Fitness challenges for your 30s and 40s
As life becomes more complicated and responsibilities weigh you down, it’s easy to let your fitness go in your 30s. This is the time to get moving again, because the 40s is when many people begin to experience the onset of chronic disease and poor mental health. Physical activity reduces the risk of many diseases, while also helping to maintain or improve blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and healthy muscles and bones, and even cognitive functioning. These fitness challenges can help establish good habits that set you up for better health.
Exercise six days in a row
If you’re not in the exercise habit, work on one by doing some exercise – preferably something different each day – for 30 minutes on six consecutive days. The benefits of exercise accrue with consistency over time, so this challenge gets you into the game. For extra points, work in some high-intensity interval training (anywhere between 30 seconds and up to 4 minutes). A meta-analysis of 39 studies, published in Sports Medicine, found that high-intensity done three times a week is the best way to reduce whole-body fat mass.
Find the fun
In your 30s and 40s your obligations and chores tend to pile up – don’t make exercise one of them. Find something you actually want to do, something you actually enjoy. If a social aspect is important, find a team sport or activity. If you haven’t found something that rocks your boat yet, try lots of different things. Look outside the box, get outside your comfort zone – dance, surf, try orienteering, go up a climbing wall. Sure, you might still have to do some strength or fitness training to get to the fun stuff, but you’ll look forward to it when it has a purpose. Even if you find yourself in a disciplined sport like triathlon, shake things up regularly – a bit of ice skating or backyard water polo will be great for your head and won’t hurt your training, either.
The loss of muscle and bone mass that began in your 30s can ramp up if you don't exercise. Strength training in particular is crucial for maintaining bone density and controlling your weight, as keeping muscle helps prevent or slow down the age-related drop in metabolism. Make sure you exercise with enough resistance that that you’re fighting for the last few reps of your set (typically 8-15 reps).
As we age, our ability to generate power can decline due to a loss of fast-twitch muscle fibres. You can fight this by including some speed and power drills and exercises – think speed drills, short sprints, plyometric drills (e.g. jumping exercises, hopping), and explosive exercises either with bodyweight (e.g. burpees) or other resistance.
Have an adventure
Take a trekking holiday, research a cycling tour, do an adventure race, go caving. See more of the world while enjoying time with family, old friends, new friends or just giving yourself a time-out for self-discovery. You’ll look forward to your day-to-day training when it enables new experiences and seeing more of the world.
In the late 30s and 40s, recovering from workouts can take a little longer because your levels of muscle-aiding hormones usually drop slightly, and cortisol, a stress hormone that can break down muscle, tends to increase. Your challenge is to kick your recovery along with post-training stretching and cooldown, plus a longer weekly stretching session (yoga works well for flexibility in the spine and hips), good post-exercise nutrition, recovery compression and massage and/or foam rolling.
Guard against falls, bone breakages and ankle or knee sprains by improving your balance. If you do resistance training, aim to do most of your exercises in a standing position and do some exercises on one leg, such as box step-ups, stiff-leg deadlift, a squat (hold onto a rope or bar if you need assistance) and even upper body exercises like curls. Lunging exercises and hopping drills will also challenge your balance. Also include a core exercise where you need to twist through your trunk.
Try something new
Too often, people who return to exercise after a long break simply go back to what they did years (sometimes decades!) ago. This can be frustrating and even self-defeating to people who measure themselves against what they used to be able to do. Besides, learning new skills and activities is good for long-term brain health and physical coordination. And that old workout you did for eight years? Maybe it’s what caused you injury, maybe it was never that great – what we know about exercise science has moved on in leaps and bounds.