Keeping Fit After 40

Creativity and Practicality Keys to Keeping a Fitness Regimen

By Sean P. Johnson

Jenny Tovar admits it would be easy to skip her regular workout at the Fox West YMCA on those days she just doesn’t feel up to it.

In her 20s and 30s, she might have even done so, knowing she would make it up the next day, with no real consequences. Since turning 40, she has discovered that staying motivated – and keeping fit in general – has become a much greater challenge.

“You lose your fitness level so much quicker and it is so much harder to get back to the level you are trying to maintain,” says Tovar of the challenges of keeping fit now that she’s in her early 40s. “If I miss it, I really feel it.”

Tovar has been conscientious about her workout routines since she began weight lifting with her husband nearly 20 years ago. Keeping a four to five day-a-week routine did not seem to task her as much until recently. Lately, it has been more of a struggle to maintain that commitment.

Driving by the Y on her way home from Greenville to Oshkosh makes it harder to skip.

“It’s not that its harder to do, it’s just harder to stay that motivated,” Tovar says. Times of change Tim Hatlestad knows all too well the reasons it seems so much harder to stay fit after 40.

While there’s nothing magical about 40, Hatlestad, a physical therapist with Thedacare’s Encircle Health, says that many people begin to struggle with their fitness routines during that decade of life, which coincides with physical, mental and general life changes that can put fitness on the back burner for many.

Physical changes can include anything from cumulative effect of injuries to changing hormones to a metabolism that slows as we age, says Tim Hatlestad. Then there is the comfort level that hits folks in their 40s, when it becomes easier to accept missing workouts.

“Your 40s can become a tough time with both physical changes and other commitments,” says Hatlestad. “There is just a mental and physical fatigue that goes with that.”

That fatigue can make maintaining a fitness program a challenge in a number of ways, from staying motivated to overcompensating when making up for missed workouts, resulting in injuries and even more off time.

Have a plan

These challenges, whether they hit at 40 or later, need not spell the end of regular workouts or that a fitness program should be abandoned. Indeed, a fitness routine is a critical component of healthy aging, Hadlestad says.

What’s important at this stage of life is to acknowledge and accept the hurdles, and create a plan to overcome them.

“There is still a lot you can do,” Hatlestad says. “In fact, many people can probably do a lot more than they think. You just need to plan it out.”

Some guidelines recommended by Hatlestad include:

  • Be consistent. Don’t do it in spurts, even if it means less activity. Plan your routines out and schedule time for rest and recovery.
  • Cross train. Variety is a good thing. It can reinvigorate a tired workout, both keeping it interesting and keeping you motivated.
  • Apply common sense. Acknowledge your shortcomings, slow down and take breaks when necessary.
  • Be regular.

Following those rules could mean doing more cardio and less weight lifting, riding a bike instead of running and perhaps mixing the basketball routine with some time in the pool.

Again, regularity is the key.

“Not just when, but what am I going to do,” Hatlestad says.

The regularity gets even more important as people continue to age, says Colleen Brickner, a therapist with Appleton Retirement Community in downtown Appleton. Regular activity for physical fitness help keep us mentally and emotionally fit as we age, Brickner says.

“It can be the thing that gets them out of bed each day and that can be the difference to their overall health,” Brickner says.

Of course, the fitness routines at Appleton Retirement Community are modified to deal with physically challenges including limited range of motion, arthritis, lack of balance and even depression. Most of the activities are performed with the participants seated to prevent falls, and focus on simple range of motion activities.

Still, the residents are plenty competitive, and exercise times are one of the most popular activities in the building, for both the physical and the social benefits. Plus, it can be a lot of fun.

“It really gives them self-confidence. They feel really positive” says Sara Fawcett, the marketing director for Appleton Retirement Community. “It really helps their brain and plays a huge part in maintaining a positive attitude.”

It’s attitude

Attitude and socialization play a vital roles in overall fitness, particularly as folks age, says Heidi Erickson, a recreation programmer with the city of Appleton Parks and Recreation Department.

The city has for several years been offering fitness classes in a variety of settings. Offerings include yoga and Zoomba, things that are simple to do and will help get the heart rate up.

“These are classes anyone can do and do at their own pace,” Erickson says. “We want to get them moving and get their heart rate up.”

They also take fitness out of the gym and classroom. One simple activity the city offers to get folks moving are historical walks around downtown Appleton, which “gets them going and gets them with other people.”

For Tovar, adding new wrinkles to her routine are what keep her engaged. She now meets with a personal trainer at least once a year to review her routine and consider new activities.

One of those was training for and running in her first 5K, which she did in San Diego and considers a big accomplishment and a departure from her normal routine.

“The new ideas give me a lot more motivation,” she says. “My goal is to stay fit, and I have to be creative to keep myself going.”


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