Exercise for women over 40 is not something that is often thought of as needing a different approach. But it should be!
As you get older, you can't just Blaze, Cyclone or Whirlwind (I made that one up!) like you used to in your 20's and 30's without risk of injury or exhaustion. As you age, your body responds differently to exercise depending on factors like diet, lifestyle, hormone balance, genetics, mobility and general health.
In your 40's and beyond, it's not a question of just ‘eat less, move more'! This approach can be counter productive as it can stress your body out instead of nourishing it.
Exercise is vital for hormones and general health as it improves stress levels, sleep quality, mood, brain health and insulin function. And once you get past 40, it is the perfect time to consider a more balanced and perhaps a more sustainable approach to exercise.
Top 7 types of exercise for women over 40
These are my top tips for women over 40 to consider including in your routine. You don't have to do them all (!) and there are many other activities you might enjoy more (like running, skiing, dancing or whatever you're into). It's just to get you thinking about what your body needs.
- Resistance & Weights
I've put this one first for a reason – strength training is one of the best defences against the effects of ageing! Which is why I'm finally taking this one seriously on a personal level.
Not only does it help offset the muscle mass we lose as we get older, stoking the metabolism and reducing fat stores, but it can also improve brain health and mood, and reduce the chance of injuries.
Strength training also improves bone density, therefore lowering your risk of osteoporosis, a real risk for many of us as we head towards our menopausal years.
There are so many ways that you can add strength training into your routine from incorporating a set of weights or resistance bands into your exercise kit at home, to using that park bench as a tri-cep dip stop.
It’s the holy grail of exercise for women over 40 and I’m so keen to see you reap the benefits, I’ll show you how to supercharge your work-outs so that you can incorporate some strength and resistance training into each session.
Supercharge your resistance and weights work-out: Try a kettle-bell or body pump class and build up the kgs as you go.
2. Get NEAT working for you
Not really a type of exercise this one, but this type of movement is super important. Sitting is a major modern day health concern, but with a few tweaks to our daily routine, we can make it less damaging to our health (and hormones); We can do this by amping up our NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) activity by supercharging the little acts that we do every day:
- Get a standing desk or balance ball (or both!) instead of a chair – Top NEAT points for this one as this small change has the ability to reduce your static sitting time (and improve your NEAT potential) dramatically.
- Walk and talk – have you heard that therapists are now moving out of the consultation room and into the nearest park? Why? Because we tend to have the best conversations when we are getting some fresh air, surrounded by nature. And for me personally, I always have my best ideas when I'm out walking.
- Take breaks – Give yourself permission to take regular breaks. You’ll be more productive and less stiff in the long run. Think how 5-10 minutes adds up over the day if you did it every hour? It’s like squeezing in an extra hour a day of exercise without even thinking about it!
Supercharge with resistance: Dr. Rangan Chaterjee suggests keeping dumbells by the kettle and squeezing in a quick power session while the kettle boils 💪🏼.
Few things have the power to restore quite like a brisk walk and a big deep gulp of fresh air. And the health benefits are many, from lowering your overall risk of chronic disease to helping you feel all is well with the world.
So don’t underestimate the power of “just walking”, adding in a few walks during the week could be just what the Dr. ordered. And as long as you don’t have an injury, there are virtually no barriers to entry: it’s easy, cheap and convenient. So if none of the other suggestions take your fancy, then this is the one to try.
Supercharge with resistance: Try wrist and ankle weights (or a weighted jacket) and adding in a few more walks on hilly terrain.
If you are in good health, your joints are sound and your stress levels aren’t too high, then you may want to try HIIT (or ‘High Intensity Interval Training') which has been shown to burn fat more effectively than aerobic exercise.
In terms of strength improvements in the body, not only have HIIT workouts proven to yield as much strength gain as more traditional resistance training in a shorter amount of time, but in some cases there were also greater improvements in strength compared to traditional resistance training.
Another huge plus point is that it’s designed to not take up too much time! No more excuses for not having time to exercise. What are you waiting for?
Supercharge with resistance: No need! 15 minutes, 3 times per week is all it takes to get started.
Swimming is great for women over 40 as it provides an all over body, non-weight bearing cardio work-out. Particularly beneficial for those of us who still crave the cardio high but have problems with our joints as we get older.
The study also found that low volume, high intensity intermittent swimming was more beneficial than swimming at low intensity for 1 hour. So, if you fancy trying HIIT but don’t think your joints could take it, try HIIT swimming instead!
A wild swim in nature gives you the added benefit of cold exposure, which we know is great for your health.
Supercharge with resistance: If you are pool-bound you could try arm or leg floats, paddles, tethers or even a bouy if you are feeling particularly adventurous!
6. Yoga & Pilates
Yoga and pilates are some of the best exercise for women over 40 as they promote so many benefits, including flexibility, strength, posture, stress and mood.
Being mindful is such a buzz word and to some it may feel totally unattainable. Finding the time to sit in a quiet room and think about nothing for 10 minutes, can feel indulgent, even boring for many. But yoga and pilates give you that time to be present; focusing on the pose and your breathing. A calming tonic for our stressful daily lives.
Online or in a class, there are so many to choose from so have a play around and experiment with a few until you find one that you love.
Supercharge with resistance: a good yoga class will be enough, believe me! But if you want to try a Pilates Reformer class, they are great for really targeting specific muscle groups.
7. Core and Pelvic Floor Strength
Neglecting your core and pelvic floor isn’t an option, especially if you’ve had children, so make sure you include this in your routine.
Kegels are king when it comes to keeping the pelvic floor intact and nipping in the bud any of those “oops” moments that can happen when you cough or sneeze.
The good thing about Kegels is that once you have the hang of it you can practice it anywhere: waiting for a bus, waiting by a photocopier, riding in a lift. Anywhere where you have a few seconds to spare – squeeze in a Kegel!
But one word of caution, up to one third of women do the exercises incorrectly due to poor posture or incorrect breathing, which just creates more tension. So take the time to get the basics right and if you are unsure, check in with a physio or pelvic floor expert.
Once you have mastered the technique, spare a few minutes several times a day and you should start to feel the difference within 6 weeks.
Supercharge with resistance: Try Kegel balls where targeted exercise will help you identify, tone and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Do what works for you (and you enjoy!)
So there you have it, 7 types of exercise for women over 40 to keep you fit and healthy in perimenopause and beyond, whilst protecting your body and supporting your energy levels.
Try some new things and the important thing is to create your own preferred routine. Small, consistent changes over time, that feel good and are sustainable for you are the best way to keep your hormones in check and reach your health goals attainable.
If you need any help with your hormones or health, do get in touch and we can send you more information on how we can help.