Turning 40 is a milestone that most women dread, but after the candles are blown out and life carries on, we start to realize that this decade really isn’t that bad. For one thing, women this age typically are more comfortable in their skin, more confident making decisions and more put together in their lives overall (compared to our 20s and 30s). Health and wellness also become more of a priority–whether we want to lose extra weight or just to feel better in general.
A woman’s body does go through some changes after 40, due to hormonal shifts, slowing metabolism, weakening joints and muscle and bone loss. But these shifts don’t have to slow you down. Here are some ways to continue to look and feel your best into your fourth decade and beyond.
Make exercise a priority
Regular exercise has a positive impact on just about every aspect of health. After age 40, it’s especially important for metabolism support (which plays a part in weight management), hormone balance and emotional well-being (which also impacts physical health). Aim for at least four hours of moderate-intensity exercise weekly.
Balance your diet
Besides cutting back on processed and junk food, balance is key in an over-age-40 diet. Limiting any one food group – carbs, fat, protein – is never a good idea. Balance is crucial for proper energy, focus, muscle strength and overall good health. It you don’t eat enough protein, for example, your ability to make new protein may slow down, and muscle tissue may even be tapped into for your body to get what it needs. When this happens, metabolism slows—which means you’ll burn fewer calories and less fat.
A healthy diet should consist of 55 percent complex carbs (oatmeal, rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes) 27 percent protein (lean beef, fish, chicken) and 18 percent healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, natural nut butters).
Jump on joint health
If you find that higher impact activities such as running or step class don’t feel as good as they used to, your connective tissues may be to blame. Joints become less elastic over time, causing discomfort and stiffness that can affect not just exercise, but movement in general. Try switching things up for your cardio workouts with lower-impact exercises like biking or swimming. You might also add a joint-health supplement to your daily regimen.
Stay on top of stretching
Like joints, muscles change with age, becoming tighter and shorter in length over time. To keep muscle tissue in the best possible shape, stretch daily. Five to 10 minutes after a workout, when muscles are warmed up, is the ideal time—but any time will do. Hop off the couch and stretch while you’re unwinding in front of the TV at night, or squeeze in some stretching on your lunch break at work. Taking a yoga class, even if it’s only twice a week, can be a great way to keep your muscles long and relaxed.
If you haven’t already, start strength training
Lifting weights is essential as we get older. Weight-bearing or resistance exercises are known to help to prevent osteoporosis. Twenty minutes three days a week is all that’s needed. Also consider taking a calcium/magnesium supplement daily to help build and maintain bone strength.
Pay attention to posture
Slumping while standing, sitting or walking not only makes you looked older, but poor posture can hinder blood flow and lead to calcifications and back pain over time. To improve your posture, start by practicing body awareness – mentally checking your stance throughout the day. Stand or sit tall with your shoulders down and your back supported (if sitting) against a back rest if possible.
If not now…then when? Have you always wanted to take ballet or ballroom dancing? Karate or kickboxing? Maybe you’d like to enter a figure competition (I was 44 when I competed for the first time!). Give new things—especially physical activities—a try. They may be just what you need, to challenge your muscles and your mind.