see results.

Pay attention to how your body feels and adjust accordingly. Get out of the back seat and become the driver of your own health.

Mindset shift #2: Stop looking in your rear view mirror


Regardless of what we’d like to believe, age changes us all. In many cases for the better; just think how much more confident, resilient and comfortable in your own skin you are now, as compared to the 20-year old version of yourself!

The things we don’t like? Greying hair, wrinkles, memory lapses, muscle loss and fat gain. They’re all part of the natural process of aging.

While we can do things to slow them down (hello exercise and whole foods…), we’re never going to look like our 20- (or even 30-) year old selves again. Expecting to wear the same size jeans  you wore before those three pregnancies is unrealistic (for many of us). As is expecting your 50-year old body to once again weigh what you did in your 20’s.

Instead of comparing your ‘now’ you to a younger version of yourself, look ahead and picture how you’d like the ‘future’ you to look (and feel and perform). Find a same-aged or older role model for inspiration. If she can do it, so can you.

Mindset shift #3: Stop confusing acceptance with giving up

I’ve had potential clients say to me, “What’s the point in exercising regularly and eating better if I’m just going to get old and wrinkled anyways?”

In addition to being a completely defeatist mindset, this attitude ignores all the non-aesthetic benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle; increased energy, better range of motion, more pain-free days, being able to continue doing all the activities that you love, sleeping better, reducing your risk of cancer and other life-limiting diseases, etc., etc., etc.

Acceptance isn’t the same as giving up. Giving up means that you’ve stopped trying. That you no longer believe there’s room for improvement and that your actions have consequences. In contrast, acceptance allows for the possibility of change. It requires self-compassion, self-awareness and self-love.

The key is to set realistic and relevant goals, goals that will help you reach that ‘future’ version of yourself; strong, healthy and happy!

As we knitters say, aim to be a “work in progress” (WIP), rather than a “finished object” (FO).

Have you experienced a shift in mindset that’s helped you to reach your health and fitness goals?



Suggestions for increasing protein intake | Trainer Tips

IMG_9242Last Friday, in response to a request from one of the women in my online fitness group, I Periscope-d** about protein. Specifically addressing questions about why it’s important, how much active women need and suggesting ways to increase one’s intake.

Alas, Periscope failed me. While a wonderful platform for interacting in real time, it seems to still be rather ‘glitchy’, freezing at inopportune moments and forbidding anyone (me included) from watching the re-broadcast during the 24-hour re-broadcast period.

Today’s post is a re-creation of that broadcast (without the spammers’ comments – hooray and the viewers’ hearts – boo….).

** Haven’t a clue what I’m talking about? Periscope is a new social media platform that allows people to broadcast live from anywhere in the world. Download the free app. Register using your Twitter ID. Search for and follow your favourite social media peeps (you can find me @fitknitchick_1). Turn on notifications to get a message when those you follow are broadcasting live. While a broadcast is happening you can (1) type messages into the text box at the bottom (the broadcaster will see and perhaps respond to them), (2) show how much you love their content by tapping your screen to give ‘hearts’ (kind of like ‘liking’ on Facebook) and (3) share with your friends by scrolling up or left-to-right (depending on your phone) and hitting the ‘share’ button.


When I start working with a new fitness coaching client, I have them track their food. In almost all cases, I find them to be eating too little protein to accomplish their dual goals of building muscle and losing fat.

Helping them to increase their protein intake is often the first step we take together to improve their diet and elevate their energy levels.

Why eat protein?

Protein is one of three classes of macronutrients (the other two being carbohydrates and fats) required by your body to carry out it’s day-to-day functions.

Protein is essential for:

  • the building and repair of body tissues (including muscles, ligaments and tendons)
  • enzyme and hormone production
  • maintenance of a healthy immune system (antibody production)
  • fluid transport balance

It increases feelings of satiety between meals and, unlike carbohydrates, doesn’t elevate blood sugars or trigger the release of insulin into the bloodstream. And with only 4 calories per gram, it’s an efficient way to keep your daily calorie intake in check while supporting muscle growth.

Typical animal-based sources of protein

How much protein do you need each day?

