Women: Fit Over 40

Is it true that fitness changes over 40? Is it true that the metabolic rate slows down? That we lose strength and muscle tone? What about changes to energy? How do I navigate all this?

Here’s help.

So you’re ready to get in shape… or back in shape… and you’re wondering

  • What’s the most effective exercise regimen?
  • Will I be able to get into shape?
  • What kind of time commitment am I looking at?
  • Can I really make a difference now?


Simply put, your body wants to be mobile. Mobility keeps the body young and vibrant, reduces sickness and disease, improves mental health, helps stabilize blood sugar, and reduces chance of pain and injury.


Why am I gaining weight and how can I combat that?


Weight gain is an equation of multiple variables in women over 40. Studies show that on average, women lose about 5 pounds of muscle per decade after 40, due to inactivity and natural atrophy. At the same time, women show an average of a 5 pound increase in overall weight per decade. These 5 pounds are most likely fat and inflammation. So, actually, if you are losing 5 pounds of muscle and your overall body is gaining 5 pounds, the total fat or inflammation gain is 10 pounds on average per decade, roughly the size of a watermelon in fluid and adipose tissue.


With weight gain and inactivity comes a decrease in our resting metabolic rate, which can then compound the initial weight gain and loss of energy. Studies show that on average, we lose 1% of our metabolic rate per decade. As a reminder, your metabolic rate is your body’s natural energy burn to just be alive. 


The average woman at 30 burns anywhere from 1500-2500 calories per day as her base metabolic rate, before adding in exercise. The 1% metabolic reduction in metabolism over the course of a decade would equal just about 15-25 calories per day that the body is now keeping as a fat storage. So, on average, you might gain about 2 pounds of fat tissue per year past the age of 40 due to metabolic slowing. That doesn’t sound like much, but add the above mentioned atrophy of muscle and average weight gain, and you may have gained 25 pounds in a decade. 


Can we talk about menopause?

Menopause is the ceasing of menstruation that begins in midlife. This causes a shift in two dominant hormones: progesterone and estrogen. In fact, as the body begins to adjust and shift during this period, many women experience a drop in progesterone but not immediately in estrogen. This imbalance can contribute to weight gain.


Other symptoms during menopause may include a shift in rest. Many women experience insomnia or a different sleeping pattern. An active lifestyle is shown to help balance rest and energy. And continuing or starting a balanced fitness and sleep regimen can be extremely helpful in menopausal symptoms, including weight fluctuations, as shown in this Harvard Review Study


Can I really expect results after 40?


Many women start their fitness journeys after 40 and get in the best shape of their lives. Your body wants to heal and get fit. Your body will tell you this with an increase in happiness hormones post exercise, like dopamine, and an improvement in mobility, strength, and energy.


If you’re new or returning to exercise, though, it’s important to consider what kind of exercise will work best for your body. Quite often, we find that beginners or restarters become frustrated in starting workout regimens because they will try to start working out where their friends (or popular influencers) already are. Trying to do someone else’s workout that you haven’t been conditioned for is frustrating and defeating. It’s like trying to start a book in the middle; you don’t know what’s happening and it sucks all the joy out of the experience.


In exercise, not working at the right level and intensity can lead to pain, as well as fatigue, which definitely doesn’t make you want to go back and try it again. So, if you have a friend that has been working at their fitness routine for a while, their workout might not be your workout. It’s always fun to have an accountability partner; just make sure your partner respects that your level of intensity may be different from theirs.


What do you want out of fitness?


It’s important to ask yourself this question: what do you want out of fitness? Do you want to remain or become strong? Have mobility? Keep yourself from getting hurt or sick? Do you want to or need to lose weight or balance blood sugar?


Think about your why. Why you exercise will keep you in tune with your mission. So, write it down. Keep a journal. Put a note on your phone “today I workout because…” 


Should I just do cardio?


Cardiovascular exercise is important. It helps with long term heart and lung health. But studies show that actually, resistance based programming helps with weight loss and longevity more than a cardio based program alone, especially in women over 40 (study)


The solution is in a resistance based program


Building muscle is your ally. If you are thinking you’re going to leave your workout looking like Dwayne the Rock Johnson, don’t worry. We’re not talking about THAT level of training. And you have to remember that hormones have a lot to do with how we gain muscle. A woman’s level of testosterone is far different from a man’s, so the effects will be far different. Plus, we’re not talking about Olympic style weightlifting here. We’re talking about weight and resistance training that tones muscle while burning fat and improving every system in the body.


A quality and appropriate weight lifting program will help you gain lean muscle mass and improve your bone strength while increasing your metabolic rate, while making you feel good. Feeling strong, mobile, and capable matters.


Will I be sore?


Maybe. You might have uncomfortable muscle soreness for a day or two after your workout, especially when you try something new. But don’t worry. As your body becomes more practiced with your new workout routine, the soreness will be reduced. And you can consider that soreness to be linked to your hard work. Best advice: keep moving. The tissue in the muscle and around the muscle needs to move in order to loosen up. Of course, drink lots of water, too.


If, however, your pain is beyond muscle soreness, or if in the long term, it brings on fatigue, then that is your body telling you the program you are on is not serving you. There is a difference between muscle soreness and pain from injury, so see a specialist if you feel you have gotten hurt in your workout. Most of the time, injuries are due to form, so make sure to use a program with form checks.


If you are fatigued and can’t get out of bed or feel you are in a fog, discontinue your current program and talk to a professional about a program that feels better in your body. 


For an appropriate place to start, check out my classes, available right here on CarrieFit.


Life and fitness are not “all or nothing.” Sometimes, you may need to try exercises without adding any weight to them. Sometimes, you may need to slow down to figure things out. Sometimes, you may need to take an extra pause between sets. It’s all ok. Your personal success lies in whatever you can do today, and tomorrow may be different. Progress is never in a straight line.


Are you ready to jump in? Just wait until you see that change in your body composition and feel the strength a training regimen can give you. Starting or restarting at any time is great for your mind and body, and we’re here to cheer you on.

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