How to stay fit after 40

Sharp short shocks to the ageing body one of the best way to keep toned, says Peta Bee.

Many studies have proven that quick bursts of high-intensity training to be beneficial as we age.

ANTI-AGEING is a science in itself and the rules as we know them have changed. If you want to look and feel good as the years roll by then you need a radical alternative the standard diet and exercise advice you followed in your 20s and 30s – exercise for less time, but with greater intensity, choosing your gym sessions carefully and eating with focus are the new guidelines.

There’s plenty of proof that the right diet and exercise plan can see you sailing relatively unscathed into your 60s and 70s. 

One study at University College London that tracked the exercise habits of 60-somethings showed that those who exercised managed to achieve “healthy” ageing, staving off serious illnesses up to seven times more effectively than sedentary counterparts.

But how do you tackle ageing? Here are our golden rules to getting in shape fast after the age of 40:

PRACTICE HIIT

As you get older, your exercise focus needs to change direction. Long running or cycling miles and hours at the gym can be replaced with short, sharp bursts of high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) activity with potent age-defying properties. Many studies have proven HIIT to be beneficial as we age, the most recent showing it produces changes at a cellular and genetic level.

Many studies have proven HIIT to be beneficial as we age, the most recent showing it produces changes at a cellular and genetic level.

Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic recruited 72 healthy but inactive men and women who were screened for a multitude of health markers such as blood sugar levels and basic fitness. 

Researchers also looked at the mitochondrial health of their muscles before randomly assigning each participant to a either a HIIT-style interval session three times a week on a stationary bike, pedaling intensely for four minutes, to rest for three, repeating the sequence four times in total, a heavy weights session several times a week or a combo workout of half an hour steady cycling on the indoor bikes three to four times a week and some light weight training on other days. A control group did no exercise.

After 12 weeks, Nair and his team found everyone had got fitter and had better blood sugar control. But muscle biopsies revealed how activity levels in cells had also changed. 

In the younger volunteers who were aged under 30, interval training had the biggest positive effect, enhancing activity levels in 274 genes compared with 170 in the steady exercisers and only 74 in the weight lifters. 

But effects of the HIIT-style workouts were even more pronounced in participants aged 64 plus, improving activity in almost 400 genes with similar changes occurring in only 33 genes of the weight lifting group and 19 of the moderate trainers.

There was also a pronounced increase in the number and health of mitochondria in the older HIIT group, suggesting their cells responded better to the training effects than those of more youthful participants.

Include a variety of these in your weekly workout:

  • HIT squats:

If there’s an ultimate exercise for the lower body, it has to be the squat. It’s tough, but it gets results in the shape of improved tone in your sagging bottom and legs. Stand with feet planted firmly on the ground and shoulder width apart. Either hold your arms out in front or across your body to stabilise.

Flex from the hips and push your weight into your heels. Stick your bottom out as if sitting on a chair. Keep lowering until your knees are at 90 degrees, keeping your back straight and head aligned. Try doing these for one minute repetitively, performing as many as you can manage in that time.

  • The 60-second workout:

This is a fantastically brief workout that was the brainchild of HIIT researchers at McMaster University in Canada. It’s best performed on an indoor bike or rowing machine, but you can also do it outdoors running or cycling, even walking. Do it once a week.

— Warm up at a gentle pace for 2 minutes

— Perform 5 x 60 second hard bursts with 90 seconds recovery

— Cool down at a gentle pace for 60-90 seconds

LIFT WEIGHTS

From our mid-30s onwards our bodies lose muscle mass as part of a natural process called sarcopenia. Initially, losses are a barely noticeable, but by 50, the annual loss can be as much as eight percent of your total muscle mass. 

Both men and women are affected (men with their naturally greater muscle mass to start with – experience a sharper decline) and the drop in muscle mass has been linked to raised blood lipid levels and body fat, obesity, heart disease and the onset of Type 2 diabetes. While we can’t stop the leeching of muscle, we can slow it down and weight training is key.

Last year, a study in the American Journal of Physiology revealed that weight training improved blood flow and reduced the risk of diabetes in older adults, while Harvard University researchers found that men who did 20 minutes of daily weight training had less of an increase in the risky and age-related deep abdominal fat than men who spent the same amount of time doing activities like jogging, swimming or cycling.

PRACTICE PRESS-UPS

The traditional press-up continually comes up trumps in studies looking for the best all-round exercise. It works the upper and lower body, requiring you to support and lift your own body weight. For men, it’s a fantastic route to getting rid of moobs. There are varieties (you can move your hands further apart or closer together, for example), but perfect the original first.

Lie face down on the floor with legs together and palms of your hands on the floor just beneath the shoulders. Extend your legs behind you, supporting them with the balls of your feet.

Push the hands into the floor and straighten your arms to raise yourself up. Engage your trunk muscles to help you achieve this. Don’t lock the elbows completely at the top of the move and try to keep your body in a straight line from head to feet.

Lower yourself back down by bending the elbows to around 45 degrees. If it’s too hard, try doing the same upper body movement with knees on the floor. Perform to exhaustion and then try and increase how many you manage on each occasion.

KEEP BINGO WINGS, MUFFIN TOP AND BRA FAT AT BAY

Up until their mid-30, women tend to carry excess fat on the hips and thighs but in the years that follow, significant hormonal changes take place.

Women fear ‘muffin top’ fat that spills over their waistband. There’s evidence that dwindling levels of oestrogen trigger the body to use starches and blood sugars less efficiently, further increasing the laying down of fat around the waistline.