For many years health professionals have recommended that active adults consume 0.8 to 1.0 g of protein per kilogram body weight. That would mean that a 155 pound woman needs somewhere between 56 and 70 grams of protein daily.

(Still doing everything the empirical way? Take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 to get kilos then multiply that number by 0.8 to 1.0. Now you’ve got grams of protein per kilograms of body weight :-) ).

Recent research suggests that this may not be enough for exercising individuals because protein can be used as fuel during exercise, particularly when that exercise is relatively high in intensity.

Protein recommendations for athletes are much higher; 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (or 85 to 127 g for our 155 pound friend).

For most of us, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. And, as with all things nutritional, it pays to be your own detective (that is, pick a number, aim for it for a few weeks, evaluate whether it’s getting you any closer to your goals and adjust accordingly).

Some obvious, and not-so-obvious sources of dietary protein

Proteins are structural molecules made up of specific combinations of 20 different amino acids, 8 of which cannot be synthesized by the body and must, therefore, be supplied by the diet.

Protein sources that provide all 8 of these essential amino acids are referred to as ‘complete’ proteins.

These would include all of the following animal-based sources of protein (as well as quinoa, a plant-based protein):

  • poultry, fish, beef, pork, bison, shellfish (the foods that we typically think of when we hear the word ‘protein’; 15 to 25 grams of protein per serving)
  • dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese (8 or more grams of protein per serving)
  • eggs and egg whites (7-9 grams of protein per serving)
  • whey protein powder (20-25 grams of protein per serving)

Most plant-based sources of protein are ‘incomplete’ and and include the following (as well as many others):

  • oats, rice, grains and barley (< 8 grams of protein per serving)
  • nuts and seeds (and butters made from them; 3-6 grams of protein per serving)
  • various vegetables including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus and kale (< 6 grams of protein per serving)
  • soy products, including edamame, tempeh and tofu (10 – 30 g of protein per serving)
  • hemp and rice protein powders (12 – 15 grams of protein per serving)
Non-animal protein sources and their protein content per serving

Non-animal protein sources and their protein content per serving

Note that most vegetarian options provide fewer grams of protein per serving than their animal-based counterparts. Combine that with their ‘incomplete’ protein status and it’s easy to see why vegetarians may have a harder time meeting their daily protein requirement than non-vegetarians.

Suggestions for increasing your daily protein intake when you’re on the run

For many of my clients, getting enough protein in the meals they eat at home isn’t a problem.

The challenge comes when you’re out of the house all day and you need some quick sources of protein (ideally, those that don’t require refrigeration) between meals.

My favourites?

  • string cheese (it doesn’t get all melty, like regular cheese, if you leave it in your gym-bag all morning)
  • individual serving tuna cans (just remember to bring a fork and a plastic baggie to put the opened, an often leaky, tin in when you’re done)
  • whey protein in a blender cup (choose one that mixes well with water)
  • edamame (I buy the pre-shelled frozen kind and scoop some into a plastic container before I head to the gym; it’s thawed by snack time)
  • home-made protein balls or energy bites (a Pinterest search should yield you hundreds of recipes in just a few seconds ;- )
  • raw nuts (I always portion these out and pack in their own containers; it’s way too easy to over-consume these calorie-dense goodies)
  • beef, turkey and salmon jerky (I made a rhyme!)

For more portable protein-filled snack ideas, check out this post >> 5 Emergency Snacks, No Refrigeration Required

Do you have a favourite way of increasing protein intake? Something I haven’t mentioned in this post? Or a trick that helps you on those days you’re away from home and eating out of your car?

Please share with my readers by leaving a comment below!

4 Stretches for Tight Hamstrings

Quick. Take 15 seconds and read the questions below. I’ll wait 😉

stretches for tight hamstrings

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of them, chances are you suffer from tight hamstrings.

I say ‘suffer’, because chronically tight hamstrings can lead to a variety of conditions and injuries, including poor posture, lower back pain, knee instability and an increased risk of injury during sports and exercise. There’s even some recent evidence linking longevity to the ability to touch your toes (although I’m sure that there’s more than flexibility affecting this relationship; too much weight around the middle also makes it hard to touch your toes 😉 ).

