20 August 2008

Be in great shape in your 40s

If you understand what your body’s needs are at different ages, you can tailor-make your eating habits and exercise routine to ensure you get the best possible results.

No, you don't have to resign yourself to middle-age spread. Yes, you can have a great body, regardless of your age. Some fabulous women share their secrets. By Mandy Collins, Femina magazine

Staying in shape takes work – no-one is saying it doesn’t. But if you understand what your body’s needs are at different ages, you can tailor-make your eating habits and exercise routine to ensure you get the best possible results.

It’s a case of working smarter, not harder, so simply follow our decade-by-decade guide with dietary advice from Johannesburg dietician Shirley Norman and exercise tips from biokineticist Tiaan Campher of the Sports Science Institute (SSISA) in Cape Town.


Your body now
Don’t confuse being busy with being active. Take a long, hard look at your daily routine and you’ll probably find it’s pretty sedentary – especially if you have a desk job.

Perimenopause usually kicks in during your 40s. That’s when you can expect to start having mood swings and hormonal changes that may affect your metabolism and weight. Maintaining healthy eating habits and a regular exercise regimen is very important as your reproductive life shifts from its focus on being able to conceive, to menopause.

Other conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, breast cancer and heart disease are all concerns for women in this age group as weight gain becomes more difficult to control. Iron deficiency is common in premenopausal women, too, because of the regular loss of iron associated with menstrual periods.

Your body essentials

  • Iron – found in liver, red meat, legumes, egg yolk and nuts.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – found in flaxseed and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, snoek, pilchards, sardines and herring.
  • Antioxidants – betacarotene is found in orange fruits and vegetables while vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, tomatoes and strawberries.
  • Monounsaturated fats – found in avocado pears and olives.
  • Chromium – found in yeast, liver, wheat germ, oranges, whole grains, beef and potatoes, is good for controlling blood sugar.

Your diet tips

  • Follow a low-GI diet and choose slow-release carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads, durum-wheat pasta, whole-wheat crackers (such as Provitas), sweet potatoes and oats.
  • Watch the size of carbohydrate portions. One portion is equivalent to one slice of bread, three Provitas, half a sweet potato or half a cup of cooked oats.
  • Eat a variety of oily fish three to five times a week to improve your carbohydrate metabolism.

    Restrict saturated animal fats and eat monounsaturated oils such as olive oil, canola oil, raw nuts and avocados.

  • Ensure you eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily to increase your intake of fibre and antioxidants, which have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Your fitness plan
Focus on your posture and you’ll immediately look thinner and feel taller. But you do have to go a step further. Your training programme should consist of three prongs: stretching, strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. Weight training is very important because it decreases fat, improves muscle definition, reduces the risk of degenerative diseases and improves sports performance.

Flexibility starts diminishing at this age so you might also consider doing yoga or Pilates (or both!).

The real deal
Dudu Magagula, 40, (pictured here) decided to take control of her health as her fortieth birthday approached. She took up running and started working with a personal trainer. A cholesterol test had revealed that her cholesterol levels were too high so her doctor helped her to formulate a healthy eating plan. To date, Dudu has lost 13kg and says she feels great. ‘My doctor was very encouraging, which really helped,’ she says. ‘I feel so much better than I did before.’

Pam Sutton, 41, got fit after winning a competition on KFM radio: the prize was participating in Optifit’s eight-week training programme (endorsed by the SSISA) for the 10km Gun Run.

‘I’d always exercised but never very seriously,’ she says. ‘I found it difficult to fit exercising into my routine because I have children and run my own business. I found it particularly difficult to be disciplined about exercising regularly. But once I joined the group, I felt I’d be letting everyone down if I didn’t pitch. I’ve found joining the programme was really worthwhile.’

Running is one of the easiest types of exercise to do and offers the quickest results, both in terms of weight loss and increased fitness, says Pam. ‘Since I started running my waist has shrunk and my health has improved. I’ve already run two 21km-races and I can eat whatever I like. Plus, I have a better body now than I ever had before,’ she says. – (Mandy Collins, Femina, July 2008)

This is an edited extract of a article that originally appeared in the July issue of Femina. Get the latest edition, on shelf now.

Read more:
Be in great shape in your 50s
Be in great shape in your 60s


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