At 41, these are the things that I notice the most. My body does not bounce back as easily as it once did and I have to work a lot harder to manage my weight. Genetics play a role in the aging process, but our lifestyle choices can help dictate how well our genes treat us as we get older. After turning 40, these are six of the top lifestyle habits to focus on.
Your metabolic rate naturally continues to decline 5 percent each decade once you hit 40.3 Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) determines how many calories you just to survive. It is determined by a variety of chemical reactions inside your body. These reactions rely on your mitochondrial function and sodium-potassium pumps. Your mitochondria help to create energy, while your sodium-potassium pumps generate muscle contractions and nerve impulses.4,5,6,7,8 Both of these processes become less effective over the years and slow your metabolism.9,10 If you eat more than your RMR yet lead a sedentary life, you set yourself up for weight gain.
If you were very active in your younger years, you may have had some injuries. Like a spicy pepperoni pizza does after dinner, those injuries from your carefree days can come back to haunt you. These ghosts of injuries past show up in the form of early arthritis, bone spurs, tighter muscles, pinched nerves, etc. After our 30’s, new injuries also take longer heal. No wonder we slow down.
As you enter your forties, you are also entering perimenopause, when levels of your sex hormones progesterone and estrogen decline. Besides regulating your menstrual cycle and reproductive functions, these hormones also impact restful sleep and relaxation. A decrease in progesterone and estrogen levels may lead to sleep disturbances, restlessness, and insomnia.1 Because changes in sleep patterns have been associated with weight gain, sleepless nights may make weight loss increasingly difficult.2
Focusing on being healthy means getting about 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. This level of exercise can keep your heart healthy and work on things like lowering your cholesterol and/or blood pressure. This is a great place to start if you're getting into exercise after a long break. There's no reason you can't start here and progress to more intense goals as you build strength and endurance.
However, the important takeaway here is this: The biggest factor in losing muscle is the lack of physical activity, which makes exercise a crucial component when it comes to preventing muscle loss. If you want to figure out the real deal, enter your information into a calculator to learn how many calories you really need for your age and activity level.
"One of the reasons that it's difficult to lose weight in your 40s is that you are beginning to lose muscle mass, so the composition of your body tissue changes," explains Keri Peterson, MD, Women's Health advisor. "Having higher muscle mass raises your metabolism, so your body burns more calories." So when you're dealing with the opposite—less muscle mass—that means a slower metabolism. Argh.
When you were young, you probably didn't spend too much time thinking about preparing your body for the future. In your teens and twenties, you're in peak condition and it's the perfect time to start exercising. Cut to 20 years later and, if you didn't start exercising, you probably wish you had since there's something we all start to experience in our 40's—weight gain.