Hamstrings 101

The three muscles that make up the hamstring complex (the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus are collectively referred to simply as the ‘hamstrings) are located on the back of the upper leg.

They cross both the hip and the knee and as such function to both tilt the pelvis backward (also referred to as ‘hip extension’) and bend (or ‘flex’) the knee.

stretches for tight hamstrings

In weight-bearing exercises (for example, squats and lunges), they also work together with the quadriceps (the large muscles on the front of your thighs) to move the torso up and down.

Common causes of tight hamstrings
  • genetics; general flexibility is determine, in part, by body structure. If you’ve always had poor, all-over flexibility you can blame your parents. That’s not to say you can’t improve on what nature’s given you though. You’ll just need to stretch regularly and consistently (and may never be able to match the performance of your favourite yoga instructor).
  • weak core muscles; like the hamstrings, the muscles of the lower abdomen and back attach to the pelvis. Their job is to tilt the pelvis forward. If either the lower-abdominal muscles or the low-back muscles are weak, they can’t counterbalance the pull of the hamstrings, which will shorten and tighten as they tilt the pelvis backward. In addition to stretching the hamstrings (see my 4 favourite stretches for tight hamstrings, below), you’d also be wise to add some core strengthening exercises to your weekly routine.
  • too much sitting; when you sit for long stretches of time you limit the range of motion through which both the hamstrings and the hip flexors work. As a consequence, the lower back becomes tight, as do the hamstrings and calves. Limiting sitting time, as well as performing full range of motion stretches (see below) will help to combat lifestyle-induced hamstring tightness.
  • previous lower back or knee injury; often, when we injure one muscle, other muscle groups compensate. Sometimes they overcompensate, leading to stiffness, injury or inefficient motor patterns, even after the initial injury has fully healed.
Stretching Tips

When stretching the hamstrings (or any other muscle group), keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • stretching is more effective when muscles are warm (at the end of your workout, after a gentle warmup or after soaking in a hot bath)
  • stretches should be static rather than ballistic to prevent injury
  • stretch only to the point of resistance, never to the point of pain
  • aim to straighten the limb without locking the joint
  • hold stretches for 15 to 30 s, relax and repeat
  • use props (e.g., yoga blocks, straps, towels, door jambs) to support stretches than are challenging for you
  • build stretching into your regular exercise routine (10-15 minutes, 3 or more times per week)
4 Stretches for Tight Hamstrings


Need ideas for stretching the rest of your body? One of the following posts may be exactly what you’re looking for:

If you found this post educational, helpful or entertaining, please consider sharing it with your friends. All you need to do is click one of the social sharing buttons below. 


Tips for becoming an independent exerciser

Before we get to today’s post, I’d like to take a minute and share some exciting news with you all.

As of September 1st, I’m stepping away from my personal training job at the gym. Doing so will allow me to spend more time focusing on my Online Fitness Coaching clients and my monthly 40+ Women’s Training group. Time is truly my most precious commodity and I just haven’t felt like I’ve had as much of it as I’d like to have to give to these strong, focused and committed women.

While I’ll miss my in-person clients, I’m looking forward to having increased control over my schedule and connecting with more women who are truly ready to make change and commit to the exercise, nutrition and mindset habits required to reach their health and fitness goals. 

When I start working with a new personal training client, I’m already thinking about how the relationship will end.

Not because I don’t enjoy the process of helping women learn how to move and feed their bodies, but because my goal is to teach them to do it for themselves. Personal training is expensive and should be viewed as a temporary investment, not a life-long relationship :-)

Just as I expect my children to some day leave ‘the nest’, I expect each client to eventually take charge of their own health and fitness and ‘fledge’; to become an independent exerciser, in their own right.