Stress also plays a role — a study at Yale University found that slender women with high-stress hormone levels were more likely to have muffin top fat.

Although average age at which women reach the menopause is 52, in the decade leading up to it — know as the perimenopausal years — dropping levels of oestrogen, the main female hormone, cause weight storage to shift to other areas like the arms and back.

Include these exercises to keep the arms and upper back in trim:

  • Triceps overhead extension:

You will need a single dumbbell (weighing anything from 3 pounds upwards). Hold the weight with both hands and stand upright, shoulders back and feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the weight at the top allowing it to fall towards your back. Keep arms close to your head and with elbows in a fixed position for the entire movement, lower the weight behind your head by bending the elbows. Continue until elbows are bent to about 45 degrees and then slowly raise the weight back up. Perform 2 sets of 15, increasing the number of sets (and the weight) as you get stronger.

  • Lateral raise:

You will need a pair of dumbbells. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a weight with each hand. Place arms by your sides and contract your abdominal muscles to stay strong in the trunk. Raise the weights to the sides, lifting upwards with straight arms (elbows shouldn’t be locked, however) until the arms are parallel to the floor. Lower back down. Perform 2 sets of 15, increasing the number of sets (and the weight) as you get stronger.

Perform to exhaustion and then try and increase how many you manage on each occasion.

HOW TO AVOID MOOBS AND LOVE HANDLES

In a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics scientists slam a man’s thickened waistline as a silent killer, linked closely to metabolic syndrome - a cluster of risk factors that include abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, abnormal lipids, and insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. 

“As it turns out,” wrote lead author, Professor Charles Hennekens of Florida Atlantic University. “The ‘love handle’ can be fatal.”

Of course, genes play a part in determining when and where we lay down fat. But what if anything, can you do about these and other unwanted side effects of male ageing?

  • Moobs: Accumulation of fatty tissue in a man’s chest is generally due to dropping levels of testosterone (the male sex hormone) from the 40s onwards combined. Weak pectoral muscles make things worse, so include press ups (see above) and hit the indoor rowing machine to maintain tone in the area. Weights will also help – exercises like the reverse fly and chest press all help maintain tone in the chest.~

  • Paunch: Stress hormones like cortisol play a role in the development of a paunch, but so does the decline in muscle mass that occurs as you get older. Include sit-ups, crunches and Russian Twists as well as the squat – considered by many personal trainers to be the single most effective exercise when it comes to working the entire body. “Working large muscles is a very quick way to release a little bit of growth hormone into your system, get your heart and lungs working and fire your metabolism up,” says trainer Zana Morris, owner of the exclusive gym The Library.

“One minute of deep squats is an excellent way for men to start their day.”

  • Love handles:

Keep tabs on your waistline as you get older. It should be no larger than no bigger than half the measurement of your height, according to scientists at London’s City University. Or, if you prefer, it should measure less than 40 inches (35 inches for women). If it’s within these healthy limits you should live to the average life expectancy. But for every few inches over, you face losing months or even years of life.

For men, a combination of declining muscle mass and rising stress hormones like cortisol sees the body gradually loses its ability to use up calories as effectively as it once did resulting in the dreaded paunch. Because men have more fat cells in this area, it’s also a convenient place to store excess weight and love handles settle at the sides of the waist.

Try these exercises to work your waist:

  • Russian twists:

Sit on the floor holding a dumbbell or weighted medicine ball out in front of you at arm’s length. With a slight backwards lean, raise your feet just off the floor. Slowly and under control, rotate to one side, still holding the weight at arm’s length. Then return to the centre before twisting over to the other side, then back to the centre again. This is one repetition. Perform 2-3 sets of the 8 twists.

  • Alternating side crunches:

Lie on your back with knees bent and ‘glued’ together, feet flat on the floor. Position your hands lightly to support the head or neck - but don’t pull. Keep your chin away from the chest throughout - it should be pointing towards the ceiling. From that position, contract your abs to lift you up and towards the right knee, keeping elbows wide. As with the crunches, you shouldn’t sit up — the lift will be relatively small.

Perform 2-3 x 15 on each side.

Healthy eating — chew on this

USE TURMERIC IN COOKING

Actor Michael Caine revealed he has long taken turmeric in the belief it helps keen his brain sharp and last year Australian scientists suggested he could be right. 

In a paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition, they reported how participants taking the dummy pill suffered a decline in mental function after just six months that was not observed in those who took a supplement of curcumin, the active component of turmeric. 

Matt Lovell, a nutritionist who works with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, says curcumin is known to hold natural anti-inflammatory activity, making it a favourite for keeping older joints flexible and pain-free.

“Turmeric and curcumin are probably the most studied compounds which can positively influence a normal inflammatory response,” Lovell says. 

“Adding [tumeric] to your cooking can only be positive. It is fat soluble, so you’ll need some oils for it to be absorbed and also some black pepper which boost its bioavailability.”

EAT AN APPLE A DAY

Apples contain a high amount of soluble fibre that can strike a blow to dangerous abdominal fat that is prone to settling around the organs in middle age. 

A study in the journal Obesity found that for every 10-gramme increase in soluble fibre eaten, internal fat was reduced by 3.7% over five years.

Researchers from the University of Iowa also discovered that a chemical called ursolic acid, found in apple peel, helps to fight ATF4 protein, which is to blame for mass and strength loss in old age. 

As we get older, levels of ATF4 accumulate preventing healthy proteins from nurturing muscles. The result? Accelerated muscle-withering and weakness.


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