Over the last 7 years as a personal trainer, my main client base has been busy professionals over 40. The characteristics of these are:
- Long hours
- Over 40
- Sit down a lot
- Either injured from too much running/old sports injuries or from not moving enough
As I worked with them more I recognised, once you hit 40, sure you want the same things like weight loss but other concerns begin to take over as well;
“My Dad died of a heart attack at 50, I don’t want the same thing to happen”
“I feel old and I certainly don’t want to look old as well”
“I just want to look and feel healthy rather than tired all the time”
The Average 40+ Year Old Today
Many over 40’s are doing something about it. Sport England recently reported a rise of 41% in sports participation in the 45-54 age group with running, cycling & Netball seeing the biggest rise.
However, more needs to be done. A recent Public England study found, compared to 1992 there has been an increase in:
- Heart conditions & diabetes
- Mental health issues (including stress and anxiety)
Additionally, although the report showed a decrease in musculoskeletal issues, the recent ONS (office of national statistics) report into workplace sickness showed joint related pain was the second biggest cause of sickness with 30.8 million lost days.
Your body and brain constantly changes and regenerates from birth. However, whilst the body of someone in their teens and 20’s can get away with a lot (quicker recovery time for example), the adage ‘use it or lose it’ certainly rings true post 40.
For example, every year after 40 your body on average will lose 1lb of lean muscle along with 1% bone density. On a hormonal level, for men levels of testosterone decline by 1% each year from their 30’s onwards.
Can You Do Anything About It?
For females, while menapause tends to begin in the 50’s, perimenopause can begin in the early 40’s involving the alteration of estrogen & progesterone levels
Whilst these processes are entirely natural and experienced by all, the level of effects are hugely determined by your lifestyle.
As an example, while testosterone naturally declines in males from their 30’s onwards, frequent exposure to stress accelerates the process while regular lifting of weights aids testosterone maintenance.
Equally, as reported in a large scale study from the university of chicago the biggest determinant of mortality was not age but level of mobility.
The outlook is clear; The changes that happen post 40 are entirely natural, however what you can do to diminish the effects is massive.
Train Smart or Get Injured
Yet, when I work with clients they come to me having made some of the mistakes I am about to highlight. Part of my job initially is to explain how they can experience a much greater level of health by training smart.
The following are 3 of the most common mistakes I see that can be easily altered but, if continued, can lead to injury and ill health in the future.
Mistake No1 – Too heavy focus on cardio
As highlighted earlier in the article, more people than ever are being active over 40 with running being one of the winners in the surge of participants.
It is not hard to see why;
- Its easy to get started. All you need is your running trainers and away you go.
- It is well documented on its benefits to mental health.
- It provides an avenue for social interaction with weekly free events like Parkrun.
With these benefits why am I saying a mistake is to focus too heavily on cardio? Well, remember the muscle & bone loss that occurs each year from your 40’s.
It is not uncommon to also start to feel your muscles and tendons getting tighter as the natural elasticity of muscles begin to diminish.
Whats More Important Than Cardio?
Additionally, as I mentioned before, the number 2 cause of work place sickness isn’t shortness of breath as you walk the stairs, it is musculoskeletal issues like back & neck pain.
Cardio will do very little to counteract these factors. Training that targets strength, stability & mobility most certainly will.
By incorporating exercises such as squats, kettlebell swings, Turkish Get ups and lunges you are;
- Building and maintaining lean muscle mass which helps strengthen & stabilise your skeletal frame.
- Done correctly helps support your tendons and ligaments and keep them supple
- Protect the spine through efficient stability.
Build Muscle Lose Fat Over 40
The other benefit, which is very important from a weight maintenance perspective; muscle is one of the most energy hungry organ of your body (along with your brain).
By working it on a regular basis it is going to require energy to repair & maintain. When combined with a healthy way of eating, adding in strength, stability & mobility exercises will have your leaner than ever!
Mistake No2 – Saying ‘it’s just a sign of aging’
“I regularly get this niggling back pain, but I just put that down to me getting older”
[cue an inner rage burning inside me]
Ok, it is true, the versatility of a 20 year old body is biologically better than a 40 year old body. However, there is a HUGE difference between saying;
“My back hurts because i’m getting older”
“My back hurts because I’m slouched over my desk for 8 hours a day”
To attribute the niggling pain to aging implies;
- There is not much you can do about it
- You can expect more of it in the future
Personal Training Vs. The Modern Workplace
Both of these couldn’t be further from the truth. I would regularly say to my desk bound clients, one of the functions of personal training is to counter act the detrimental effects of the modern day work place.
This also plays into the confidence you have in the capabilities of your own body. There is no reason why you can’t run 5k, 10k, lift more than you currently do. What will stop you is your own assessment of what your body can do.
One of the best achievements as a personal trainer is when a client goes “Im thinking of entering a 5k” when they didn’t think they could run at all before they started.
Mistake No3 – Representing ‘health’ as weight loss
You can lose weight by eating junk food and you can be healthier by losing weight. ‘Health’ & ‘weight loss’ are not the same thing. In your 20’s and early 30’s you can get away with constant dieting and only focussing on losing weight.
However, within your 40’s and beyond the impact of lifestyle choices comes through. For example, according to Diabetes UK, prevalence of diabetes in England & Wales goes from 3.76% in 30-39 age group to a whopping 10.67% in 40-49 age group.
The desirable pull of ‘weight loss’
The problem with a focus on weight loss instead of health is, with weight loss you can see a clear result after 2 weeks (“awesome I’ve lost 6lbs”).
It satisfies our bias for immediate gratification. Health is more of a long term nurturing process where feedback comes more in the form of;
- Normal blood pressure.
- Consistent, natural energy levels, as opposed to up to the eyeballs in coffee & energy drinks.
- Glowing skins, hair & nails.
- Consistently maintained weight WITHOUT dieting.
- Little to no signs of premature aging. You have a biological age & a chronological age and at no point do you want to biologically be older than you are chronologically.
There is also a huge psychological factor to this as well. When clients talk about their “bad relationship with food” it is a sign to me this has to be looked at if we want to focus on health. Psychology guides everything and if this isn’t dealt with, the lure of dieting will always be present
More people over 40 than ever are starting to improve their health. Yet, there are a number of traps that you can fall into that gets you injured, frustrated and thinking if age has caught up with you.
This doesn’t have to be you. Avoid the mistakes detailed in this article and you can sail through your 40’s looking younger, being stronger and an inspiration to other over 40’s who see what you do.