If you're a woman worried about losing muscle tone after 40, then you're not alone. Fortunately, maintaining a strong and healthy body is possible at any age. By incorporating resistance training into your workouts and watching your nutrition, you can build muscle as you enter your 40s.
To avoid losing muscle tone after 40, women can incorporate strength training into their exercise regimen and alter their diet.
Know the Benefits
If you're as busy as most women in their 40s, it can be tempting to skimp on the strengthening portion of your workout and focus only on cardiovascular exercises. However, this oversight can lead you to miss out on many of the important benefits of resistance training. If you're trying to building muscle after 40, a female can find numerous rewards in strength training, as reported by the Mayo Clinic.
First, resistance exercises are a great way to lose weight or keep your body weight at a healthy level. This is due to the increase in your metabolism, which is necessary to support and maintain the larger muscle mass you develop after lifting weights. Because of this metabolic boost, you end up burning more calories than you would otherwise.
Lifting weights also helps improve overall balance by strengthening the muscles in your legs that you use to stabilize yourself. As the tone in your body improves and your strength increases, it can also help stave off the symptoms of many different chronic health conditions. Diabetes, depression, osteoarthritis, heart disease, obesity and back pain are just a few to mention.
For females over the age of 40, several specific health benefits associated with strength training are particularly notable. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), women in their 40s lose muscle mass twice as quickly as their male counterparts. This can equate to losing about half a pound of muscle per year as you enter the fifth decade of your life.
A decrease in tone can also mean weight gain, as your body's metabolism slows down in reaction to your muscle loss. As noted by the AAFP, fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen region in females over the age of 40. Since this type of adipose tissue promotes the onset of dementia, diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, it reinforces the importance of maintaining strong muscle tone for prevention.
Avoid Bone Loss
Another reason why women should avoid losing muscle tone after 40 is to prevent their bones from getting weaker. As reported by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), as women approach and enter menopause, their levels of estrogen (a bone-protecting sex hormone) drop off sharply. As a result, bone loss accelerates and women become more prone to a fracture. This condition is called osteoporosis.
In fact, the NOF estimates that women are twice as likely as men to develop osteoporosis. This means that roughly half of all women will break a bone after the age of 50. Fortunately, focusing on strengthening and maintaining a strong muscle tone may help prevent such occurrences.
A February 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine looked at premenopausal women who participated in 30 to 60 minutes of resistance training at least three times per week. Subjects were able to maintain their bone density and minimize bone loss when their strength training routine was combined with other exercises that incorporated jumping or hopping.
The same review also found that post-menopausal women who incorporated strengthening into their regimen were less likely to experience a decrease in the strength of their skeletal structures. This valuable benefit that resistance training confers on the bones of females over the age of 40 may prevent fractures from occurring and ultimately help women remain physically active.
Ignore the Myths
While there are countless benefits to building muscle after 40 in females, there are many unfounded myths that could make you hesitant to begin strength training. In most cases, however, these commonly-repeated "facts" are actually groundless assertions, and they can keep women from incorporating weight training into their fitness routine.
For example, some women are afraid they might become too bulky and muscular and avoid lifting weights because of this concern. As the American Council on Exercise explains, the physiology of the female body makes this fear mostly unfounded.
Most women produce far less of the sex hormone testosterone than men do. As a result, females who strength train are typically able to improve their lean muscle mass without increasing their body weight or adding pounds of bulky muscle.
Another common myth is that women looking to "tone up" should focus on lighter weights and perform more repetitions of each strength exercise. Unfortunately, this statement is also incorrect. The human body has two different types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. The latter are responsible for the definition in your muscles, and the most effective way to activate them and stimulate muscle growth is to use heavier weights.
Finally, many women (and men) are concerned that strength training can lead to an unsafe increase in their blood pressure, or hypertension. While it's true that lifting weights may temporarily cause a spike in these numbers, this is only a short-term effect.
