Rev Up Your Vitality As You Age and Add Life to Your Years

As we enter our 40s and 50s, we usually notice certain changes in our bodies—slower metabolisms, aching joints, a shifted circadian rhythm, and more.

Those changes, however, don’t mean we must succumb to a new expectation of health in which we feel tired, slow or weak. Substantial scientific evidence show that we can, with some work, keep our vitality high well into the middle decades of life (and much later, too).

This guide will explain exercises, dietary measures and healthy habits to adopt to maintain high vitality levels as you approach middle age.

Focus on Exercise

One of the primary concerns that middle-aged people have is the loss of muscle mass and function. That said, this muscle loss isn’t written in stone.

Dr. Vonda Wright made this argument after overseeing a 2011 study that explored physiological differences among elite endurance athletes in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s. The results are telling: Wright found that a fit swimmer in her 80s had nearly the same muscle mass as a fit swimmer in her 60s, who had nearly the same muscle mass as a fit swimmer in her 40s. The common thread was exercise, and lots of it. “Through exercise, you can preserve muscle mass and strength and avoid the decline from vitality to frailty,” said Dr. Wright.

With that in mind, below are three tips to help you optimize your workouts and make them more rewarding.

Stick to Short, Frequent Workouts

You don’t have to push yourself too far to reap the rewards of exercise.

If you have a lifelong habit of working out, you can simply begin to adjust your pacing and exertion levels. In practice, this means spending more time warming up and giving yourself more time to recover.

If you don’t have that lifelong habit of exercise, it’s probably best to begin slow and build up your endurance, Mark Goddard at HealthGuidance.org suggests. You can start with slow walks in the countryside or gentle yoga and pilates practices.

Dr. Benjamin Levine, who led a team of researchers in studying the hearts of healthy but sedentary adults, found that even adopting exercise habits in middle age is sufficient to significantly reduce the risks of heart disease.

But there is a curve for anyone playing catch-up, Levine says. It takes two years of aerobic exercise at four to five times per week before “the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behaviour can be improved.”

Keep Exercises Varied

Try different types of physical activities, and keep changing them up. If you only do one kind of workout, you will maintain only one set of muscles and miss out on the overall benefits of exercise, says James Crossley, a professional trainer and former British TV action star.

"They say as a kid you should play a variety of different sports so you’re strengthening many different muscles,” he says. “That shouldn’t stop as you enter middle-age.”

Make Workouts Social

There are two big benefits to exercising with friends or loved ones. First, it’s simply more fun. Second, those exercise partners will hold you accountable to your goals. If you and a friend have committed to a Sunday morning run, for example, this can make you more likely to put your shoes on and meet up, even when you’re not feeling 100 percent up to it.

Practice Healthy Eating Habits

According to a study published by the National Academy of Science, dietary intervention can affect midlife gene expressions. In other words, you can shorten or lengthen your lifespan as you approach your 40s or 50s by adopting the right diet.  

Argye Hillis, MD, director of the cerebrovascular division at Johns Hopkins Medicine, recommends a Mediterranean-style diet to avoid dementia as well as minimize other health risks. The diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish—and low in red meat, sugar and processed foods.

Below are two additional tips that will help you round out a healthier diet for this phase of your life.

Increase Your Fiber and Fluid Intake

As the body’s metabolism often slows down around the age of 40, it is recommended that you begin to consume fewer calories. However, you will still need to maintain—or perhaps raise—your fiber consumption. "We want to make sure the calories that are decreasing come from things like sweets, but we keep those high-fiber foods in the diet,” advises Heather Mangieri at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For fiber to work its magic, you also need enough water, though tea is also fine. In fact, you could consider drinking more green tea for its other benefits: it’s full of antioxidants and is much less caffeinated that black teas.

Learn Which Foods Have Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Foods that help to control inflammation and fight oxidation are crucial when we get into the fourth and fifth decades of life, Precision Nutrition says. These foods include:

  • Fish, nuts, soybeans and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Green tea
  • Eggs, which are rich in Vitamin D
  • Spices such as coriander, chilli pepper, ginger and garlic

To learn more, check out our guides to antioxidant foods and anti-inflammation diets.

Adopt Healthy Habits and a Positive Attitude

Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle is an excellent way to reduce the risks of heart attacks or strokes. She advises everyone to stay active, avoid stress and keep an eye on weight gain. “That keeps our heart healthy, that keeps our brains healthy, and it really helps us prevent that waistline increasing,” Jackson says. “An investment in healthy lifestyle will pay off through every subsequent decade."

There are a few things you can do right now to create new healthy habits:

  • If you have a sedentary job, find ways to get more movement into your day, even if that just means taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Meditate—it’s an excellent way to reduce stress levels.
  • Switch to smaller plates and move dinner time up an hour to rein in weight gain.

Another change many people notice when they hits their 40s is a shift in their biological rhythms. Often, they find it’s harder to fall asleep. When they do, it becomes a challenge to clock eight full hours of sleep. That’s why science writer Carolyn Robbins recommends not taking a nap during the day and setting up a routine with fixed times for when you go to bed and wake up.

In addition to physical health, a sense of purpose and emotional fulfillment is also critical for aging well. “The later stage of your life can be just as rewarding, even more so, than the previous parts,” Paul Irving, the Chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, tells Wired magazine. The key is to cultivate a positive mindset and focus on a purpose. That purpose could emerge from starting a new career, participating in a social cause you’re passionate about or spending more time with your family.  

Supplement Your Vitality

As you enter the middle decades of your life, you’ll find a lot to look forward to. Don’t let myths about declining energy levels or muscle loss slow you down.

With the right exercise, the right diet, the right mindset and the right multivitamin to supplement your nutrition, there’s nothing to stop you from achieving your goals.

images by: iakovenko/©123RF Stock Photo, wavebreakmediamicro/©123RF Stock Photo, ammentorp/©123RF Stock Photo