As women age, we're faced with serious challenges to our health, fitness and quality of life. Like it or not, when you pass 40, brand new health and fitness hurdles pop up. Maintaining a healthy body weight and fitness level can be a struggle at any age (especially considering that American adults gain at least a pound a year on average). Add to that other physical health challenges like our need to maintain healthy bones and muscle mass (preventing late-onset osteoporosis), and the challenges can seem insurmountable. Read on for some tips and tricks for achieving success in your health and fitness goals.
1. Get Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep
The right amount of sleep will not only enable you to perform at your highest potential while you exercise, work or play, but it will also boost your immune system, keep serious ailments like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes at bay and fend off things like depression and weight gain. Those are some serious benefits for women over 40, as their risk for heart disease and weight gain increases with age. Conversely, a study published by the Open Respiratory Medicine Journal notes, "It is becoming very clear that reducing the total hours of nocturnal sleep can lead to serious consequences for almost all bodily organs and systems." So, what is the right amount of sleep? That number hasn't changed; it's between seven and eight hours per night.
Read more: 10 Surprising Steps to a Good Night's Sleep
2. Make Exercise a Priority
Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, enabling you to burn calories more quickly. So if you've experienced a plateau in your quest to shed a few pounds, try adding regular exercise to your dieting efforts (like at least three 30-minute cardio sessions a week). Women over 40 (and menopausal) will experience a decrease in body fat by adding exercise (more so than menopausal women who only diet). A walk around the neighborhood or opting to take the stairs over the elevator once in a while can provide a welcome boost to your metabolism. Exercise is also extremely valuable for alleviating the risks and symptoms of diabetes and avoiding other health issues like osteoporosis. Not only does exercise improve bone health, it also increases muscle strength, coordination, balance and flexibility.
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3. Strength Train to Increase Your Muscle Mass
Increasing your muscle mass through strength training can help your dieting efforts become more efficient. With a higher muscle mass, your resting metabolic rate increases. In plain English, that means that in a side-by-side comparison, any muscle you add to your body will cause you to burn more calories -- even when you're sitting still. So although enjoying a healthy diet along with a regular fat-burning cardio routine is suggested for optimal results, hit the gym to pump some iron at least twice a week, too.
Read more: 13 Benefits of Weightlifting That No One Tells You About
4. Change Up Your Workout Regularly
For those who already work out and engage in a regular fitness regimen, it's a good idea to vary your workouts and change your routine frequently. Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2002, shows that daily changes to routine (as opposed to occasional) will jolt the body out of its plateau and lead to increases in strength. If you're in love with a daily treadmill routine, try taking a run or walk outside every other day (and be sure to add in a hill to help see a difference). Add a different type of cardio, weightlifting, yoga or Pilates class regularly, and your fitness level can reach new heights.
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5. Choose a Healthy Diet and Stick to It
Jumping from one fad diet to another isn't such a great idea. The two-year Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies (POUNDS LOST) study compared four different diets and showed that sticking to a chosen diet (whatever it may be) showed significantly greater benefits than did any one type of diet itself. People who hop from one diet to another tend to be high "weight-cyclers" (i.e. their weights fluctuate up and down all the time). And weight-cyclers are more likely become obese. The take away? Choose a healthy diet that's realistic for you and your lifestyle and give it time to do its work.
Read more: How Intermittent Fasting Can Get You Lean
6. Aim for More Protein and Fewer Carbs
After you hit 40, your metabolism decreases by about five percent every 10 years. So generally, that translates to cutting 100 calories a day from your diet. It also means eating the right kind of calories. Eating a mix of foods high in healthy proteins and low in carbohydrates will deliver faster results for the short term. It's especially effective for those experiencing a stubborn weight-loss plateau. But try to incorporate the habit into your overall lifestyle. Fish is a great source of protein that also helps prevent heart disease, the risk for which increases past 40. Or you can opt for a fish oil supplement for the heart-health benefits and get your protein elsewhere. And soy can be your friend. Despite popular belief that it can increase breast cancer risk, there is little data to support this. Just avoid high-dose soy supplements, which may lead to the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors.