becoming an independent exerciser

Okay. I’m not quite ready for this one to leave the nest yet…

Tips for becoming an independent exerciser
  • Create a schedule. You might start by scheduling your workouts for the same time as your regular once or twice-weekly personal training sessions. Those days and times are already part of your routine and heading to the gym then will be second nature. If you’ve been doing an extra workout or two as part of your personal training homework, you’re already comfortable with exercising on your own; keep it up. My favourite way to schedule my workouts? An old-school desk calendar.
  • Follow a written program. If your trainer has provided you with written programs during the period of your training relationship, dust them off and re-cycle them. Just because you’ve followed a program in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t continue to benefit you now. Besides, you’ll already be familiar with the exercises and your trainer’s notes will include form cues and the number of reps and sets to be performed. Don’t have an individualized program? Grab the latest copy of your favourite fitness and exercise magazine (print or on-line). The most popular titles all include a workout program of the month. Take it with you to the gym and follow it to the letter.
  • Document your workouts. If you lift it, log it. Keep track of your progress, just the way your personal trainer did. For each exercise, write down the number of reps and sets you performed, as well as the weight lifted. Attempt to progress your workouts every week or two. Add an extra set. Perform a few more reps. Increase your weights. Then, when you stop making progress (or find that you’re tired of the program), grab a new program and begin all over again.
  • Make friends in the gym. Introduce yourself to the woman who always seems to be doing core work at the same time you are. Not only will becoming friendly with your fellow gym-goers help with accountability (you know they’ll ask you where you’ve been if you a miss a workout or two…), they can also be a great source of knowledge and information. Ask them about a new exercise you see them performing. Maybe it’s one you’d benefit from as well. Get them to show you how to use a machine you’re unfamiliar with. Most people are happy to share their knowledge, especially if you ask nicely 😉
  • Set some time-bound goals. Create some goals with a due date. Things you can work towards over the course of a few weeks to a few months. Write them down and include the date on which you’ll re-visit them. Then, re-visit them to celebrate your successes or to give yourself a compassionate, but no-nonsense talking to about how you’ll need to change your approach to reaching the goal for it to manifest.
  • Find a half-way solution. No longer need someone to correct your squat, count your reps and tell you when your Tabata interval is over, but not quite ready to go it alone? Ask your trainer if they’re willing to see you every 4-6 for a program change. That one-hour session may be exactly what you need to keep you moving forward towards full-on independent exercise. Another option? Find an online training community that includes monthly workouts, nutrition support and advice about how to customize the workouts to make them your own. My monthly Online Group Training program for women over 40 is about to start a new 3-month session. Make sure you’re on my email list to be the first to get access to the registration materials.
  • Re-commit to your ‘why’ daily. Remind yourself of why you value exercise. List the benefits that it brings to your life. Think of how you feel when you miss a workout or two. Use your best ‘trainer voice’ to encourage, motivate and support yourself. Focus on developing a positive mindset around exercise; do it because you love your body, not because you dislike it. Above all, mindset is key to becoming an independent exerciser. Think you can do it? You’re right! Think you can’t? You’re probably right too…

Grab a copy of my free 3-book, ‘5 Steps to Exercise Happiness’ if you’re still struggling to find your ‘why’.

Have you made the leap from personal trainer to becoming an independent exerciser?

What’s your best advice for my readers?








Just like muscles, a healthy mindset needs training too

Today’s post involves a little navel-gazing. But I’m sharing anyways because I think it will resonate with many of you and I’m curious to know how you deal with that little nay-sayer in your heads…

A few weeks back, a woman whose physique, education and training philosophy I greatly admire paid me a compliment in the gym.

Looking strong! Your back definition is great! Such fantastic progress! Keep it up!

The back in question. The back that can do 3 sets of 10 bent over rows at 50 pounds a side. The back that needed to just shut up and say ‘thank you’


Instead of standing up straight, smiling at her and saying “Thanks for noticing. I’ve been working really hard!” (which is how we should always respond to a sincere compliment), I shrugged my shoulders and replied,

I try. But it’s not as easy at my age as it used to be… You know, two steps forward, one step back… Harder to keep the midsection tight…Have to be careful of injuries, you know…

(or something to that effect; I’ve forgotten my exact words, but you get the picture).

She offered a few more words of encouragement before moving on, clearly a bit taken aback at my response.

As was I.

In shrugging off her encouraging remarks, I surely made her think I questioned her sincerity. (And I’m betting she’ll never take the time to compliment me again. ..)

