Getting in Shape at 40

Getting in Shape at 40: A Comprehensive Guide

Embark on a comprehensive fitness journey! Discover effective strategies, workouts, and lifestyle adjustments tailored for achieving top shape at 40 and beyond in this insightful guide.
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By Ron Harris

With age comes wisdom and maturity, at least that’s the desired progression. We are no longer as reckless as we used to be in matters of love, finances, and responsibilities.

As we enter middle age, many of us also start taking much better care of ourselves physically. It’s often a time in life when we start taking regular exercise and good nutrition a lot more seriously, mainly because our bodies will naturally decline in both appearance and performance otherwise.

You can get away with abusing your body to a point in your teens and twenties with seemingly little ill effect, but things change as the decades roll by.

If you’re reading this you are either already dedicated to a life of health, fitness, and vitality or you have decided to. In parts 1 and 2 of this series we covered the changes you should make to your training and nutrition in respect to your age.

This time, let’s talk about how to optimize your physique and health by making wiser lifestyle choices and treating your body like the temple it is.

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1. Sleep is your best friend

How many of you remember staying out all night partying like a rock star until 3 AM just about every weekend, sleeping 2-3 hours, then rolling into a full day of work?

I used to do that in my youth, but if I tried that today at age 53, there is no doubt in my mind I would collapse from sheer exhaustion. Sleep is when both the mind and body recharge their batteries, so to speak.

For those of us who work hard every day on exercise and proper nutrition to look, feel, and perform our best, sleep takes on an even more critical role. I always say there are three sides to the triangle of success in bodybuilding: training, nutrition, and rest.

If any of the three sides is lacking, the entire structure falls apart. I know that for me, missing sleep takes an even harsher toll on how I feel and perform than missing meals does. Some people are able to function fine on as little as 4-5 hours of sleep per night, but the vast majority of us need 7-9 hours to be at our best.

Don’t waste/sacrifice precious sleep time staying up streaming TV series or YouTube videos, gaming, or scrolling through social media. Maximize the time your body needs to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue and inflamed connective tissues.

Some of you have also become enamored of the so-called ‘hustle culture’ that promotes insane working hours as a badge of honor and likes to tag things with ‘#teamnosleep.’ If you still need convincing, let me leave you with some dire consequences of inadequate sleep:

Short term

  • Lack of alertness
  • Impaired memory
  • Relationship stress
  • Greater likelihood of automobile accident

Long term risks

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Reduced immune system function
  • Lower sex drive
  • Premature wrinkling, dark circles under eyes

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2. No smoking or vaping!

Tobacco use has dropped off tremendously over the last 50 years as everyone is now fully aware that it drastically increases your odds of developing lung cancer.

Yet even though cigarette sales have plummeted, smoking got a second life more recently in the form of vaping nicotine.

Vaping may appear safer, but exposes the lungs to toxic metals like nickel, lead, chromium, tin, and aluminum.

But let’s get back to cigarettes. Smoking causes 90% of all lung cancer deaths along with 80% of deaths from COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Wait, there’s more.

Smoking increases your risk of both coronary heart disease and stroke by 200-400%, and makes you 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer. If your health isn’t a priority, maybe your looks are.

Smoking leads to increased production of an enzyme that breaks down collagen, reducing your skin’s elasticity and making it appear more aged, sagging, and wrinkled. It’s also a very expensive habit, as a pack of cigarettes now costs $10-12 in the USA.

That’s over $300 a month you could be spending on something, anything else! I know that nicotine is highly addictive, but there are various methods available to help you quit. If you want to look jacked, strong, and young for your age, you need to quit smoking.

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3. Drink responsibly, and only moderately

We talked about the impact alcohol can have on a healthy diet in part 2 of this series, mainly for its high caloric content. Many otherwise solid nutrition and weight-loss plans have been derailed by thousands of empty calories from alcohol.

You should also be very moderate with your alcohol consumption for your overall health. We have all gone overboard with drinking at times and paid the price: feeling sick to your stomach, heaving up the poisonous contents of your stomach into a toilet bowl, then feeling like death warmed over the entire next day as the effects ‘hang over.’

You’ve probably swore you would never drink again every time, too. Let’s run down some very compelling health-based reasons why you should avoid abusing alcohol.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and serious problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

If none of that worries you macho men out there, also know that heavy alcohol consumption also results in reduced testosterone levels in the blood. Still not convinced?

Okay, you’re making me go there. In men, alcohol depresses the central nervous system and often can make it difficult to get and maintain an erection. Those of you who have had the frustrating and often embarrassing issue of being unable to ‘perform’ with a sexual partner after drinking already know about this.

