Rx: One hour of weight training 3 days a week if you do your whole body at once (4 days for half an hour if you split it up), plus 45 minutes of cardio 5 days a week (it's more than in the 20s and 30s but with less impact and intensity). Take one day off.
This is the decade of the triple whammy: gravity, hormones, and yet more slowing of metabolism as lean muscle mass continues to decrease and body fat increases. Even women who don't put on a pound may expand, according to Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women. "After 40 and certainly after 50, virtually all women find that they gain fat more easily in the torso—below the bra, through the triceps area, on the back, and in the belly," she says. "You're not doing anything wrong; your body composition is changing."
Cardio work at least three days a week is still important for keeping weight under control, but resistance training is crucial now. "Women should be doing more weight training—and really going for it," says New York City based celebrity trainer Kacy Duke, who is in her 40s. "You have to find the time to do it consistently and train hard." If you're just starting, says Peeke, "you must learn proper form—take a class, get a trainer, make sure someone is there to correct you so you don't get hurt. And add intensity."
Certain body parts may call out for extra attention. "Pilates can help some with the midsection," says fitness veteran Karen Voight, who teaches and writes a workout column for the Los Angeles Times. To tone the back of the upper arm, she instructs, "get on all fours in a bent-knee push-up position, with fingers facing forward and hands directly under your shoulders. Make sure your elbows point backward when they bend, and lower only halfway, which works the muscle but avoids strain on the joints." Then there's the butt. "For that," says Voight, who is in her 40s, "I'd try squats with weights or stair-climbing."
It's also about enjoyment. "I find exercise that's satisfying on a deeper level," says Donna Richardson Joyner, 43, creator of the video Sweating in the Spirit and a recent appointee to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. "It's not just about moving my body—it's about strengthening my mind and my spirit."
Rx: 4 to 6 cardio sessions a week, 20 to 40 minutes each, with an intensity that lets you answer a simple question but not chat, plus half an hour of weight training twice a week, 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, or 15 to 20 using lighter weights. Always stretch afterward.
If your metabolism feels like it's slowing to a crawl, it's not in your mind. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studying 541 midlife women found an average gain of 12 pounds eight years after menopause. We also tend to gain a little potbelly, what Peeke calls the menopot. And other places begin to droop noticeably. "At this point, loss of muscle mass and tone really shows," says longtime fitness expert Kathy Smith, 54. "It can actually start to change your posture."
The classic shoulder slump from years of hunching over a desk or computer "will really age you," says Smith, who suggests this stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back at the level of your butt and squeeze your shoulder blades together, pinching your spine. Try, with straight arms, to stretch your fingertips toward the floor until you notice a tug between your ears and shoulders, then lift your hands as high as you can, feeling the stretch in your chest.
"If you haven't started weight training, you must," says Smith, "although if you're a beginner, I really recommend guidance. Women in their 70s have doubled their strength in nine weeks. If you feel intimidated going to a gym, you can rent videos to do at home. You want to hit all the major muscle groups, and you can do the whole cycle in 15 minutes if you keep some dumbbells around."
Yoga—along with tai chi, dance, and the Bosu ball (a soft half-dome used for standing and sitting exercises)—is great for balance, which will become an increasingly important issue. While the physical changes this decade brings may be hard to take at first, ultimately, says Smith, "you shift into an acceptance mode. You change what you can, and live with what you can't. It's a gentler way."
Rx: 3 days a week of challenging but not exhausting cardio, such as a slow jog, plus 3 days of weight training, using lighter weights and slower, more controlled movements combined with slow, sustained stretching. Walk whenever possible, and do daily balance exercises.
In the 60s, problems like arthritis, bad knees, and spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spaces between bones that can put painful pressure on the spinal cord) become common. "But aches and pains shouldn't be an excuse for giving up on exercise," says Marilyn Moffat, PhD, a professor of physical therapy at New York University and coauthor of Age-Defying Fitness. "We now know that a decline in strength and fitness isn't entirely a natural consequence of the aging process but is also due to lack of use. We need to push ourselves physically no matter how old we are—we just may need to alter the activity."
Adapting a workout routine for the 60s sometimes means giving up aerobic exercise that jars and stresses the joints—for example, replacing long runs with jogging one or two miles, jogging in a pool, swimming, or riding a stationary bicycle. (Women with bad backs may need to use a recumbent bicycle.) Moffat, who is 65, says that, on average, she walks three to five miles a day because it offers both cardio and bone-strengthening benefits.
Resistance training is still important, "but I would not advise anyone to lift heavy weights if it aggravates your joints," Moffat says. And stretching and balance are absolute musts. If you don't stretch now, "by the time you're in your 80s, your joints will have lost their flexibility." One of Moffat's favorite stretches is holding the head tilted earlobe to shoulder for 60 seconds; another (if you don't have osteoporosis) is sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, feet flexed, and lowering your head toward your knees. For balance, she suggests "rising up on the toes of one foot and trying to hold the position for a minute. You can do this while brushing your teeth."
In fact, that's a good image for any age—the sooner exercise becomes like brushing your teeth, the longer you'll feel younger than your years.
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