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Still In Your Prime | 6 Steps for Getting Fit After Forty

For a lot of guys, it feels like all at once, your body stops being "the same" after twenty-five. 

At twenty, I could spend a week eating pizzas, chugging illicitly-acquired beers, and getting little to no sleep and still feel fine by the time the weekend rolled around. 

Just a few years later, you cross the twenty-five mark. Suddenly, sleeping in the wrong position will make you feel stiff and sore for a week, your sex drive is down, and even smelling cafeteria pizza makes your shirt feel tighter around the gut. 

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Add on a few more years (or fifteen), and the resilience and metabolism of twenty feel like they must have belonged to another person altogether. 


Aging isn't a particularly kind process. As we age, our bodies change in a way that causes things we once never thought of to suddenly be at the forefront of our thoughts. Weight gain, cholesterol, libido, heartburn, prostate health, and blood pressure become terms we use more than we'd like– and it can be pretty frustrating. 

But... there are a few silver linings.

Why Men Over 40 Need to Exercise More than Ever

While we can't reverse the aging process or completely mitigate the effects of aging, the painful truth is that many of the problems we face as we age are exasperated by our lifestyle decisions. Our diets, stress levels, and activity levels play huge roles in our overall health. As we age, it becomes increasingly important to be intentional about doing what we can to unlearn bad behaviors and make new healthy habits that keep us feeling younger longer.

Exercise comes with a bevy of benefits that we all know well. Things like weight loss, muscle definition, and sex appeal are plastered on the covers of every magazine we've seen in the last two decades. But, for men over forty, improving your diet, reducing your stress levels, and increasing your physical activity presents a few particularly important benefits worth highlighting. Namely– 

  • Improve bone density1
  • Enhance your sex life2
  • Mitigate your risk of heart disease3
  • Reduce chronic pain and stiffness
  • Improve your energy levels and sleep quality
  • Improve prostate health4

Creating the Ideal Workout Routine for Men Over 40

If you're noticing that your body just doesn't cooperate the way that it once did, perhaps starting a new workout routine is exactly what you need. Here's how to do it right (hint: do not approach it the same way you did in college).

1. Always Start With a Warm-Up

In your teens and twenties, you could probably walk into a gym and start lifting heavy weights without worry. To an extent, you may still be able to do the same if you've remained fairly active and haven't lost significant muscle mass. But, doing so is not advised. 

A warm-up is any activity that gently starts the process of increasing your heart rate, sending increased blood flow throughout your body, and slightly raising your body temperature. Doing so will ensure that you're getting adequate amounts of blood to your muscles, which is thought to help reduce post-workout soreness and can help prevent injury while you're exercising. 

 If you work an office job or aren't accustomed to regular exercise, you probably spend more time sitting than you'd like. Prolonged sitting creates stiffness and makes you more prone to cramping or feeling tight when trying to complete more complicated movements. Warming up can help you get past that and increase your range of motion once you start working out in earnest. 

Ideal Ways to Warm Up

Walking (especially with an incline), rowing, yoga (such as moving through sun salutations), and air squats with push-ups are all great options. Ideally, you want to do something that's going to activate your arms, legs, and core without exhausting you or draining your energy. 

2. Prioritize Form Over Weight

One of the many benefits of getting older is that you stop caring so much about what other people think. Young guys would do well to follow this advice, too, but they're often too worried about looking cool or competing with their gym buddies to listen to this wise advice: care more about how well you maintain proper form than you do about how much you can lift. 

Going into the gym, racking up as much weight as you (think you) can, and flinging it around is a surefire way to hurt yourself.

When you're exercising, keep your focus on maintaining proper form for each rep. If you can't complete a rep with proper form, you're lifting too much weight. Any time you feel like you're letting your lower back slouch, you have to jerk the weights, your elbows flare out away from your core, or you can't keep your shoulder blades back and down, you're probably trying to lift too much weight. 

For your first set of each exercise, it can be a good idea to start with a lighter weight than you can lift so that you can do several reps to see where your body is at that day and to ensure that you know what good form looks like. Working out near a mirror can help you monitor your form. If possible or if you're unsure, consult a certified personal trainer.

How Much Weight is the Right Amount of Weight

Lifting correctly is more important than lifting heavy, but you still want your exercises to present you with adequate levels of resistance so that you can reap the benefits of showing up at the gym. To maximize the balance of resistance and form, select a weight that you can lift for 10-14 reps where you're able to maintain your form throughout but struggle to complete your final rep. 

A good way to figure this out is to start light and add five to ten pounds for each set until your final set is difficult to complete. For example, if you're doing a bench press, maybe you start with 105lbs (two 35-pound plates and a standard barbell) and can do twelve reps easily. For the next set, you do 110lbs and it's still easy to do 12 reps. So, you add 5lbs to each side to do 120lbs, and it starts to be more difficult, but you can still complete 12 reps. For your final set, add 5 to 10 more pounds and see if you can complete 12 reps again. 

