If you're approaching or have hit age 40, you may feel your physical fitness has reached its peak and will, from here on out, be going downhill. This attitude may be the product of a youth-obsessed culture, but it's not based on evidence. Regardless of how physically fit or unfit you were in your younger years, it's possible to keep yourself physically and mentally fit at age 40 and beyond.
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Middle-aged people gain weight more easily, particularly women. For both women and men, however, the culprit may be a hormonal imbalance. According to pharmacist and gynecologist C.W. Randolph, women experience dramatic drops in estrogen after 40 -- but they lose even more progesterone, which helps balance the influence of estrogen in the body. In men, progesterone levels also drop, which causes testosterone levels to drop and leads to estrogen dominance -- yes, men have estrogen, too. Though the reasons aren't clear, scientists generally accept that high or disproportionate estrogen levels lead to weight gain.
Randolph recommends avoiding soy products -- as they are natural plant estrogens -- and staying away from alcohol and caffeine, as they interfere with the body's ability to break down estrogen or control its levels. Whether you believe estrogen to be the culprit or not, you should also cut back on or eliminate highly refined or processed foods like white rice, white flour and white sugar, and avoid saturated fats. A diet based on a rich variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and seeds will promote physical fitness regardless of your age.
Fitness expert Jim Plummer assures readers of his Functional Fitness Facts websites, "Over 40 fitness is not a contradiction. You can be fit and healthy at any age." He recommends that people in middle age first consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen. When you start exercising, warm yourself up first by doing moderate aerobic or resistance training to get the blood flowing before moving on to more strenuous exercise. The older you get, the more prone you are to injury, so don't overtax yourself -- build your endurance level gradually.
In 2007, Dr. Dana King, of the Medical University of South Caroline, Charleston, presented a secondary analysis of the "Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities," study, looking at the adoption of healthy habits in middle age. His report brings encouraging news to any middle-aged people who may feel it's too late to get fit. The study followed men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 who adopted healthier lifestyles by quitting smoking, exercising more and eating healthier. If they also managed to lose enough weight so that they weren't obese, the study found that all those who made these changes had a 35 percent less chance of cardiovascular disease and their "all-cause" mortality risks went down by 40 percent.