This post is the first in a two-part series. Partly because it’s a long one to write (and hence, read…), but also because twelve things is a lot to do at once. I challenge you to start implementing the points outlined below right now, before reading the follow up post and acting on the rest.
It’s a common lament among the 40-plus crowd; weight gain, muscle loss, lack of energy and injuries that just won’t go away.
Even women who’ve exercised for years and long followed sound nutritional practices complain that their trusted routines are no longer working to keep ‘menopot’ at bay.
While it’s true that midlife hormonal fluctuations can negatively effect metabolism, (how your body burns and stores the calories you eat), there are things you can do to mitigate their effects. ‘Tweaks’ you can make to your fitness program that maximize your results (and the likelihood that you’ll be able to keep on exercising safely for years to come).
Below, I share my six of my top twelve recommendations for creating a successful midlife exercise program (you’ll have to come back next time for the remainder).
Note that the general principles are applicable to all exercisers, at all ages and stages of life, even if the specifics are aimed at peri-menopausal women :-).
Tips for creating a successful midlife exercise program
- Understand your midlife body. Information is power. The more you know about what’s happening to your body, the easier it is to work with the changes rather than against them.
Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone frequently start to decline around age 40. As a consequence, calories are more readily stored as fat, fat is less easily accessed as fuel and muscles become harder to build.
Changing the emphasis of your fitness routine from cardio to strength training may help preserve muscle mass and metabolism, as well as reducing midlife bone density loss.
Get the full hormone story here >> Hormones and weight gain after 40 | The biology of aging
- Create goals that aren’t just about weight loss. Changing hormones and a slower metabolism means that weight loss won’t happen as easily or as quickly as it might have happened in your 20’s and 30’s. Focusing solely on the bathroom scale is likely to leave you feeling frustrated and ready to give up.
In addition to body composition change goals (weight loss, % body fat), I encourage my clients to also create Habit and Performance goals.
Habit goals (for example, exercising three times per week, drinking 32 ounces daily, eating breakfast every morning, walking for 30 minutes each day) are often the easiest to achieve and make us feel successful and empowered.
Performance goals (for example, running a 5k, doing 12 consecutive toe pushups, squatting your body weight) push us to become ‘more’ and are tangible evidence of improved fitness.
And the best thing? When we achieve our Habit and Performance goals, body composition change tends to follow.
Need some help developing your new habit? >> The science of creating new health and fitness habits
- Get your mindset right. The body achieves what the mind believes. Limiting beliefs and negative thinking will only get you more of the same. Creating a successful midlife exercise program often requires a shift in how we think.
A common midlife mindset around exercise and nutrition is what I call the ‘all or nothing’ approach. As in, ‘If I can’t get a full hour’s workout in, there’s no point in going to the gym’ OR ‘I’ve already wrecked today’s meal plan, might as well have dessert tonight and start again in the morning’.
All or nothing usually leads to nothing. Followed quickly by a feeling of defeat and then actual giving up.
Try these adopting these mindset shifts as part of your new exercise plan. Think of it as fitness for your brain >> Mindset shifts for midlife fitness success
- Focus less on what works for everybody else and more on figuring out what works for you. Sometimes it feels like everybody else has figured out the key to midlife fitness success but us. Surely, if we do what she’s doing (Crossfit, Pilates, carb-cycling, intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet or two hours of cardio each day), we’ll get the same results.
The thing is, we’re all unique individuals, with unique goals, fitness levels, hormonal profiles, likes, dislikes and abilities. What’s popular isn’t necessarily the program or plan that will work for you. You may not enjoy it. It may fall out of vogue. You may get injured doing it. Fitness doesn’t need to be fashionable to work.
It does, however, need to be sane, safe and pleasurable >> Everything you need to know to be a fitness success
- Harness the power of your calendar. When you schedule an appointment with your dentist or doctor you write in on your calendar. In part, so you don’t forget to go (since they’re nearly impossible to re-schedule promptly…), but also, because you value the service your dentist and doctor are performing for you.
Why not value the service exercise does for you equally?
Making an exercise appointment with yourself indicates that you recognize and value the role of fitness in your life. Make that appointment and keep it. (Again and again and again if you’re serious about making the exercise habit a regular part of your life.)
For tips on creating an exercise schedule that works for you click here >> Get out your calendar now
- Emphasize the warmup and stretch. Now, more than ever, your body needs a proper warmup before you exercise and lots of time for gentle stretching when you’re finished. Not only to prevent injury, but also to counteract our modern sedentary lifestyle and the shortened muscles it creates.
The good thing about warmups and time on your mat? They tend to be more pleasurable activities than burpees or H.I.I.T. :-).
For an in-depth explanation of the benefits of a good pre-exercise warmup (and a link to a real-time video warmup you can follow along with) click here >> A pre-workout warmup for midlife exercisers
Need some suggestions for post-workout stretches? Here are a few of my favourites >> Essential stretches for mid-life exercisers
Click here to read the second post in this series “Creating a successful Midlife Exercise Program: Part 2”. Six more suggestions for helping you start and stick with a fitness program through midlife and beyond…
Have you found an approach to fitness and exercise at midlife that’s working for you?
Have you used any of the above six guidelines to help you create a successful midlife exercise program?