I’m not unfamiliar with women responding inappropriately to compliments about progress they’ve made in the gym .

All too frequently a female client or class participant says something similar to the words of encouragement I’ve bestowed on them. And it always makes me feel sad to realize that despite all the fabulous changes they’ve made to their outside, their mindset still hasn’t caught up.


I spent the next few days pondering. Curious about why I’d responded the way I did. Wondering where those words came from and why I felt the need to belittle her observations and undermine the compliment.

I came to the conclusion that mindset habits are just as quickly undermined as exercise and nutrition habits. Just as it’s all too easy to skip a week at the gym or slip into the pattern of having dessert nightly, it’s also pretty simple to let negative thoughts creep in.

Just because we’ve managed to extinguish a bad habit (or cultivate a new, healthier one), doesn’t mean that it won’t re-surface (or get forgotten) at a later date. And that as with fitness and healthy eating, we need to re-commit to a mindset that celebrates the lifestyle changes we’ve made. Each and every day.

It’s been a long time since that negative little voice in my head last cropped up. Here’s hoping, that with vigilance, it’ll be an even longer time before I hear from it again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I do whenever my exercise and nutrition routines lapse; practice, practice, practice!


Do you have difficulty accepting compliments about your physique?

Does your mindset lag behind your fitness and nutrition accomplishments?

A 6-exercise, whole-body stability ball workout

I got such great feedback from the three at-home workout videos I created and shared last month that I decided to make another one.

One that requires only a single piece of equipment; a stability ball.

stability ball workout

Don’t forget to ask your children if you can borrow their ‘chair’ for your workout!

Perfect for when you’re travelling to the cottage and don’t want to lug weights or kettlebells with you.

Perfect for those days when you’ve only got 20 minutes to squeeze in a workout.

Perfect for adding a bit of extra core focus to your strength training plan.

Perfect, perfect, perfect!

A 6-exercise, whole-body stability ball workout: Perform 12 repetitions (on each side, where applicable) of each of the following 6 exercises. Rest and repeat once or twice more. Don’t forget to stretch when you’re finished!

If you’ve enjoyed this workout, please take a minute to ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’. Positive feedback makes the world go ’round!

Disclaimer: Although I am a Certified Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer ;-).  Interested in working with me? Check out the online fitness services I offer. I’d love to work with YOU!

10 Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating {Guest post}

I have a treat for you today, dear readers. A guest post written by my kind, generous, compassionate, insightful and very smart friend Evelyn Parham. Evelyn and I first met via our blogs. We read, shared and supported one another’s writing. She then joined my online women’s group training program, developed a passion for the emotional side of nutrition and recently obtained her certification as an Eating Psychology Coach. I know that you’ll love her as much as I do!

Have you ever felt sad, stressed, or angry?

What happened when you experienced the emotions? Many of you probably reached for comforting food. There is nothing wrong with eating food to feel good. But eating food for the sake of helping you deal with emotions is not the best way to deal with your emotions.

Emotional eating does not discriminate; it touches everyone. Overcoming emotional eating takes time. Even after learning how to overcome emotional eating, there will be times when emotional eating will pull you back in.

Why? Because you have emotions and you are an eater.

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Here are ten ways to overcome emotional eating.

