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Healthy & Fit After 40: Common Questions & Simple Solutions

Do you ever get discouraged about staying healthy and fit, as you get older?  If so, you are definitely not alone.  These comments and questions might sound familiar: 

  • Why is it so difficult to lose weight, now that I’m over 40 (50, 60, etc.)?
  • I over did it exercising and was injured.  Now I want to get back in the game, but I don’t know where to start.
  • I just don’t sleep as well as I used to.  What can I do?
  • My life is so full – my job, family, and volunteer activities.  By the time I get home in the evening I just want to crash. 
  • I can’t remember the last time I had an evening out with friends.
  • I hate to go to the doctor.  I’m afraid of what I might find out.

If you can relate to one or more of these statements, you’re in the right place.  Trust me, I’ve been there too, and I have found a few simple strategies to stay the course.  (Or get back on course if you’ve had a life interruption.)

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 Couple hiking






My Story

Here’s my story.  Maybe you can relate.  My first physical challenge happened in my early 30’s.  I had been able to maintain a significant weight loss through running.  But I gradually sustained an overuse injury in my hip, and the doctor put me on an anti-inflammatory medication and told me to find a different exercise.  I was frustrated because I had finally found an exercise that fit into my routine that helped me keep those unwanted pounds at bay.  Gradually my weight started to creep up.  By the time I turned 40 I was 15 pounds heavier. 

My 4th decade turned out to be extremely rewarding, but also extremely stressful.  A doctoral program, the illness and death of my mother, a divorce, a new business and multiple moves all had an extreme effect on my health.  You guessed it.  I ended my 40’s with an extra 10 lbs. on the scale.

I managed the best way I knew at the time.  There was no “one-size-fits-all” plan – believe me I tried them all.  I wanted to master my physical health, which impacted my ability to be productive and interact with the world.  I had to find the components of a healthy lifestyle that worked for me.

 I learned a lot about the physical impact of stress and how to manage it.  I became obsessed with understanding the elements of a healthy lifestyle and what that looks like from day to day.  I took a fresh look at diet and exercise and discovered that conventional wisdom had not really served me.  I learned some simple strategies that have turned my life around in the last five years and helped me feel strong, healthy and vibrant in my middle years.  (Yes, I’m 55.)

A Few Simple Solutions

Even though maintaining your health may sometimes feel like a full time job, it really doesn’t have to be that way.  We, as a society, have been conditioned with certain beliefs about what it takes to maintain a healthy weight, stay fit, and manage our health.  Research is beginning to re-evaluate these beliefs, however, and new ideas are beginning to surface.  The following solutions for healthy living may surprise you with their simplicity.

Stress management is the most important thing you can do for your weight, fitness and general overall health. 

Most of us have spent a lot of time and money working on diet and fitness programs.  Very few people I meet have a plan for managing stress on a regular basis.  Unmitigated stress can derail the best meal plan or fitness routine.  Stress hormones can kick in and sabotage your best efforts.

Stress is cumulative.  When you fail to find ways to de-stress on a regular basis, your “fight or flight” hormones will kick in.  Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes (when you’re in an emergency situation) those hormones can save you.  But chronic stress will trick your body into thinking you’re in crisis all the time.  It’s not a good way to live, and it will definitely make you age more quickly than almost anything else.

Learning stress reduction techniques and practicing them daily can change the way you feel in a big way.  And believe it or not, you can see benefits in 5-10 minutes a day.  Meditation is a powerful tool in stress management. (I practice meditation every day.) But it’s not the only thing you can do.  Here are a few other ideas:

  • Make your ultimate music playlist with songs that inspire you.  Listen daily.
  • Stop during the day and take 5 to 10 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Sing, even if you don’t think you can carry a tune.
  • Take a power nap every day.
  • Learn to do a body scan.  Close your eyes.  Focus on any area of pain or tightness in your body.  Actively relax those areas.
  • Learn stretches that you can do anywhere.  Actively stretch for 5-10 minutes.
  • Do a genuine act of kindness for a stranger.

The list could go on and on.  The activities that you are looking for are those   that allow your body to relax and your mind to refocus.  We spend our days bearing down.  If you learn to let go and practice stress management every day, you can make a big difference in the way you feel and the way you age.  (Check out our tool kit for Matt & Carol’s “Stop Stress in the Moment” exercise.)

The energy balance formula (calories in vs. calories out) that we have all learned is probably not accurate.  

For years I believed that I only needed to exercise more and eat less to maintain a healthy weight.  Every year I would reduce the number of calories and become more dedicated to my workout, but I just couldn’t seem to catch up.  My lack of success made me feel slothful and gluttonous.  But anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m anything but lazy.  So what’s going on?

Research is beginning to show that it’s not only the number of calories you take in but the kind of calories that matter.  Weight gain is a hormonal process, not simply a math problem.  (By the way, that’s why stress management is so important to maintaining a healthy weight.) 

Simple carbohydrates make up the bulk of the typical American diet.  These foods (sugar, white flour, bread, rice, and starchy veggies) are easily digested and enter your bloodstream as a surge of glucose (blood sugar.)  Surges of glucose result in corresponding surges of insulin that promote fat storage and perpetuate your appetite.