As you calibrate, keep track of how much weight feels right in a workout journal or on your phone. That way, you know where to start the next time you do that exercise. 

3. Target Your Entire Body

It's very tempting to want to focus on your chest and biceps since those are often your most visible muscles. Everyone loves square pecs and big biceps, and they're noticeable in anything you wear. But, they're not your only muscle groups, and if you want to improve your overall fitness level and physical health, you need to ensure your entire body gets adequate attention. 

Prioritize Compound Movements

The best way to ensure that you're hitting everything is to prioritize compound movements. Compound movements are exercises that require you to use multiple muscle groups and joints in harmony to complete. 

Consider the differences between a curl and a chin-up, for example. With a curl– a simple movement– you're moving weight along a single plane of motion with your elbow acting as the fulcrum. Your bicep acts as the primary muscle in the movement. While you may slightly tighten your triceps to lower the weight back down, your biceps are the star of the show and reap all of the benefits.  A chin-up, on the other hand,  is a compound movement. your biceps are still important in the movement, but to complete it correctly, you also have to use your latissimus muscles, deltoid muscles, brachialis muscles, and even your pectoralis muscles. 

As you exercise, start with compound movements. Simple, isolated movements are great and can be fantastic ways to finish or round out your workouts, but prioritize compound movements at the top of your workouts when you haven't burnt off your energy or already tired out a stabilizing muscle. 

4. Make Sure Cardio Is In Your Calendar

While weightlifting is critical to mobility, bone density, and building endurance, it doesn't always elevate your heart rate enough to ensure that you're improving your cardiovascular health. 

The CDC recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. While 150 minutes may sound like a lot, that comes out to about 30 minutes per day for five days per week AND moderate activity is typically considered to be activity that gets your heart rate up to between 64% and 76% of your maximum heart rate. 

Your maximum heart rate can generally be estimated by subtracting your age from 220. So, if you're 45, your maximum heart rate is 220-45, or 175 beats per minute. 64% to 76% of that would be 112 to 133 beats per minute. To take the guesswork or manual measuring out of the equation, a fitness wearable can be a wise investment. 

That means that you can achieve a moderate activity level through activities like taking your dog for a walk, going for a bike ride, swimming, or playing golf. You don't have to be in the gym on a treadmill or pounding the pavement on a jogging track to get adequate levels of cardio. 

Keeping Cardio Consistent

Do some experimenting to see what works best for you, but I've found that there are generally three times that folks find it easiest to do cardio consistently: 

  1. First thing in the morning. Before your day gets busy, take a walk or do some cycling to get your blood pumping. It'll do more than your coffee to get you feeling alert. 
  2. At the end of your workouts. After lifting weights for 30-45 minutes, getting in 15-30 minutes of cardio can be a great way to get the most out of your time at the gym, where you probably have more equipment options than you would otherwise. 
  3. In the evening/ after work. My personal favorite time to get in some cardio is after the workday and before I eat dinner. Taking the dog for a walk, strolling through a local park, or rowing are great ways to clear your mind and lower your stress levels after work while getting in some much-needed cardio time. 

5. Stretch, Rest, Hydrate, and Fuel Your Body

This is another one that young guys need to do too, but it becomes especially important as we age. The older we get, the harder it is for our body to heal itself and we become more prone to joint pain, stiffness, and achiness. 

Exercise can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, long-term exercise is associated with improved mobility and reduced chronic pain. In the short term, especially if you're just getting back to being active after some time away from it, it can cause localized inflammation, muscle soreness, and cramping. 

Because of this, you have two options. 

The first and less ideal option is to just pop a dose of ibuprofen every six hours and hope your liver and kidneys can keep up. (Don't do this.) 

The better option is to stretch regularly, get adequate sleep, drink plenty of water, and eat a well-balanced diet. When combined, these help your body's healing processes work with maximum efficiency. This means that your recovery times will be quick and you'll notice yourself getting those promised long-term benefits as soon and as painlessly (literally) as possible. 

Routines are Key

It can be easy to let things like hydration and stretching fall by the wayside throughout a busy day. Tacking these things onto established habits can be a great way to prioritize them. For example, if you have a routine of getting out of bed and immediately brewing coffee, try drinking a glass of water while the coffee brews. Before you get in bed at night, spend a couple of minutes sitting in a pike position and reaching your toes. On your lunch break, drink a glass of water do some trunk twists. 

If you over-complicate things and think that you have to do a full yoga routine or finish two gallons of water for these things to count, you're only going to disappoint yourself. Focus on making micro-changes to your daily routine so that they're easy to adopt but still add up to have a huge payoff. 

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References

1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00198-013-2346-1 

2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01541546

3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/393276

4. https://www.selfhimprovement.com/blog/workouts-are-also-good-for-your-prostate