To get back my youth, I would do anything in the world,
except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.
11 Tips to Get Fit at 40By Jeanine Natale
When I turned 40 this past February, one of the pledges I made was to look and feel much better than I had at 39, or at 38, 37, or 36, for that matter. I'd become pudgy and very out of shape through a combination of a badly broken toe that stranded me on crutches for months, terrible eating habits, and, of course, no exercise other than stumping around on those sticks.
Even after I got off the crutches, it was several more months before I could really walk and move around normally again. Sick of how I was feeling and looking, I made up my mind that by the Big 4-0, I was going to be fabulous! Here are 11 tips that have helped get me to where I want to be.
- Favorite sports, new activities. My big transformation happened over summer, which meant I got to surf free of my wetsuit! Even without the effort of struggling into a suit, it takes good overall fitness, especially solid core strength, to carry that longboard over long stretches of sand, paddle, and master the all-important pop-up maneuver. If surfing isn't your thing, think about the kinds of activities and workouts that you loved doing when you were younger, or perhaps always wanted to do and never got around to. And if you've got kids, take a look at the kinds of things they like to do for fun. Okay, maybe learning to skateboard at 40 isn't such a bright idea, but playing basketball or soccer are both great workouts, as are ballet and martial arts.
- Solid workout. While trying new activities is always a thrill, it's also a good idea to have a solid, regular workout program for developing overall fitness. Classes like Focused On Fitness's 1 Hour Muscle Conditioning or Spinning provide an excellent system to get yourself back in shape if you've let yourself go, so you can get back to those activities you love to do without the frustration of struggling to catch your breath in the middle of a game, when everyone else around you is raring to go. Then, too, the workouts are challenging—and fun—in their own right! Remember, you're as young as you feel, and as aging causes us to start losing muscle mass and bone density, getting back in shape doing something you love is a great way to fight back.
- Take a hike and do some yoga. Getting back on my feet, I found that doing a daily low-impact walk was a great way to get rid of specific sore spots in my feet and knees from limping around on crutches. And warming up before and after any kind of walk or run is a good way to avoid undoing your efforts at exercise by just being stiff and sore for days after. There are several studies showing yoga to be one of the best stretch exercises around at any age, but especially for those of us 40 and over. Even my own mom and dad, who have NEVER been fitness buffs, have discovered yoga and stretching at the ages of 70 and 80 respectively. I've seen the positive changes especially in my dad, who suffers from osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, and now Parkinson's disease. My mom, recently recovered from a broken hip, makes a great yoga buddy for my dad, and as the two of them have been at it for the last 6 months, I see my dad up and taking walks now, and eating healthy (something he also never did before!). And my mom isn't limping anymore or getting stiff knees. They're smiling more, too. I took an informal poll, and I found that at least 85 percent of people I know over the age of 20 who are in good health and good shape do yoga on a regular basis.
- Get a little color in those cheeks (but not too much!). Taking a walk on a sunny day is one way to do that. However, it is crucial to be safe and smart about it. That baking-sheet-style, lie-out-roasting tan isn't good for your skin at any age! Wear sunglasses with UV protection and carry sunscreen with you at all times when you are out in the sun. Apply it liberally and often! If you are working up a sweat, or you're walking on the beach splashing in the waves, sunscreen washes off—even the waterproof kind. Also, if you're taking a calcium supplement, a moderate amount of sunshine is one good way to get the vitamin D necessary to help your body absorb calcium. But I repeat, do NOT forget sunscreen!
- Moisturize! No matter what time of year it is, I'm finding that my skin really is more sensitive to humidity levels, and dries out much more quickly. Do some research and find the products that are suited to your skin type—you'll be able to tell pretty quickly which lip balms and lotions are right for you—and use 'em! For summer especially, make sure they contain a strong enough sunscreen. Keep a little sample-size bottle in your car, another in your backpack or purse, and don't leave home without it!
