Exercising in your forties

Nicola Pursglove
Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Team Lead at Cromwell Hospital
25 July 2018

Your forties are a critical crossroads for your fitness. Do you become less lively and take it easy from now on? Or keep up your energy and go for it? As I’ll explain, the active option can lead to a whole host of health benefits and help you feel fantastic.

Why exercise now?

On average, fewer people exercise regularly in their forties than in their twenties and thirties. This isn’t really how it should be! Being active at this point in life can make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing.

Take bone health. Your bone mass (how dense your bone is) usually starts to naturally decline from your forties onwards. For women, this decline can accelerate after they reach the menopause, which typically starts in the early 50s but can happen any time from 45, or sometimes even earlier. For both men and women, when your bone mass becomes too low, it can make your bones weak, brittle and more likely to break – a condition called osteoporosis.

You can strengthen your bones by doing weight-bearing exercise. This is where you work against gravity to make your bones denser and strengthen your muscles. Weight-bearing exercises include:

Also – heard of the ‘middle-aged spread’? This is a widely-recognised occurrence where we tend to put on weight around our forties and fifties. The problem is that when your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference grow, your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes also rises.

Being active and controlling your weight can help you manage these risks. It can also help to reduce your chances of developing dementia, and keep common mental health problems such as depression at bay.

Essentially: being active will help protect your heart, brain and mind in the years to come. What’s not to like?

Tips for getting fit in your forties

If you haven’t been very active up until this point, getting started doesn’t mean you have to become a fitness fanatic. Just aim to do at least 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) of moderately intense activity each week, in bursts of 10 minutes or more. So for example, you could do half an hour, five days a week. ‘Moderate activity’ could be anything that gets your heart rate up – brisk walking or cycling, for example.

You do need to be a bit careful, as injuries and strains are more likely now than they would have been before your forties. Seek help from a qualified trainer or expert if you aren’t sure of the right equipment or technique for a particular sport. Take it slow when you try something out for the first time, and do gentle stretches before you start and after you finish.

Try not to perform your new sport on consecutive days, and make sure you take rest days. This is particularly important when you first start out, but even experienced athletes need a break. In the overall process of building strength and endurance, allowing your body to recover is equally important to being active.

Five fantastic exercises for your forties

There are no right or wrong exercises to do at any age and it’s all about finding a type of exercise that works for you. Here are five ideas to inspire you.

1. Swimming

Even aside from the comforting feeling of being submerged in water, swimming has many benefits. It puts relatively little strain on the body compared with some other exercises, and can help you look after your heart.

2. Heading to the gym

Around one in every seven people in the UK has a gym membership. Gyms are more accessible than ever and if you’re daunted about which machines and equipment to use, we’ve got a guide to get you started.

3. Cycling

Cycling is hugely popular with people of all ages and can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke. Why not aim for a charity bike ride, or make it sociable by joining a local cycling club?

4. Trampolining

Whether you have a trampoline in your back garden or at your local leisure centre, don’t let the kids have all the fun. One study found that 20 minutes of bouncing around on a trampoline can actually be as good for you as 20 minutes of running, while feeling like less of a chore. You can look for trampoline classes in your area.

5. Martial arts

Like trampolining, this might not be the first exercise that springs to mind when you’re in your forties. Yet there’s evidence that middle-aged people who do martial arts are likely to have better balance, strength, flexibility, and ability to take in oxygen (aerobic capacity) compared to those who are inactive. Karate is one popular example – and remember there are also non-contact options such as Tai Chi and Capoeira.

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Nicola Pursglove
Nicola Pursglove
Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Team Lead at Cromwell Hospital

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