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11 Best Exercises If You're Over 40

Over the hill? Then step it up to keep the number on the scale down!

My mother lets out a sigh and says, "Ugh, I forgot to turn off the lights upstairs again."

This was a common occurrence when I was younger. And without a doubt, she would always follow with this request, "Cheyenne, would you mind running up the steps real quick to turn them off?"

Yes, I would mind, but those words never left my tongue, because no matter how many times I did that for her, I figured that's what kids are supposed to do— help their parents when asked.

But was I really helping her by complying? In this case, probably not. I should have encouraged her to have taken a few of those trips with me to help keep her muscles strong. Even better, I should have suggested she participate in resistance training and high impact exercise. These two, coupled with adequate protein intake and rest, yield an effective formula for maintaining bone and muscle health. And while we can't go back in time, we can take steps to improve and preserve our bodies. Simply put, we can't let age be the reason for not heading to the gym. If anything, your climbing age should be the reason for you to bump up the burn. Below, Eat This, Not That! reveals the insights we've learned after talking to professional trainers for tips about staying fit after 40. And for even more advice, don't miss these 40 Weight Loss Tips for Over 40!

Sleep…Yes, Seriously!


Health strategist and star of ABC's "My Diet is Better Than Yours" Jay Cardiello enlightened me with this one. He could not emphasize enough how imperative it is for a person of any age to get plenty of rest, especially if you are active. In fact, he says it's the most vital step in ensuring the work you diligently put in at the gym actually works. In fact, he won't even train people who admittedly say they receive 2-3 hours of sleep per night because it's essentially pointless to give someone an exercise routine if, in the end, they're not going to reward their body with the rest it needs to decompress and repair itself. Plus, sleep keeps your hormones in check, which prevents you from craving a mass amount of empty calories day after day. Research presented to the American Heart Association showed that the group of people who received one hour and 20 minutes less sleep than the latter, consumed an additional 550 calories per day.

"People need to focus on sleep as a way to not only retain muscle mass but slow down the rate at which muscle mass decreases," Cardiello says. This information is crucial for people over 40 years of age, because it's been scientifically proven that you lose up to one percent of lean muscle mass each year after 40. So to put this into perspective, by the time you turn 60 you may have already lost 20 percent of your muscle mass. So treat your muscles with care and avoid excess calorie consumption by getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each evening!

Y-to-T Raises

Did you ever think moving your hands up and around your head would be a substantial weight loss tip? If not, think again, because not only does this move tone your traps, it also strengthens two very important (larger) muscle groups you use every day: Your back and shoulders. Jim White, an ACSM Health Fitness Instructor and R.D. in Virginia, has noticed that people over 40 begin to develop poor posture and body mechanics, which ultimately cause back and shoulder problems. A majority of these problems is due to muscle degeneration, which is caused by a disease known as sarcopenia.

"Sarcopenia is when there are calcium leaks from groups of proteins in the muscle cells," says White. "As people age, it becomes harder for their bodies to break down protein, which contributes to muscle repair and growth."

To repair muscles after a strenuous workout, White suggests eating a meal within just 30-60 minutes after you set down those weights or kick off your running sneaks. An example of an adequate replenisher would be a banana smoothie with a scoop of one of your fave protein powders. Before you dive into smoothie heaven, though, make sure to sip down two glasses of water so you can rehydrate your muscles. The extra H2O will give your metabolism the pep talk it needs before it tackles extracting the nutrients from your protein-dense shake!

Walking Side-to-Side

Cardiello also recommends that men start training like women, in the sense that they should go into the gym wanting to achieve application, or with the intention not getting hurt. "Women go into the gym wanting to increase autonomy… guys go in wanting to conquer," says Cardiello. Ladies, this is a compliment to you!

Not only will performing the moves properly rev your metabolism, it will also ensure that you get the most benefit from each exercise. Something as simple as walking side-to-side with a resistance band is an excellent example of a move that requires focus and control of the abdomen. Moving in this comfortable, yet sweat-inducing manner will enable you to keep your glutes firm and strengthen your IT bands. The best part? You accomplish all of this while moving in a way that your body is meant to move.

