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Exercise and fitness is a great stress relief and helps prevent diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Cardio and eating healthier can help with weight loss. Think it’s too late for you to get fit and get healthy? Think again!

I understand. I’ve been there. At age 41, I finally overcame decades of yo-yo dieting and failure to stick with exercise. I went on to get fit, eat healthier, lose a large amount of weight and feel the best I’d ever felt. Even better than when I was in my 20s! It transformed my life so dramatically that I wanted to help others. I became a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and senior fitness specialist.

Today, I’m helping others over 40 experience life-changing improvement in their lives and health — and witnessing their incredible weight-loss transformations.

Getting fit isn’t rocket science, but it does require a combination of knowledge and determination. Here I’m sharing with you some key factors and advice to help you succeed.

Why it matters

There is perhaps no more critical time in your life to exercise than when you’re 40 or over. To name just a few reasons:

Help prevent osteoporosis and age-related muscle loss.

This is critical. Aging causes us to lose muscle mass and bone density every year, for both men and women, which can lead to bone fractures, pain, and other issues. Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.

Help prevent disease

That includes cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and dementia. There are so many benefits to a healthy and active lifestyle. 

Mental health benefits and stress relief 

We are the “sandwich” generation, caring for children or grandchildren plus our aging parents or other loved ones — often while also juggling a career. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer.

Combat hormone and metabolism changes

Being over 40 means dealing with hormone fluctuations and a metabolism that’s slowing down. But you can fight the decline in energy and metabolism with exercise and healthy eating habits.

Pay attention to what your body is telling you

Many of us pay more attention to the maintenance of our cars than our bodies. Do you ignore your own “check engine” warnings? When we were younger, we could get away with taking our good health for granted. But as you get older, pain, discomfort, and disease resulting from years of neglect can start catching up to you. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can do something for your current and future self.

Your mindset determines your success

Find your motivation: discover your “why.” As we get older, health naturally becomes more important. We want to be able to do the things we like. We want the strength and energy we used to have. Perhaps you’d like to avoid high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease that runs in your family. For me, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. That became a powerful motivator. Exercise made me feel better, physically and emotionally.

Believe that you can succeed

Put aside your past failures, we’ve all had them. This time will be different if you’ll use a fresh strategy and mindset than in the past. Commit to be fit. Set a time to exercise. Make a plan. Enlist a personal trainer if you can, or sign up for exercise classes. Make fitness a scheduled part of your day and week.

Avoid the lure of quick fixes

Most are unsustainable methods and therefore don’t work long-term. Realize that fitness improvements and weight loss won’t happen overnight — especially now that you’re older. It will take time, patience and persistence.

It took me over a year to get to my weight loss goal. Some months I didn’t lose anything. But, I began seeing improvements almost immediately in how I felt from exercise. This provided the motivation for me to keep going, regardless of what the scale said. Simply because I didn’t give up this time, I reached my goal. So can you.

Tips to get moving when you’re over 40

Before you start a new exercise program, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for a checkup first and to discuss any pre-existing conditions that may affect what exercises are safe for you.

30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week meets the guideline. For a well-rounded fitness routine, you could do a cardio exercise such as walking on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and a strength workout on Tuesday and Thursday.

However, if you’re just a beginner, you can work your way up to this. Even short amounts of exercise are beneficial.

Start small and go slow

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to start with hard-core boot camp workouts. It’s okay to start small. Find something that’s doable for you.

Continually progress

As you become more fit, start increasing the time and intensity of your workouts. Each week that goes by, make adjustments so that you are steadily progressing. Incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises, such as training with resistance bands or weights, which improves muscle strength, endurance, and power. It also increases your metabolism which helps reduce fat, strengthens your bones, and even helps improve or prevent diabetes. Include aerobic exercise (“cardio”), like walking, running, or cycling, which improves cardiovascular health and burns fat.

Be sure to warm-up

It’s important in order to prepare your body for exercise, to help you have a better workout and to help prevent injuries. Add more movement throughout your day. Reduce sitting. Pace while talking on the phone. Park farther away. All movement counts – even gardening, housework or walking at the mall.

Exercises that are ideal for beginners over 40

It’s much easier to exercise when it’s something you enjoy. Find something you like, and don’t be afraid to try new things. You might just find something you fall in love with.

1. Walking is one of the simplest and best exercises there is. Walking is free, it doesn’t require any equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere. 

READ: Expert tips for starting a walking program”

2. Road cycling, riding a stationary bike, or using an elliptical machine are great low-impact cardio exercises.

3. Swimming and water aerobics provide strength and cardio benefits. And because you’re weightless in the water, it’s easy on the joints — ideal for people with arthritis or obesity.

4. Strength training with gym machines, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, a barbell, or using your own body weight (lunges, crunches, leg lifts, etc.).

5. Yoga or Tai Chi is excellent for stress relief, balance, muscle endurance, and flexibility.

6. Dancing is exercise disguised as fun. Try a line dancing, belly dancing, ballet, tap, ballroom, salsa or Zumba class.

Food is fuel. Choose wisely

Fitness and a healthy diet go hand-in-hand. People who exercise on a regular basis are more likely to eat healthier, too, according to research. This certainly happened to me. All the effort I’d been putting into exercise made me want to take care of myself better in other ways as well. I started improving my diet, at first with small changes. Eating healthier can make a huge difference in your overall health and wellbeing. Plus, as we age, our bodies need fewer calories and if you don’t adjust your intake, you will gain weight. If you are struggling with diet on your own, consider talking with a health coach or registered dietitian for personalized guidance.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) offers nutrition counseling to help you identify areas for improvement. 

Don’t let life get in the way

Most of us have many demands on our time. Planning and preparation make it much easier to lead a healthy lifestyle, and it helps head off setbacks.

Plan healthy meals and cook ahead

Batch cooking on Sundays for the week ahead works well for many people. Freeze individual portions. This takes all the pressure off for what to eat during the busy week and eliminates the need to stop for fast food on the way home.

Keep it simple

Have repeat meals of your favorites. For example, I eat the same breakfast every day: two eggs. A big pot of vegetable soup made on a Sunday is an easy, nutritious dinner for the next several days.

Set a regular time and schedule your workouts

Getting up early to exercise so that it was done first was a game-changer for me. (See my tips on morning exercise here). However, for many people working out in the evening fits best. It really doesn’t matter when you work out, as long as you do it.

Have a backup plan for family illness, traveling, bad weather and other scheduling conflicts

Example: If your child is sick and you can’t make it to the exercise class, do a video workout at home instead. If you usually walk outdoors and it’s raining, walk at the mall.

Read: Lose It For Good This Time: My 10 Best Fitness and Weight Loss Tips

Here’s the bottom line

What is the best exercise for you? The one that you will do. What is the best time to exercise? The time that you will do it.

Any amount of exercise you do, no matter how small, is better than nothing. So don’t overthink it. Just start. And this time, keep going.

For more on this topic, grab a copy of my free eBook: “6 Secrets to Winning at Exercise (Even if You’ve Always Failed!)”

Michelle Rogers, CPT

About Michelle Rogers, CPT

Michelle Rogers is a Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in healthy living for adults over 40. She leads classes and workshops online at Reachable Fitness, her virtual exercise studio. Find out more at www.michellerogers.fitness and connect on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @MRhealthyliving. Michelle is a Blue Cross NC member and is compensated for this blog post.