Overcome Emotional Eating
  • Pay attention to your emotions. Oftentimes emotions get suppressed and suppression leads to you ignoring emotions that get stirred up within you. If you are sad, acknowledge the emotion and take time to deal with the emotion. Dealing with the emotion when you know it is present helps you control emotional eating.
  • Do not eat to fill a void. Emotional eating is when one eats to fill a void, but when you pay attention to your emotions, you are less likely to eat your feelings. A void means there is space for other things to fit in your life. Fill the void doing activities that take your mind off eating food.
  • Be mindful when eating. Take time to enjoy eating. Let your mind engage with the flavor, texture and aroma of the food you are eating. Eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you feel satisfied. Do not surf the web, watch television or do any other activity besides eating. When you are pre-occupied with other actives besides eating, you will eat mindlessly which can lead to overeating.
  • Stop fighting food or trying to control yourself with food. You need food to fuel your body and when you fight against food, you usher in stress chemistry. Stress impacts your emotional heath and when you are stressed, you eat. Learn to embrace food for what it is, and for what it does for your body. Enjoy food without putting restrictions on yourself.
  • Write in a journal. Journaling is a good way to express yourself. Each time you put any food in your mouth, write it down in your journal. Write down any emotions you are feeling when you eat. Also, document how much food you consume. Journaling helps you pinpoint when you are most likely to eat your feelings.
  • Do not eat anything when you know you are emotional. If you know you are sad, upset, or stressed, do not put any food in your mouth. Do not try to bury your emotions, because eventually they will come out and express themselves in your food choices. Instead of reaching for comfort food, take a deeper look at the emotion you are feeling. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion and work through it without reaching for food to numb your feelings.
  • Slow down while eating and slow your breathing. Eating fast causes stress chemistry to rear its ugly head. Stress chemistry causes lots of things to go awry in your body. Do your best to slow down when you eat your food. One way you can slow down when eating is to slow your breathing. Slowing your breathing calms you down and it also decreases the stress chemistry that happens when you eat fast.
  • Exercise or do movement that you enjoy. Exercising is a good way to work through your emotions. The next time you feel emotional, go for a walk or do your favorite exercise or movement. Exercising or movement is relaxing and when your body is relaxed, your mind is also.
  • De-stress your mind, body and spirit. Take time to de-stress daily. Meditate or spend some quiet time alone. Spend a day getting pampered. Get out and enjoy nature. These are all ways of de-stressing, but the most important thing you can ever do is take time for yourself and be with yourself.
  • Talk to someone about your emotions. Holding in your emotions does more harm than good. It is always a good idea to work through the emotions you feel. Feelings and emotions oftentimes get expressed through food. Talk about your emotions with someone you trust. Opening up to someone helps you uncover and work through the emotions you feel. Never be ashamed to talk it out.
Final Words

It does not matter what emotion you feel, please whatever you do, let it out. Holding in emotions affects your mind, body and spirit. Working through your emotions decreases your need to reach for food to fill the void.

Do not suppress your emotions. Allow yourself time to feel the emotion. Remember, you are an emotional being with feelings. If you feel sad, work through all that comes with feeling sad. Let the tears flow and do not hold back.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.25.38 AMEvelyn Parham, M.S. is a Blogger and Eating Psychology Coach. She helps people live nourished, balanced and whole. Learn more about Evelyn at
Please take a minute to leave a comment or share this post with a friend (via the social media icons below). You never know who you’ll help in doing so!

Strategies for staying slim through midlife

Recently, I participated in the first TransformAging online webinar; a two-day educational series for midlife women interested in improving their health and fitness. I shared many specific tips and tricks for keeping ‘menopot’ at bay.

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Below, I briefly outline what I consider to be the four most important lifestyle strategies for staying slim through midlife and beyond. Want more details? Action items you can implement today? Workouts and skincare tips relevant to your age and stage of life? 

The entire 6-part webinar series is available for purchase; watch, listen, pause and take note of what leading professionals in the field of midlife health and wellness think you should do to make the next half of your life the best half of your life.

Most people gain weight as they age.

On average, we gain about a pound a year during our 40’s and 50’s. (Although this trend tends to reverse after age 65, it’s due not to fat loss, but to loss of muscle mass and bone density; never a good reason to celebrate losing a few pounds :-( ).

Midlife weight gain occurs primarily because we (1) become more sedentary with age and (2) have a tendency to eat more calories than we expend, but also, in part, because (3) our bodies produce less of the fat-burning, muscle-building hormones of youth.

Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels contribute to middle-of-the-body weight gain by (1) increasing the rate at which women store both subcutaneous (below the skin) and visceral fat (the fat that surrounds vital organs deep within the belly) and (2) triggering changes in insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

Translation: we’re less able to burn fat and more likely to store it, in particular, around our mid-sections.

strategies for staying slim through midlife

If only I’d appreciated 44 a little more…


Strategies for staying slim through midlife (and beyond)
  • Strength training reigns: midlife loss of metabolism is largely attributed to a loss in muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active which means it burns more calories at rest than fat.