Walking Backwards


Before you dive into your batch of overnight oats for breakfast, hit the track (or sidewalk) and take a walk…backwards! Again, this reflects Cardiello's idea of engaging in an exercise that complements the way your body is designed to move. As a runner, my high school cross country coach would occasionally ask us to walk backwards, and barefoot, in order to strengthen the bottoms of our feet and to work out our calves. For people 40 years of age and older, this is a great move to integrate into your workout regime, because it will prompt you to strengthen the multitude of tendons in your ankles, both of the two major muscles in your calves, and your hamstrings.

Walking Forwards


Walking is one the single best exercises you can do for your body and is the simplest of them all, yet not everyone takes advantage of it. Thankfully, there have been several movements to encourage this easy means of weight loss. The Fitbit craze, for example, creates challenges amongst friends and family members of all ages. By dividing them into teams, the challenge coaxes team members to get moving and collectively accumulate the most amount of steps to earn their title as the winner. It's amazing how a piece of technology has successfully gotten people to revert back to an exercise the cavemen dreamed up. Not to mention, walking for just 20 minutes at a comfortable pace scorches roughly 80 calories, and that's not even the best part. Since it's also a low-impact exercise, it doesn't wear down your fragile joints!

One Legged Squat

Cardiello says that he doesn't care if you are a protein-powerhouse who bench presses 500 pounds. He does care, however, about something shockingly simple.

"I do care about your ability to stand on one leg and display good core, hip and shoulder stability," Cardiello says.

His philosophy is quite simple: Perform exercises in a fashion that your body is anatomically meant to do. Cardiello explains that two focal areas often overlooked in over-40-year-olds are the hip and shoulder joints. Being able to sit down or squat deeply with one leg suspended out in front in a linear manner, is a great indicator of whether you have sufficient strength in your hips. You won't feel like you need a new hip so long as you keep the muscles surrounding it strong.

Horizontal Rows


As Cardiello mentioned, shoulder joints are another key focal region that people over 40 want to make sure is in prime condition. Rowing on a machine like this not only acts as a phenomenal way to lose 10 pounds, it also shreds your back and shoulder muscles, specifically the ones that otherwise may not be worked as much. "Horizontal rows of any kind (standing, seated, bent over, cable or with a resistance band) focuses in on those tinier muscles between the shoulder blades such as the mid traps and rhomboids," says Fitness Coach at Excelerate Wellness, Inc., Victoria Viola. Viola says these muscles become extraordinarily weaker as you spend years of working, hunched over a desk. Poor posture like this stretches these muscles out and without proper strengthening exercises like this one, they become weak.



There's a reason this exercise made the 50 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds—Fast list. Viola says, "It requires the most muscle use at once from every compound exercise, so when it comes to building strength or muscle, it gives you the most bang for your back." Deadlifts require energy from the entire back of the body, and when it's executed properly, it can prevent you from getting hurt when you bend over and pick things up. One of the main reasons that people, not just those over 40, shy away from the exercise is because they are fearful of getting hurt. Form for this exercise, in particular, is crucial to master in order to stay injury-free. Make sure to consult a trainer before trying it by yourself!

Single Legged Deadlift

Similar to the deadlift, the single legged version also has the ability to speed up your metabolism. This is another excellent move that will strengthen one of the focal areas Cardiello mentioned. Moving in a unilateral fashion like so will prompt you to engage your core and ultimately enable you to focus on the application of the exercise. After all, it takes quite a bit of balance to effectuate!


Thus far, I have established that muscle mass decreases over time, but what I have yet to reveal is that bone density also diminishes as you age, too. Shocker, I know. Thankfully, there are ways to ease the effects, besides chomping on calcium supplements. Researchers in Germany tracked changes in the bone-density of 55 middle-aged women with osteopenia (essentially a condition that causes bone loss) and found that it's best to exercise at least twice a week for 30-65 minutes. Sessions should include a combination of low and high-impact aerobics that blast away those love handles, such as running and swimming, and resistance training like planks! White says moves like planks, push-ups, squats and dips are essential for rebuilding muscles— and they all require resistance, i.e. your muscles are going to have to exert some force!


Unfortunately, bones and muscles are not the only things that start to fade away as you age. It's important to keep your mental health in check, too. The calming nature and spirituality that derives from yoga can do just the trick. Moves in yoga also require you to lock into your breath and move with your inhales and exhales. Keeping this focus as you move will keep your mind active, while simultaneously putting it at ease. (Thanks for reading and Namaste: May the light and love in me honor the light and love in you.)

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the former news editor of Eat This, Not That! Read more about Cheyenne