- Truly healthy juices, truly healthy shakes. And I mean serious juice—the kind with dark leafy greens, beets, ginger, carrots, etc. I do love my juicer. Why? Because it leaves all the fibery goodness in my cocktail and I can get a heaping plateful of summer-fresh fruits and veggies in one glass—I always replace at least one meal, if not two, with a big 16-ounce glass of juice.
- Vitamins, minerals, herbs, supplements. Feel free to explore the vast world of supplements, vitamins, and minerals. I tend to have a very sensitive stomach when it comes to taking the pill form of some vitamins and herbal remedies, but recently a 46-year-old friend of mine, who is an excellent massage therapist and yoga buff, made me a juice with the following supplements: echinacea, goldenseal, ginseng, gingko, biotin, spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae, yerba santa, grapefruit seed extract, acidophilus, 5-HTP amino acid complex, and bee pollen. I washed down a handful of probably 20 pills and capsules with that juice, and was very pleasantly surprised that it gave me no trouble whatsoever and had me feeling good all day. Do your research and find the mix that works for you.
- Be nice to your body—it needs you. Pulling all-nighters, eating junk food, and hunching over the computer for hours moving nothing but your fingertips: Ahhh, the good old days! If you still love doing this and you've been out of college for more than a decade, at least trade in the junk food for a healthier choice. And your body will thank you profusely if you just stand up every half hour to move around and stretch, even for a couple of minutes. In all honesty, recovering from those late nights—whether you're out partying or fervidly working on an important project—becomes much harder to do as our bodies age. If you have to be at work in the morning after a rough night, it shows up under your eyes, in your back, in your knees, in the heavy fog coating your brain—you get the picture. You can't always be on an optimal stress-free schedule, but being mindful of your body really does help.
- Avoid late-night meals and midnight snacks. If you've been active on a beautiful long summer day, you'll be good and ready for bed. If you want the experience to be a restful one, avoid eating a heavy late-night meal. While there are many studies and opinions on the actual long-term health effects of this, the general consensus is that if you do eat just before bed, keep it light and simple. As Chris Idzikowski, Director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, says, "A heavy meal can sometimes lead to heartburn-type or reflux symptoms as you're lying down with a full stomach."
- Get a good night's sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep needs change over a person's lifetime, and older adults may produce and secrete less melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Being active during the day and getting enough exercise goes a long way to not only keeping you healthy, but leaving you feeling more relaxed and, well, ready for bed.
- Be proactive and be proud of your active self! Whether you've always been in shape and are now beginning to feel the effects of aging, or were out of shape and reached 40 with more of a beginner's outlook on fitness, the fact that you are taking steps to get fit and get healthy both inside and outside is a major achievement that takes time, commitment, sweat, and effort. The payoffs are many, including less time feeling out of sorts and less time in the doctor’s office. With all the science and knowledge we have so readily available today, there's no reason to despair about old age. Age truly is just a number. In fact, a recent 2010 study by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research showed that, overall, people aged 70 and older who had a positive mental attitude about aging and who were physically active reported feeling much younger than their years. Conversely, those who had a more negative attitude about getting older tended to be less active; and reported feeling at least their age, if not older; and reporting more health problems than the younger group did.
Way back when, a friend of mine commented that he just couldn't keep up like he used to on the volleyball court—that he was perhaps getting too old to do that sort of thing anymore. We were only 27 years old! It was probably the first time I had heard anyone my age mention something like that, and then—as now—I simply refused to accept it. Don't get me wrong, there is always the (unwelcome) possibility that some underlying health issue is a contributing factor, in which case serious medical attention must be sought. Fortunately, it wasn't so in this instance. But I remember being surprised by my friend's statement. He was in great shape—probably in better shape than I was—and at the time, I was riding at least 20 miles a day on my bike and was, indeed, quite healthy! Now at the ripe old age of 40, having "let myself go" only to make some much-needed and welcome improvements, I believe there's a lot to be said for being and feeling as young as you think you are, and there's no time like the present to be your best.