There are probably two main reasons you are reading this article: you are approaching 40 or you have already got there. Although growing older is the undeniable natural course of life, ageing is not the golden dream of any person on this planet. Our metabolism will naturally slow down at this stage of life and we need to start making wiser decisions related to food intake, exercise and recovery. The choices we make to improve our health and well being define how fit and healthy we can be when we are over 40.
According to many scientific studies, physical activity is one of the contributing factors to adding extra years to your life, even if you didn’t exercise when you were younger. Regular physical activity has both physical and mental benefits, such as:
Improves mental and cognitive health - exercise triggers the release of brain chemicals that can reduce depression and anxiety and also optimizes your cognitive function.
Increases physical strength - people who are physically active build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.
Helps you keep your weight at a healthy level – overweight individuals are more likely to develop several health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hormonal imbalances. Exercise can help you lose weight, preserving muscle and bone mass.
Enhances the quality of sleep – changes of sleeping patterns tend to appear with age due to increased daily life stress and also to hormonal changes that occur in men and women. Being active decreases fatigue, reduces stress and improves a better quality of sleep, enhancing your immune system.
Regular exercises also have shown to be effective to slow the ageing process. That alone is a very good reason to make your body sweat a bit.
Here are some tips to be fitter and healthier than ever, no matter how many candles you have blown on your last birthday cake.
Some hormonal changes happen to the body as we age and those can cause muscle and bone mass loss that directly affect functional mobility capacity. Weight training not only improves muscle strength but also helps to maintain bone density, which is particularly important for people who were sedentary in early adulthood and have become more active in their 40’s. Incorporating a variety of strength training in your weekly routine keeps your joints moving in a wide range of motion and strengthens connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments as well. It is also easier to maintain a healthy body weight because when you have more muscles, you are not just burning calories while you are exercising, but also during resting state. Your body becomes more metabolically active since the energy is used for muscle cell recovery and glycogen replacement.
The main reasons why we tend to gain extra weight as we age are hormonal imbalances and lower metabolism.
Changes in the hormonal system, less estrogen for women and testosterone for men, make you accumulate more fat in specific areas of the body. Those changes can also cause low insulin sensitivity (or insulin resistance) which makes it harder for cells to absorb the amount of glucose present in your blood and therefore can lead to the development of diabetes type 2. Scientific studies have shown that moderate to intensive aerobic exercises, three times per week are effective to reduce insulin resistance and prevent diabetes.
Fat provides the main fuel source for long-duration, low-to-moderate intensity exercise. Oxygen is required in the process to break down fat storages for energy. Fat molecules are mobilized from several stores around your body and converted to ATP through a complex chemical reaction that happens in your muscles. Your aerobic system continuously needs a large amount of energy to keep functioning well during long duration exercises such as long running sessions, that is why cardio workouts are great to burn fat and keep your body at a healthy weight.
When practised regularly, cardio exercises help you build endurance, strengthen your cardiovascular system, increasing blood flow and deliver more oxygen to the whole body. After a good workout, your muscles may be tired, but there’s a sense of well-being promoted by endorphins that are produced during high-intensity exercise that can also lift your mood and improve your ability to deal with stress.
Regardless of how good is your training program, if your diet is poor, you certainly will not improve your fitness nor your health. As you age, you should be more concerned about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent ageing-related diseases. The quality of food you eat is crucial to be fit and healthy after 40. Eating a well-balanced diet can also help you get calories and nutrients you need to do your daily activities and training.
Try to include more fresh and organic vegetables in your diet because they contain antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that increase the nutritional value of your meals. Whole grains and fruits are excellent sources of carbohydrates to provide energy before training and replenish your glycogen stores after training.
Processed foods are made to be tasty and desirable to the human brain. They provide enough taste to be interesting, however, they offer a lot of empty calories with no nutritional value whatsoever. You need to restore calories through dietary sources that benefit your body. No matter how old you are, changing eating habits for the better will have a direct effect on the quality of life you will have as you age. You have probably heard the famous quote “Let food be thy medicine”. As cliché as it may sound, it is a very simple truth.
The skeleton is the internal framework of the body. Joints are the areas where bones come together and they allow the skeleton to be flexible for movement. Bones are cushioned by cartilage in joints, synovial membranes, and fluid. As we age, the amount of fluid in joints may decrease which makes the joints stiffer and less flexible. A proper warm-up increases blood circulation and improves the viscosity of joints, preparing your body for the following workout, and helping to prevent injuries.
Training provides a stimulus that leads to adaptation which means better overall fitness. However, that adaptation occurs when you give your body time to recover from training sessions, otherwise, you will tend to develop overtraining and injuries that accompany it. Overtraining in younger athletes may result from an extended period of training too hard, too long, or a combination of both. Since your capacity of recovering from training also declines with age, in masters, two hard workouts in a row without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining. Ageing slows healing in muscles and connective tissues, reduces some hormonal production, including Growth Hormone which activates fitness adaptation, and also causes a loss in nervous system efficiency. It is crucial to get a proper training plan that includes adequate recovery to let your body rest when it needs to do so. Stretching sessions and yoga are good alternatives for active recovery.
As we age, we may experience changes in our sleeping patterns, such as going to bed earlier, waking up earlier or having less deep sleep. However, waking up tired every day and symptoms of insomnia are not a normal part of ageing. Sleep is just as important as it was when you were younger. Older adults who don't sleep well are more likely to suffer from depression, lack of attention and memory problems and also can develop serious health issues including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity. Exercise releases chemicals in your body that promote a more restful sleep and therefore physical activity can be an alternative or complementary approach to existing therapies for sleep problems.
When you are a middle-aged athlete, good night’s sleep is even more essential for improving health and recovering. Your body produces most of the hormones needed for tissue repair during deep REM cycles of sleep. If you are searching for performance improvement and want to maintain optimum health, you must be aware of how many hours of sleep you need to be entirely recovered from the previous day.
Speaking from my own experience as a middle-aged athlete, I can say with absolute certainty that I am living the best moment of my life. I started cycling at age 39 and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years. Since then I set goals that took me out of my comfort zone and stopped me from thinking I was too old to start something new. I participated in the MTB XCM National Championship this year and I’m currently training for Ironman 2020. I also put some ultramarathons in my bucket list already. The sport has this kind of magic. It brings back the youthful spirit that helps you challenge yourself in many ways. Moving out of the comfort zone allows you to achieve your full potential by trying new things. It is a mistake to believe that just because you entered your fourth decade you must have age-appropriate thoughts and behaviours from this day forward. Don’t wait for the midlife crisis to happen because it never has to. Getting older is about getting wiser. Your physical peak may not be the same as it was when you were in your 20’s, but your ability to train smarter is your greatest strength. Find a sport you like that will help challenge yourself and build a solid routine from there. You will certainly find yourself achieving your greatest accomplishments and realizing that ageing is on your side.