In the long term, incorporating moderate weight lifting into your routine can actually lead to lower blood pressure readings, states the Mayo Clinic. However, it is important to check with your doctor before beginning any new workout regimen. This is especially true if your hypertension is uncontrolled.
Avoid Blaming Your Age
Perhaps the greatest misconception some women have is that becoming weaker is inevitable as they get older. While it's true that your body composition changes as you age, a small but influential study in the September 2011 issue of the Physician and Sportsmedicine sought to shine some light on the truths behind this myth.
The study focused on high-level recreational athletes, aged 40 to 81, who participated in exercise four to five times each week. It found they did not experience a decrease in muscle mass, unlike the control group consisting of individuals who didn't work out. Instead, these "masters athletes" were able to maintain the strength in their muscles well past the age of 40.
The findings in this study raise questions about whether the gradual weakening that many women experience after the age of 40 is inevitable or can be attributed to things like poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle. While more research needs to be done in this area, the study certainly lends credence to the saying "use it or lose it."
Watch Your Diet
Now that you understand the benefits and myths associated with strength training, it's time to get started. The first step to avoiding losing muscle tone after 40 is to make sure your diet supports your goals.
As the Cleveland Clinic reports, eating a protein-rich diet is key to avoiding muscle loss as you get older. This is due to the role of protein in repairing and building muscles after strength training and other types of exercise.
Researchers suggest consuming 0.45 grams of protein each day, for every pound of your body weight. For example, a 150-pound female should take in 67.5 grams of protein daily (0.45 x 150). Other organizations, such as Harvard Health Publishing, recommend even larger amounts.
Try incorporating protein-rich foods into all three of your daily meals. Eggs, milk and cheese are all good options for breakfast. Salads with beans, lentils or quinoa are a quick and protein-packed option for lunches. At dinner time, try preparing dishes that incorporate lean poultry (like chicken or turkey) or seafood. In between meals, snacking on nuts or Greek yogurt can help you meet your protein goals for the day.
In addition to protein, the Cleveland Clinic also suggests monitoring your carbohydrate intake. Carbs are the body's primary energy source, and you need enough of this macronutrient to fuel your workouts. It's important to select the right type, though.
Unrefined carbohydrates like those in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are much healthier than those found in highly-processed foods, sugary drinks or frozen meals. Consider working with a nutritionist if you have special dietary requirements.
Get Started With Strength Training
Along with nutritional changes, regular resistance training is essential for building muscle tone. The United States Department of Health and Human Services suggests that women over the age of 40 should participate in strength exercises that incorporate all of the major muscle groups at least twice per week.
To do this, the American Council on Exercise recommends a beginner strength-training routine. To start, grab some dumbbells and work your arms by leaning over a weight bench and trying single-arm rows. The weight should be heavy enough to provide a challenge to the muscle, but light enough to allow you to perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
When you have finished, continue working your arms by sitting on the bench and doing a dumbbell shoulder press. Lastly, lie down on the bench and try a chest press with the weights. The reps and sets should remain the same throughout.
After working your arms, you can move on to your legs and try some stationary lunges while holding your dumbbells. Body-weight squats can also be performed while leaning up against a stability ball.
Finally, try incorporating your core muscles by doing crunches while lying on the ball. A weight can be positioned against your chest to add resistance. Perform between two and three sets of 10 to 15 reps for each exercise.
- Mayo Clinic: “Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “After 40: Women’s Nutrition and Metabolism Needs”
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Bone Basics: Who Gets Osteoporosis”
- Sports Medicine: “Effects of Exercise on Bone Status in Female Subjects, from Young Girls to Postmenopausal Women: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses”
- American Council on Exercise: “4 Myths About Strength Training For Women”
- Mayo Clinic: “Weight Lifting: Bad for Your Blood Pressure?”
- Physician and Sportsmedicine: “Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes”
- Cleveland Clinic: "How Can You Avoid Muscle Loss as You Age?"
- United States Department of Health and Human Services: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”
- American Council on Exercise: “Strength Training Workout for Beginners”
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"