Finding your fitness after 40 can feel like mission impossible. Whether you spent your 20s and 30s dabbling in trends or adhering to a military-style regimen, it’s normal for exercise to slide down your list of priorities as you juggle the demands of parenthood, work, and maintaining some semblance of a social life.

But here’s the thing – if you can dedicate some time to working out, you’ll not only feel stronger, you’ll also have more energy to keep up with that never-ending to-do list. You don’t need to try and replicate the fitness routine you loosely followed in your 20s, either. Just as your skincare and nutrition needs change as you age, so too do your exercise requirements.

The power of strength training

While experts recommend you do some form of cardio exercise most days, as you enter your fifth decade, strength training is where the real magic happens. And yet, according to a recent study by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness, older women are less likely to take part in muscle-strengthening activities (like lifting weights or using your bodyweight for resistance) compared to men and young adults. 

If you still associate pumping iron with sweaty men and bulging biceps, you’re not alone, but if you want to look and feel your best at 40, it’s time to kick that stereotype to the curb. 

“People spend so much time looking for a magic pill, and the magic pill does exist – it’s doing some form of resistance training,” explains Sam Wood, PT and founder of 28 by Sam Wood.

Think you’ve missed your window for weight training? Wood urges you to think again, as it’s never too late to start. In fact, since your 40s coincides with a slew of hormonal and physiological changes, it’s actually the perfect time to introduce lifting into your routine. Not only can strength training help curb some of the more unwanted effects of ageing, it can also set you up for a healthier life in your 50s and beyond. Here’s how.

It combats hormonal weight changes

Once you turn 30, your body naturally begins to lose muscle mass, which causes your metabolism to slow down. By the time you hit your 40s, which is often when perimenopause begins, Wood says these metabolic changes are accelerated even further, leading to an increase in weight around your hips and tummy.

Thankfully, strength training can help offset these effects by building up your stores of lean muscle. “The reason for this is the more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficiently your body burns energy,” explains Wood. 

Not only will lean muscle keep your metabolism ticking long after you’ve put down the barbell, studies show it can also help reduce your risk of perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.

It strengthens your bones

Did you know your body automatically replaces any bone it loses? Well, it does until you turn 40, and then your bone mass declines by around 1 per cent each year. 

“The challenge with bone density is you don’t realise it’s going down until it’s too late or when you have a fall or more serious injury,” explains Wood. “When you proactively practise weight training, you can effectively wind back the ageing process.”

This is because weight-bearing exercises (such as free weights or bodyweight-based moves) encourage your bones to produce more tissue, which reduces your risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

It cuts your risk of heart disease

Cardio-based workouts are obviously great for your heart health, but strength training can take it one step further. In fact, according to one study, lifting weights for less than an hour a week may reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 70 per cent. Impressive, no?

Strength training can also lower your blood pressure (something that tends to rise in your late 30s and 40s), stabilise cholesterol levels and improve your circulation, all of which spell good news for your ticker.

It lifts your mood

Not sold on all the physical benefits you’ll gain from lifting heavy? Get this: resistance training can also help nix depressive symptoms and boost your motivation to complete other activities.

“Weight training stimulates you,” says Wood. “You feel fantastic, have a great sense of accomplishment when you hit your strength PBs, it’s great socially in group settings, and you have better posture– the benefits are endless!”

How to get started with strength training

If you’ve never so much as lifted a dumbbell before, Wood suggests speaking to a professional before embarking on a new strength-training routine. The same applies if you’ve been out of the weights room (or exercise in general) for a while.

“Getting guidance – whether that’s online with an at-home program with dumbbells and resistance bands or in person at the gym with a personal trainer – is your best move when it comes to starting out” says Wood. “It is important to know what exercises to do, what weights to use and what structure to follow.” 

If you’re new to strength training, Wood suggests beginning with compound movements, such as weighted squats, push-ups, weighted lunges and deadlifts. “They will be the most functional and work the larger muscle groups,” he explains.

“As to how much weight you should lift, it’s all relative and based on the individual,” Wood notes. “As a rule, you need to be confident that you are doing the right technique, so if you are worried about your technique, reduce the weight and build up slowly.”

For a basic weight-training plan, you can look to include movements that target your whole body and repeat 12 to 15 reps (or however many it takes for your muscles to fatigue).

Take advantage of bodyweight-based moves

Of course, you don’t need to dominate the squat rack right off the bat. Your bodyweight also provides enough resistance to test and strengthen your muscles. Think moves like push-ups, burpees, planks, pistol squats, step-ups, glute kickbacks, crunches, and dips. 

Once you’re able to complete these exercises easily, you can choose to add in resistance bands, ankle or wrist weights, and light dumbbells or kettlebells.

How often do you need to strength train?

According to Australia’s national guidelines, you should be strength training at least two days a week, but Wood says to aim for three to four days if it works for you. You should also include a few bouts of moderate-to-intense cardio activities (such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling or sports) in your schedule, and don’t forget to rest and recover with stretching or yoga.

As for when you’ll see results, Wood says you’ll notice a change in as little as one week.

“Most people’s perception, particularly women, is that it should be cardio first, nutrition second, and weight training a distant third,” Wood notes. “Whereas I believe it should be weight training first, nutrition a close second, and cardio third for best results.”

This article is originally from Mamamia.

Posted by Sam Wood

Father and husband, on a mission to help people move more, eat better and make a positive change to their lives. Sam Wood has over 20 years experience as a personal trainer and is recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts and media commentators in the health & fitness industry. Sam is the founder and personal trainer of 28, Australia’s #1 home fitness and nutrition program, and he's also the proud owner of Australia’s largest personal training studio, The Woodshed, based in Brighton, Melbourne.