As one crosses the threshold of 40 various things starts to happen. The first one might be your friends making fun of you for being on the ‘wrong side of 40’ but more importantly, you might start to feel not as vitalized or energized as before. This happens not only because of the physical aspects of ageing but also the fact that in your 40s you are juggling several different things leading to stress and exhaustion. If you haven’t been particularly careful about keeping fit till now, you may feel that it is now a lost cause. Tons of people think that unless you have a history of exercise, it is too late to start or that it is not liable to be doing what those in their 20’s and 30’s might be done easily.
But let me assure you, this is not so. Anecdotally I have seen many patients and friends who have taken up workout regimes late in life while up until now the only exercise they got was the non-existent walk from their car to office. In fact, many people have completely turned their lives around after 40 and are reaping the benefits of it much later in life. I have watched and admired my father-in-law’s lifestyle for the past decade. He follows a simple but consistent regime of food and exercise daily without any excuses or any ‘missed days’. The only days that I have seen him not adhere to his routine is on the wedding days of his three children! At 70, he stands tall with radiant skin and capable of physical activity than any other 70 years old would flinch away from. He is also devoid of any chronic illness his peers discuss and the only medication he takes is daily vitamins. I had assumed that he was always like this. Much to my surprise, he was a smoker till he hit his midlife. I am not sure what spurred the radical change but he took up exercise and a well-balanced diet regime then and has stuck to it ever since. This is truly inspiring.
In our 40’s we start to take stock of our life, question our mortality and wonder if we will continue to lead active fit lives in the future. The ’50s and ’60s can herald the onset of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, muscle and joint pains, hypertension, stroke and many others. We no longer feel invincible and immortal like we did in our 20’s. Add to this the fact that we are juggling parenting, ageing parents and our careers and we struggle to make time and effort for exercise. If we decide in our 40s to begin the journey towards fitness then it is not too late. Even research has looked into this with positive results. In 2007, Dr Dana King of the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston looked at the adoption of healthy habits in middle age. Their port brings encouraging news to any middle-aged people who feel it is too late to get fit- it showed that those who adopted healthier lifestyles by eating better and exercising more had a 35% less chance of cardiovascular disease and their mortality risks went down by 40%. Another recent study by Dr Benjamin Lewis showed the same results. Hence, even if you haven’t been very active so far doesn’t mean that it is futile to start now.
Understanding that the amount of physical activity required to attain fitness is not high might motivate many to begin as well. According to the 2008 Physical Activity guidelines published by the US department of health and human services, substantial health benefits can be achieved with just:
a. 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity per week (only 21 minutes every day) OR
b. 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week (only 10 minutes a day)
Moderate aerobic activities are brisk walking at 3 mph or faster, bicycling slower than 10 mph, tennis doubles, dancing and gardening. Vigorous aerobic activities are jogging, running, swimming, tennis singles, biking faster than 10 mph, jumping rope, heavy gardening, hiking uphill. Remember that weight training either at home or the gym can assist greatly in maintaining muscle mass, bone health and in attaining fitness.
So depending on your history of exercise and physical status opt for one of these options and say Yes to Midlife Fitness and No to Midlife Crisis!