Exercise and movement are essential to our health and as we move into our 40s it is time to take control.  The benefits affect everything from our musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, blood sugar levels, immune system, inflammation (linked to heart disease, cancer, depression, and dementia), sarcopenia (the reduction of muscle mass, something that starts happening in our 30s), bone density issues, visceral fat around the stomach (a key one for 40+ woman apparently due to a decrease in oestrogen) and type 2 diabetes.  It also affects our gut microbiome (linked to our mental health), our hormone balance, our digestive system, and importantly our every day functioning.  But we can take control and don’t have to accept the inevitable of bones getting frailer, metabolism decreasing, muscles mass lowering, anxiety increasing, or diabetes 2 becoming the key disease of our generation.  The fact that alzheimers is now sometimes called  type 3 diabetes shows the importance of addressing our lifestyles. In fact a study showed a 29% reduction in the production of type 2 diabetes through a movement programme alone, beating many diabetic medications.  

Also it can have a positive knock on effect.  “Typically people who exercise start eating better and become more productive at work.  They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family..and feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change”  Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, Why we Do what we do in Life and Business  

150 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended a week but for each person what you do is unique and dependent on your fitness and aims.  What is certain is that doing the same exercise, with the same effort and for the same length of time will not challenge your body and can lead to plateauing and boredom. Variety is key.  Your programme depends on your targets/any contraindications but as a woman in your 40s should include a variety of efforts, durations, and type of exercise; cardio and strength.  20 minutes of high intensity 3 times a week will keep you moving and get your fat burning and raise your heart rate but it will push your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight) through the roof and not necessarily improve endurance .  In the same way a 30 minute walk is fantastic for your brain, your heart and lungs (depending on speed) and your parasympathetic nervous system (your thrive state) but will not have enough impact on your skeleton to improve bone density.  Not resting can be just as negative and hydrating your fascia (all the connective tissue) through massage and myofascial rolling, will also keep you moving  and in a top lubricated and functional state. So a mix of efforts, durations and intensities throughout the week is essential but can & should change week on week according to how you’re feeling and how your hormones are doing.  A HIIT session when you’re already feeling stressed is not ideal.

In addition a mix of the actual type of movement is needed.  Find one you enjoy but try not to stick to the same exercise/distance/speed/moves where you’re repeatedly training the same parts of your body, using the same parts of your brain.  Then it will start relying on muscle memory, the challenge will reduce, and you won’t be getting the most out of the work out. 

Strength – It can be a mix of intensities and duration but is non negotiable for us. It keeps us functioning as muscle mass, bone density, and fascia decrease (i.e. you “dry out”) as well as affecting our testosterone levels and metabolic state. Muscle mass starts decreasing in your 40s and bone density in your 30s and osteoporosis is a key problem for women over 50, with 1 in 3 women suffering from osteoporotic fracture worldwide.  For both issues, resistance or strength training including impact over and above that of every day life has been recommended as a promising therapeutic strategy for the preservation of muscle and bone mass.  It is important to hit all the main five functional movements to keep you moving – a mix of squat, lunge, rotate, push and pull are the main movements to include and build up and overload as you move along your strength journey but always remember to breathe and not put extra pressure on your pelvic floor.  In fact, the stronger you get the less pressure you will put on your pelvic floor when lifting or even getting up off the floor that could occur through breath holding.  These moves all replicate day to day functional moves.  Strength has also been shown to affect visceral fat around the belly – often accepted as just a factor of growing older weight gain around the middle has been linked to heart issues and breast cancer.  A 2010 study of post menopausal women showed that women who undertook resistance training had less weight gain around their waists and a study on (admittedly ) men showed it to be more effective than aerobic training.  Strength training twice a week is the recommendation.

High intensity and Medium Intensity cardio exercise should both feature as part of your cardio cocktail.  Below are a few I enjoy but there are so many choices – zumba, barre and of course team sports.  Anything that gets your heart rate moving – but try not to do just steady state slow runs or just high intensity circuits  Plus vary the duration – shorter interval runs and longer walks will move your heart rate into different levels and reach different parts of your body – from your bones to your brain.

Running – if you enjoy running it is a wonderful mental and physical exercise.  It can be used as endurance training with longer, less intense runs, and for high intensity interval training where you work your cardiovascular system harder and the body moves into an anaerobic state pushing the lactic acid threshold.  Or shorter runs where the benefit is just as much mental.  Also lower body training has been proven to affect your mental health – astronauts brains can actually rewire whilst they’re in a state of weightlessness and a study on mice showed anxiety and depression when they couldn’t use their back legs.  But too much running, without appropriate strength training and stretching can lead to injuries and without enough recovery can stress out the body.  If you’re a runner, one longer, one interval and one shorter/recovery jog are perfect in a week. 

Circuits/HIIT – an intense circuit or interval session is extremely effective both in terms of efficiency and the effect on your body, and a study showed it was 29%  more effective at fat loss than medium intensity plus the physiological adaptation to your body is greater than a medium intensity.  But it can stress you out so keep to a maximum of two a week 

Core strength is also essential – a strong core protects your back, and avoids injuries, when you move, walk, jog, run, jump, lift weights etc.  This can be included in your strength training but a pilates lesson/course for me works both for my core and my brain.  Plus it’s been found to be the most effective way of training your pelvic floor – one of the key issues as you move into perimenopause

Stretching – myofascial rolling, massage or just ensuring that your muscles stay well lubricated is essential to recovery and preventing you from getting stiff.  When you exercise muscles they can become dehydrated so make sure that you include some kind of active recovery.  I try to do something every other day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

Meditation/Mental exercise – this is for another blog, but mental health should be as much a part of our exercise programme as physical.  I have found simply taking time to breathe in the morning and the evening has transformed my sleep, and therefore positively affected my life and many swear by yoga for both strength and calmness

Of course there are many other types of classes and exercises you can do the key thing is to keep moving, vary the intensity and duration, include strength and find something that that stimulates you in a positive way but don’t let that own you.  Let it be a fun part of your life!