Prioritizing strength training over other forms of physical activity will not only elevate your metabolic rate, it will also improve bone density, enhance blood sugar regulation, lower stress (see below), make the activities of your daily life easier and give you a leaner, more youthful appearance. Pretty awesome for just 30 minutes of weight lifting, three times a week.

strategies for staying slim through midlife

One of the moves from last month’s 40+ Fitness Online Group Training Program

  • Sugar reduction: with loss of estrogen comes an increased sensitivity to carbohydrates. Your body may not process them as easily as it once did, resulting in those excess sugars being stored as fat.

In addition to lowering your daily calorie count, reducing your intake of added sugars (pretty much any ingredient ending with the letters ‘ose’) and simple carbohydrates (breads, cereals, pasta, white rice) will improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugars and lower your risk of Type II diabetes. Aim for no more than 30 g of added sugar per day (that’s about 6 tsp).

  • Sleep more: the fluctuating hormones of perimenopause often trigger sleep disturbance. Difficulties falling and staying asleep. Middle-of-the-night insomnia. Early wake-ups. (I know, I’m experiencing them all myself).

Sleep plays an important role in the regulation of several hormone systems. It helps to re-set the hormones responsible for food cravings and feeling of satiety (leptin and ghrelin). It lowers cortisol levels (see Stress less below). It improves blood sugar regulation and hastens muscle repair and recovery. And don’t forget about it’s role in learning and memory. Aim for 7 hours a night, go to bed earlier, if, like me, you’re not able to sleep in.

strategies for staying slim through midlife

I’m faking it here :-)

  • Stress less: Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in the body. It raises blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, increases the risk of obesity, heart attack and stroke. Not to mention speeding up the aging process. Find ways to incorporate more stress-reducing activities in your day; walking, time spent in nature, reading, meditation, yoga and knitting have all been shown to reduce circulating cortisol levels.


Combine elevated stress hormone (cortisol) with elevated blood sugars, low estrogen and non-existent progesterone, and you’ve got the perfect ‘menopot’ storm. Not just an annoyance when it comes to buying jeans, but a serious health risk as well!

strategies for staying slim through midlife

Ready to push those storm clouds away?
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How much exercise is enough?

Today’s post, How Much Exercise Is Enough, is in response to a question posed by one of the members of my Facebook community. (I’m always happy to answer your burning questions about midlife fitness and nutrition too; either here on the blog or over on Periscope, a new live-broadcasting app that I’m testing out Thursday mornings at 8:00 am PT. You can watch it live or in ‘re-runs’ for 24 hours post-broadcast. You can find me at @TamaraGrand).

I frequently share short short (20-30 minute) workouts with my social media followers.

They’re my own preferred way of working out and are the foundation of the types of workouts I create for my clients and online women’s fitness group.

Kathryn asked me about how these types of workouts fit within the government’s recommendation that healthy adults and older adults get 30 (and more recently 60) minutes of physical activity per day; essentially asking how much exercise is enough.

“So just curious – these 20 minute and under exercise work outs – how do they figure in with the 30 minute a day – or now they are saying an hour would be ideal – recommendation? I feel like one minute we’re told that a longer, more moderate work out (like walking) is better and then told that shorter bursts of intense activity are preferred. And just to clarify…the 150 minutes does NOT include strength training or yoga? Thanks, Tamara!”

Because this is a great, multi-part question, I’m going to break it down into three parts; how much, how intense and what types of activities count.

How much exercise is enough?

According to the American Council on Exercise, healthy adults and older adults should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This recommendation is based on studies showing that adults who don’t meet this level of activity are more likely to be overweight and at greater risk of heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes.

Ideally, those 150 weekly minutes will be broken down into five, 30-minute periods of exercise. Although 10-minute bouts of more intense effort (see below for a discussion of ‘intensity’), spread throughout the day may provide the same effects.

Recent studies suggest that exceeding 150 minutes per week has additional health benefits and that the new target should be closer to 300 minutes of physical activity per week (that’s where Kathryn’s comment about 300 minutes comes from; I love how informed my readers are!)

How intensely do I need to be working?

