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Fit After 40

March 28, 2013 No Comments

This post is inspired by a lovely reader who wants to tone up after having babies and turning 40. To every woman who’s hit the big 4-0 and doesn’t want to let go of her figure, this is for you!

The BAD News:

As we age, we slowly lose muscle mass. It’s happening to everyone over the age of 24. Depressing, right? This loss of muscle mass is what causes the concurrent gradual decline in metabolism. The only way to combat this is to incorporate resistance training into your workouts to preserve the mass for as long as you can. For women, staying lean after 40 is a bitch. We have to watch our carbs, eat less and workout more. Meanwhile, the men in our lives are eating pizza and drinking beer while we’re starving and unsatisfied on rabbit food and lemon water.

The GOOD News:

You can build muscle to keep your metabolism up and keep your body looking tight and lean! If you want to enjoy a slice of pizza and a cold brew once in a while (I know I do)  you can! You’ll just need to step up the strength training so a few Miller Lites won’t set you back five pounds.


In order to build muscle, you’ll want to keep your reps around 6 – 12 and perform 2 – 3 sets. This is the range that results in hypertrophy, or muscle growth. Since different rep ranges produce different results, it’s a good idea to tap into all three and mix things up in your workouts to 1) keep from getting bored and 2) get the best of all three muscular-training worlds.

Rep ranges:

3 – 5 = Strength

6 – 12 = Hypertrophy

13 – 20 = Endurance

Naturally, the amount of weight you lift will be much higher in the 3 – 5 rep range and much lower in the 13 – 20 range. If you’re only doing 3 – 5 reps you’ll want to do 3 – 5 sets, whereas in the 13 – 20 rep range you’ll only need 2 – 3 sets. Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself. I always say, being too sore to workout doesn’t burn calories either. And an injury can halt your progress altogether so we definitely don’t want that!

As for cardio, participants in the National Weight Control Registry who have lost weight – and kept it off for more than two years – report doing approximately 60 minutes of cardio on most days of the week. The moral of the story: Don’t skip your cardio! Whatever you like to do is fine so long as it’s part of your daily routine and you do it. If you wear a pedometer or Fitbit, shoot for at least 10,000 steps each day. Throw in some resistance exercises two to three times each week and you’ll start seeing yourself shape up in no time!

Sample Resistance Circuit:

10 Jump squats (*)

10 Shoulder presses with 15 lb dumbbells

10 Side lunges (each side)

10 Standing rows with resistance bands

10 Floor bird dogs (on hands & knees with 5 lb wrist and ankle weights)

10 Mason twists (with 8 lb medicine ball)

*Just a note on safety: Plyometric training is killer for burning fat and incorporating resistance and cardio training into one workout… Just be sure to have your bone density tested FIRST, particularly if you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder. Many women don’t realize they have low bone density and are very high risk for fractures with high impact activities. If you’ve gotten the OK from your doc, high impact exercises will help maintain strong bones so hop, skip and jump away!


Weight loss really does start in the kitchen. It’s completely possible to lose all your excess weight through diet alone. However, exercise will give you a toned, tight appearance, which is usually the goal. As far as weight goes, don’t worry about the scale as much as the measuring tape. It’s pretty well known that muscle weighs more than fat. You may not drop every pound you want to, but you can drop two pant sizes and feel great in your skinny jeans again.

The first thing you need to do is decide how much weight you want to lose and in what realistic timeframe. HERE is a great calculator for determining your daily needs based on activity level. I always recommend staying somewhere between fat loss and extreme fat loss for best results.

Food Tips

Eat plenty of protein to repair cells and decrease appetite while helping to build lean muscle. The best protein sources include poultry, fish, eggs, shellfish, nuts and seeds. I’m not a huge fan of dairy as a protein source since the majority of the population can’t tolerate it anyway.

As for carbs, don’t eat anything you didn’t make yourself. Yes, that includes bread, pasta, ice cream, and chips. If you baked a high-fiber coconut loaf, enjoy it. If you found it in the bread aisle, don’t touch it. You’re better than that and you need more fiber than that. Fiber fills you up on fewer calories and helps keep cholesterol levels in check and promotes a healthy colon; two great things! My rule of thumb with fiber and sugar is this: At the end of the day, make sure you ate more fiber than sugar.

Speaking of sugar, fruit is up next. Fruit is fine, only in moderation. After all, it is a sugar source and studies show the fructose content may actually increase your appetite – particularly for more sugars. If you have fruit, make it a high-fiber, low-sugar one like berries and always combine it with a fat source like nuts. The combination of fat and sugar will slow the absorption of glucose into your blood stream. It gets a lot more sciency from there, just know: you want to combine fruit with fat!

Ah, now onto fats… Eat ’em up! They’re uber-satisfying and will keep you feeling full long after you’ve finished eating. The best sources of fat include nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, olive oil, fatty fish, and coconut. Enjoy the fat of the land and don’t buy anything that says “low-fat” or “non-fat.” Fat is what makes food taste good and when it’s taken out, sugar fills it’s shoes. No good.

The timing and frequency of meals doesn’t matter so much so long as you don’t skip meals and you’re eating at regular intervals. That said, a lot of my clients have seen great success by following my 7-Day Cleanse. Plan ahead, make an eating schedule, set a reminder, and stick to it. Also, be sure to practice volumetrics (aka eating a lot of low-cal foods)! Filling up on bulky foods will keep you satisfied, full and energized despite the cutting of calories.

That should do it! Getting fit after 40 is not a top secret formula, it just comes down to determination and hard work. Exercising and eating less both require discipline and self control, but the results are well worth it.

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Jenny Champion MS RD CPT

Dietitian. Mom. Boss. Read More

Xo Jenny

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