Never a fun way to end an evening!

Heavy drinking over time can lead to full-blown impotence. Since sex is one of the greatest joys in life, why would you want to risk losing your ability to enjoy it?

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Maybe all you care about is your handsome face. In that case, you should know that alcohol dehydrates the body, including the skin. Over time your skin loses fluid and nutrients that are vital for healthy-looking skin, which can make your skin look wrinkled, dull and grey, or bloated and puffy.

I think we’ve all known men and women in our lives who were attractive at one time but lost their good looks to alcoholism. You don’t need to swear off alcohol completely.

Enjoy a couple drinks every now and then and you will be fine. When the drinking crosses over into binge-drinking and/or it becomes a regular habit, you will have a real problem on your hands.

No one who wants to look and feel fantastic should be drinking more than every once in a while.

4. Active rest – a body in motion and all that

You should give your body a rest from weight training at least a couple days a week, though cardio should be done every day. That doesn’t mean you need to hop on a machine on those off days to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing.

Do you own a dog? Take that pup for a brisk walk of 30-45 minutes. Go shoot some hoops at the park. Ride your bike around town or on a trail. Go swimming. Go hike the local woods, hills, or mountains.

Do anything active! We call it ‘active rest’ because even on days we don’t touch a weight, you should still remain active.

5. Body work from professionals

You take your car to get serviced at regular intervals of miles driven, but do you get your body serviced? Hard training takes a toll on your spine, joints, muscles, and connective tissues.

Some people think that chiropractic adjustments and deep-tissue massage are only for professional athletes, but we can all benefit from them. Keeping your spine properly aligned via chiropractic adjustments will improve your posture, reduce pain and improve range of motion for your spine and other joints, reduce symptoms of chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, and help minimize migraines and other neck-related headaches.

Getting adjusted by a chiropractor can also assist in muscle recover, lower swelling, decrease oxidative stress, and reduce post-workout soreness. I would recommend at least a monthly adjustment if not once every two weeks.

Deep-tissue massage is also tremendously beneficial, particularly for those of us who train hard. Our muscles develop thousands of tiny adhesions, which are scar tissue that forms to repair the micro tears we incur in training.

Over time, these adhesions will lead to reduced blood flow and reduced range of motion. Massage helps break these up. You will also find that massage can alleviate both acute pain as well as chronic joint and muscle pain.

It also promotes faster healing by increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation. A good massage therapist will often also utilize other methods such as cupping and Graston Technique (a more aggressive style of massage using special metal tools). If you are working out hard and often, you really do owe it to yourself to stay ‘tuned up!’

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6. Body work at home

If you don’t have the money or the time to visit chiropractors and massage therapists, or if you just want to keep your body as tuned up and performing at peak capacity to the best of your ability, you can also do body work at home. If you don’t have a foam roller, I highly suggest getting one.

These allow you to roll out the knots and kinks right in the comfort of your own home. Check out some YouTube tutorials for the best and most effective methods.

Another great investment for anyone looking to maximize recovery from workouts is a massage gun. I was initially upset when my wife dropped $300 on a TheraGun ®, but soon I learned to appreciate it.

Granted, unless you have arms like a chimp and the flexibility of an octopus, you will need someone else to help you work on your back. Even though I swear by deep-tissue massage from a licensed professional, there have been many times when the massage gun came to the rescue when my schedule was simply to hectic to get a massage.

7. Avoid anger and stress

Finally, no overview of lifestyle recommendations would be complete without mentioning the need to minimize anger and stress in your life. Not only are they toxic emotions that make you feel bad, they have actual deleterious effects on your body. Anger can result in elevated blood pressure (the so-called ‘silent killer’), increased anxiety, and headaches.

Long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. For those of you who only care about looking good, know that stress causes the body to produce more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight, especially around the middle.

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If you find yourself angry often, look into anger management programs and relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing. Reducing stress is often a matter of putting things into their proper perspective.

In retrospect, I think most of us would agree that we have expended far too much time and mental energy worrying and stressing about things that weren’t really that big of a deal.

Mark Twain famously said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Another great piece of advice you’ve probably heard is to worry only about things you can control, rather than areas you have zero control over in life.

That’s it. Hopefully you now have some useful tips and guidelines to apply to your own daily lifestyle to help you look and feel your absolute best no matter your age. Age truly is just a number, and taking excellent care of yourself will ensure that you are enjoying the highest possible quality of life. 

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