Kathryn’s question really revolves around the issue of intensity. How intense does an activity need to be to ‘count’?

ACE’s recommendations stipulate that those 150 minutes of physical activity need to ‘moderately intense’ to ‘vigorous’. But was do ‘moderately intense’ and ‘vigorous’ really mean?

The best yardstick for measuring intensity is heart rate. The higher your exercise heart rate, the harder you’re working and the higher the intensity of the workout. Not only do higher intensity workouts challenge your cardiovascular system more than lower intensity workouts (building a stronger heart and lungs is a key component of fitness), they also result in more calories burned, a key consideration if weight loss or weight loss maintenance are your primary goals.

A ‘moderately intense to vigorous’ workout will elevate your heart rate up to somewhere between 60 and 90% of maximum heart rate

MaxHR is most easily estimated by subtracting your age from 220; I’m 48, so my maxHR equals 220 – 48 or 172 beats per minute, resulting in a target exercise heart rate of  somewhere between 103 and 155 beats per minute. You can also use the Karvonen formula if you know your resting heart rate; it’s a bit more accurate, especially for people who are already fairly fit.

What types of activities can I include?

Historically, the above recommendations were made specifically with regards to cardiovascular training, with additional weekly recommendations for strength training and flexibility training.

Hence any traditional cardiovascular-based activity will count towards the 150-minute weekly goal; running, cycling, swimming, rowing, cardio machines in the gym, skipping and calisthenics to name a few.

My favourite cardio/strength machine

Walking may meet the criteria, especially if you walk quickly (like you’re trying to catch the bus at the corner) and your route has hills and other variable terrain.

However, many types of workouts incorporate multiple training elements. For example, while Bootcamp and CrossFit-style workouts typically focus primarily on strength training, because of the way they’re structured they also elicit a cardiovascular response. Heart rates remain elevated throughout the workout, simultaneously strengthening both muscles and the cardiovascular system.

Metabolic strength training, circuit-style weight lifting and power yoga may also ‘fill the bill’. As do those 20-30 minute workouts I share on YouTube, Facebook and here, on the blog.

Focus more on how intense the workout is than whether it’s a ‘cardio’, ‘strength’ or ‘flexibility’ workout when you decide whether to count it towards your weekly physical activity goals.

exercise, how much is enough

Kayaking? When you’re racing your brother, it definitely counts!

A few caveats
  • Exercise intensity is individual. The amount of effort a sedentary, non-exerciser would have to expend to generate the appropriate heart rate effect will be different than that of a long-time, consistent exerciser. If you’re new to exercise, I strongly recommend that you get familiar with your heart rate!
  • Recommendations are only guidelines. Newcomers to exercise shouldn’t feel compelled to immediately reach the 150-minute per week guideline. Start with a frequency, intensity and duration that challenges you, but that allows you to be successful. Build on to it as your strength and endurance increases. I might start a brand-new-to-exercise client with only three 15-minute bouts of exercise per week; woefully short of the government recommendations, but a do-able first step for that client.
  • Just because you exercise intensely for 30 (or even 60) minutes a day, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from more movement. If you spend the rest of your day sitting at your desk or behind the wheel of your car, that 30 minutes of exercise may not be enough to keep weight gain, heart disease and diabetes at bay. Interspersing frequent bouts of low intensity, non-exercise activity throughout your day will elevate the effects of your workouts.
  • Walking has many health benefits. For beginners to exercise, it’s often a workout on it’s own. For the rest of us, in particular, midlife, hormonally challenged women, it’s a great way to reduce stress (and the concomitant production of stress hormone which contributes to midlife weight gain). Think of it as a ‘bonus’. Meet your 30 minute heart-rate accelerating goal, then cool down and relax with a leisurely walk. Combine that with the company of a friend or loved one and you’ve done more than you can imagine for your health!

Here’s a sample of the short, but intense, whole-body, metabolic strength workouts that form the bread and butter of my own, personal fitness regime.

If you like it, please take a minute to share it with your friends (it’s super easy; just click on one of the social sharing buttons at the bottom of the post and presto, you’ve made a difference in somebody else’s life :-) ).