I spent a considerable number of years as a personal trainer for women Over 40. I eventually moved away from that and let my credentials lapse, but it is still one of the things that I am the most passionate about. Somewhere around the age of 45, I began to notice some pretty big changes in my own body. From energy levels to unexplained weight gain to the occasional achy joint- my former routine and nutrition plans just didn’t seem to be cutting it anymore. I set out to find a BETTER way to approach exercise and nutrition over 40.
For the record, I typically lifted weights 4 days a week and did cardio 2 days a week. I ate a Paleo-leaning diet, that was heavy on lean protein and loads of vegetables. I ate little to no sugar or bread.This diet and exercise plan had served me well for years.
When things began to go awry I began to try different nutrition changes as well as different work out schedules and plans to figure out how to deal with these new signals that my body was giving me.
Let me first explain what DIDN’T work:
- IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). I talk about it here and here. It basically uses calculations to determine the proper amount of “macros”(fat, carbs, protein) that you need each day. You can eat whatever you want- as long as you hit those macros each day. I was a stickler on this plan for 4 months and was lifting heavy in the gym 6 days a week. I came away with ultimately little improvement and had acquired a sugar craving that I’d not had previously!
- Upping my workout/ cardio time. Freaked out by my lack of progress I upped my work out and cardio duration. Not only did I see very little improvement- I felt HORRIBLE. My energy level plummeted and I just HATED working out. I couldn’t understand it.
What was going on?
Right about this same time our family was enduring a particularly stressful time due to outside pressures beyond our control.
After a lot of research, as well as through trial and error, I have learned more about what goes on in our bodies after 40 and I wanted to share that with you.
A lot of women who research the “over 40” journey, will take one look at that list of sad symptoms and hurdles and think to themselves- “Whats the use?!” But we don’t have to give up, slump our shoulders and just wait for age to beat us down. There are changes we can make that will greatly enhance our quality of life, our health and yes- <gasp!> even the look of our bodies!
For most of us, sometime in our 40’s, our estrogen levels begin to decline. When this happens, both cortisol and insulin production INCREASE which contributes to fat gain. Many of us are under more stress in our forties, with family/job issues- this ALSO increases cortisol production- which contributes to fat gain. Many of us will struggle with insomnia and unbalanced sleep patterns, which- you guessed it- increases cortisol production- which contributes to fat gain.
You see whats happening here, right? A big hormonal mess. Your body is churning out the cortisol (very high levels can result in extreme fatigue, reduced immune response, fat gain and loads more). The body uses progesterone to CREATE the cortisol, which means if it is being used to manufacture all that cortisol, there is less progesterone to balance out your estrogen and testosterone. Hellooooo hormonal imbalance.
Back to my own personal story above, I threw myself into working out. I worked out harder and longer than ever- but the results were completely dismal. The problem was that even working out creates stress in the body and cortisol. So I was actually dumping even MORE cortisol into an already unbalanced hormonal body!
So what is a woman over 40 to do- this all seems very unfair!
We have to find the balance between exercise over 40 and elevated stress levels and we need to bolster it all with good nutritional changes that help. Listen to your body.
So, what does this look like? Well, for me- right now, it looks like this:
1.Walk/hike 2 miles on varied terrain with lots of (BIG) hills 5 days a week.
2. Short 20 min interval training using exercises like jumping jacks, high knees, crunches, squats, lunges, toe taps, push ups, etc.
3. And at least SOME yoga every damn day.
This is enough to keep my weight under control, maintain good energy levels, get my heart rate up, keep my joints moving, improve my overall balance, strength and flexibility and all without a big cortisol dump.
As far as nutritional changes, I’ve experimented a lot and finally found what feels good right now and keeps me at my goals. I’ve been eating pretty “clean” for years (little to no processed foods, sugar, bread, etc) so if you aren’t there yet, I’d suggest starting with that. I made a few other changes that I think have really helped keep me happy and healthy these days…
- Intermittent Fasting- this deserves it’s own post, but now I don’t eat breakfast until 10:30 or 11. This was a BIG change for me, as I’ve always advocated and practiced eating within 30 minutes of waking.And that had always served me very well. The change has been amazing. I am more focused, have more energy during the day and I don’t feel bloated. (I still eat the same amount of calories…..they are just spread differently)
- I am stacking in more vegetables than ever into my diet. Again phytoestrogens and their effects on the over 40 year old body deserves it’s own post, but this has again- left me feeling lighter, and more energetic.
- My proteins are mostly in the form of fish and chicken, with grass fed beef bringing up the rear!
- I’ve added collagen protein to my day in the form of unflavored powder from Bulletproof. I’ve seen an improvement in my hair, skin and nails and no joint pain!
- I don’t worry much about healthy fats and I eat them throughout the day in my meals as I want them.
- The only dairy I eat (in small amounts) these days is cheese (real cheese not processed) and yogurt, keifer, etc.
- I now only occasionally include any simple carbs, and then only in small amounts- rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes all suit me well.
- I still drink alcohol (mostly red wine), but cutting back on it left me feeling much better overall.
- I started taking sleep seriously. I do everything I can to get at least 8 hrs a night. I set a good routine and I stick to it! (Most of the time!)
So, this is MY balance. I am not a dietician or nutritional expert of any kind, but this is what is working for me- right now- in my current circumstances. I think that’s one of the keys. Look at YOUR lifestyle, your circumstances, your resources and figure out what you can do. Listen to your body. If what you’re doing feels great- keep going! If you feel sluggish, tired and run down every day- something isn’t working.
You can read my post regarding hormonal imbalance here. If the old ways aren’t working anymore, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and make changes.
Find YOUR personal balance in both exercise as well as nutrition to work WITH your body and keep you looking and feeling good well beyond your 40’s!
What about you? Have you experienced any of these things re. weight gain, exercise, lack of sleep , etc? I’d love to hear any changes that you’ve done that have helped you.
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