Read more: 3 Tips to Push Past a Weight Loss Plateau
7. Prioritize Fruits and Vegetables
A 2012 study of 481 overweight and obese postmenopausal women published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that women who increase consumption of fruits and vegetables while decreasing their intake of high-calorie and high-fat foods will experience more significant weight-loss success. Those fruits and veggies that are high in water content, such as watermelon, celery, carrots and others, will hydrate and make you feel full while offering a healthy alternative to your usual snack foods. As an added bonus, most fruits and vegetables are great to ease bloating (which can increase during menopause). But you should avoid trigger foods like apples and broccoli, cut down on your salt intake and processed carbs and add more whole grains to help ease bloating further.
Read more: 15 Foods That Help You Peel Off the Pounds
8. Enjoy a Glass of Wine Occasionally
Consuming small to moderate amounts of alcohol (i.e., one to two glasses of wine a day) can assist in weight loss, according to a small 2002 study of 63 healthy postmenopausal women by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers report that drinking two glasses of wine per day not only aided in weight loss, it lowered triglycerides and decreased the risk for type 2 diabetes. It's important to note here that, in this case, less is definitely more. A drink or two a day does not mean an entire bottle of wine. Moderation is key, as red wine and other alcoholic drinks may bring on hot flashes as a result of the increase in blood-vessel dilation caused by alcohol.
Read more: Can Wine Be Diet-Friendly?
9. Eat More Foods Containing Calcium
Whittle down your waistline with calcium. A small, randomized and placebo-controlled 2012 trial of 32 obese adults conducted by the American Association for the Study of Obesity found that increasing the consumption of dietary calcium significantly augmented fat loss, with the highest percentage of fat reduction found in the belly region. But before you run out to the store, you should know that calcium supplements won't have this same effect. It's only calcium found in foods that burns away the belly fat, and dairy products exerted a substantially greater effect than any other food high in calcium. For those who are allergic to dairy or are vegan, there are plenty of non-dairy foods high in calcium (dark, leafy greens, broccoli, okra, almonds, etc.), and though the effect isn't as dramatic as it is with dairy products, these foods will still help you keep that waistline lean.
10. Schedule Regular Doctor's Appointments
No matter how old you are, being proactive about your health is essential. But in your 40s and beyond, women have a few additional things they'll want to specifically discuss with their doctors. First and most importantly, make sure you make it in for your annual physicals to have your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels checked. At that point, you doctor can also make sure your weight is on track, too. If you're having an especially hard time losing weight, despite a healthy diet and regular workouts, talk to your doctor about having your thyroid tested. One of five adults over 40 has thyroid problems, and four out of five of those people are women. If you have an under-active thyroid (hypothyroidism), it could be the cause of your weight-loss struggle.
Read more: The Body Audit: Medical Tests Women In Their 40s Should Take
11. Measure Your Progress
Keep a tape measure handy and regularly measure your waist. A 2002 research study of more than 9,000 participants from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition shows that waist circumference is closely linked to cardiovascular disease. Women with waist sizes over 32.5 inches increased their risk of diabetes, heart disease and other ailments, while women with waist sizes less than 32.5 inches were more successful at losing weight and maintaining their weight loss. Measuring your waist regularly will keep you focused on success and give you something other than the scale to track your progress.
Read more: 11 Ways to Measure Your Progress on Your Fitness Journey
12. Hydrate Before You Eat
Drinking two glasses of water prior to each meal can help significantly boost your weight-loss efforts, according to research published in the February 2010 issue of the research journal Obesity. The study of middle-aged and older adults participating in a low-calorie diet showed that those who drank two glasses prior to chowing down lost more weight than those who drank their water at other times. In both groups, the amount of water per day was the same, as was caloric intake. It was drinking before the meals that made all the difference.
Read more: Track Your Water Intake with LIVESTRONG.COM's MyWater App
13. Be Patient and Understanding
After 40, your body goes through a lot of changes (as you may be experiencing firsthand). Your body doesn't respond to diet and exercise changes as quickly as it used to. But that shouldn't be a reason to give up. In fact, it's incentive to stick with it. There's no quick solution to long-term, sustained weight loss and healthy living, but the increased quality of life will be worth the struggle to instill some of these healthy habits. So keep at it and don't lose sight of the end goal: a long, happy, healthy life.
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What Do YOU Think?
Have you noticed that the strategies that used to work to help you manage your weight no longer work after age 40? Did you find any of these tips and tricks useful? Which ones have you heard before? Which ones surprised you? Are there other tips we missed that you'd like to share? Leave a comment below and let us know!
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