By adopting a low-carb (or right-carb) eating plan, I have been able to drop weight and eliminate the fluctuations that I experienced in my 30’s & 40’s.  And it’s easy.  I have developed some simple cooking strategies to get a meal on the table in minutes.  I have found lots of great snacks I can eat during the day that don’t skyrocket the number on the scale.  And most of all, I feel clear-headed, energetic, and satisfied.  (Check out our tool kit for a sample daily meal plan and Matt & Carol’s low-carb stuffed jalapenos – a finger food that is sure to be a hit.) 

Exercise is extremely important as you age, but probably not for the reasons you think. 

As we talked about above, the “calorie in, calorie out” model has encouraged many of us exercise in order to lose weight.  While exercise alone may not be the antidote for an expanding waistline, it is one of the most important things you can do to remain active and vital as you get older.  And it’s never too soon to begin.

We think of exercise as having three separate components – cardiovascular exercise, resistance training and flexibility training.  Each of these components plays an important part in slowing the aging process.  People who include cardio vascular exercise (walking, running, bike riding, etc.) are more focused, have improved endurance and a reduced risk of heart disease.  People who lift weights two or more times each week can improve strength and balance.  Stretching, or flexibility training can help with back pain, joint pain, and mobility. 

Exercise triggers the body’s ability to repair itself, and in doing so will reduce inflammation.  Research has shown that inflammation is at the root of many health conditions – everything from arthritis to cancer.  By exercising regularly, you can promote your body’s own healing and recovery.

I have one caution here.  Many of us are driven people who believe “if a little is good, more is better.”  I think you should exercise as much as you want to and have time for.  But over-exercising with improper form can lead to injury.  (Remember my hip problem?) Take it slow and steady.  Start wherever you are.  Increase your capacity and endurance.  And mostly, learn to enjoy moving.  Guidance from a qualified personal trainer, at least in the beginning, can help you jump-start your fitness efforts. (Check out the toolkit for X Factor’s  “Ten Minute Office Workout.”)

Have a “re-entry” plan. 

Life never happens without interruptions.  While it would be nice to think that we can develop a healthy lifestyle that can carry us through any situation, evidence shows otherwise.  Life will happen.  You will have a sick parent or child; you will experience a natural disaster – fire, flood, hurricane or tornado; you will have a job opportunity that you can’t pass up.  You get the picture.

I have found that people typically have a difficult time re-starting their health and fitness efforts after a major life event.  My best suggestion is to make a plan before it happens.  What will you do to get back on track, and how long will it take you?  Knowing what it looks like ahead of time can make a smoother transition. 

Here are a few simple tricks that can help get you back on track:

  • Book a weekend at a health spa.
  • Schedule a few sessions with a personal trainer or health coach.
  • Enroll in a healthy cooking class or fitness class.
  • Spend a weekend in the outdoors – hiking, biking, fishing, or boating.

After I returned home following a 6-week stay with my mom during her final stages of cancer I booked my first trip to a health spa.  That trip was worth every penny because it allowed me to recover, both physically and emotionally.  It was one of the most transformative trips of my life. 

These days I have a 3 day stay-at home plan that can help me transition back into a health and fitness routine following typical life interruptions, such as vacations, holidays, sickness, or moving.  I make a big pot of vegetable soup, take a lot of naps, include light exercise and usually book an appointment for a massage.  I also spend time planning – meals, exercise, time with friends. It’s my ideal jumpstart when I need to de-stress and restart after a big project or a stressful event.  I end up using this plan once or twice during the course of a year.

Don’t underestimate the value of friends and professional support. 

Who would you call at 3:00 AM if your house were on fire?  The list of 4 or 5 friends who have your back, no matter what, is crucial for your health.  Research shows that people who have friends, family and a support network will outlive their lonely counterparts by at least 7 years.

Living a life surrounded by friends, family and supportive professionals doesn’t happen by accident.  Cultivating relationships is a skill that requires practice.  In order to have friends you must be a friend.  It also takes time. 

You might not be comfortable entertaining in your home, but trust me, the effort will pay off in the long run.  The key is to have one or two simple party plans or dinner menus.  You don’t have to get fancy.  The goal is to genuinely connect with others and make a few memories.  We entertain often and find value in the friendships we have cultivated by doing this.  (Our toolkit has some of our best party themes with healthy food options to go with them.)

It is also important that you develop a team of professionals that you can call on when you need them.  For some people, external accountability is critical to their success.  A good doctor, personal trainer, health coach, chiropractor, and massage therapist are all good to have on the list.  You want to develop relationships with these professionals so they understand your individual needs.  You’ll save time and money when you have a list of professionals that are your “go-to” team when you are in need.

Finally . . .

If you find yourself facing the challenges that come with staying healthy and fit as you age, let me encourage you.  It’s possible and it’s not as difficult as you might think.  In fact, you can feel better in your own skin than you have ever felt in your life.  Making a few changes will increase your confidence and productivity.  You’ll look forward to getting out of bed in the morning.  Trust me – you can do this!

I love to dance!  It makes me feel young . . .   What's your favorite activity for recalling a younger version of yourself?

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