January 2018

Fit After 40

Author: Becca Edwards

The other day I asked my six-year-old daughter Camellia how she was feeling. Her response, “I feel like a powerful unicorn ready to rain down rainbows.” I thought to myself, “Wow. I haven’t felt that empowered, exuberant, much less mythical in years.” At 39, the song on constant loop in my head is, “Knock-knock-knockin’ on 40’s door.”

But even with Axl Rose belting the imminent in my mind, I’m not ready to go into that good night. As Al Olivetti, a competitive athlete at age 49 and owner of Go Tri Sports, so inspirationally said, “You’ve got to keep sharpening your sword, setting up that crucible and fighting your way through life.

“We live in a world where whole cultures are based around making us more and more comfortable,” he pointed out, “and yet, people are dying to get their swagger back.” He believes we need to get out of our comfort zones. “Until you empower yourself, you will get lost in the spider web of the modern health care system. You have to keep moving. Whether we’re talking about your brain or your body. You use it, or you lose it. Take on a new business endeavor, a side hustle or a physical feat. Just keep moving.”

Olivetti’s motivational speech serves as an important reminder: Regardless of age, we should always strive to be our best self—both mentally and physically. It’s equally important to note that being fit after 40 is not as rare as a unicorn ready to rain down rainbows. Being fit after 40 does, however, factor in a few considerations.
Technically, the term middle age refers to the halfway point of one’s average life expectancy. For men, middle age is 38. For women, it’s 40. (Unlike 100 years ago when women often died in childbirth and middle age was 22 years old, women now typically outlive men by six to eight years.) As we approach “over the hill” status, a few fantastic things happen.

First, our brain gets a little foggy. “We have estrogen receptors in two brain areas that control memory, and when there’s less estrogen, there are structural changes in those areas,” explained Pauline Maki, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and psychology, the director of the women’s mental health research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and president of the North American Menopause Society. Good news: “The brain bounces back after menopause,” he said. “It adapts to lower estrogen levels, and it compensates.” Even still, we can do mental exercises to stay savvy:

• Meditation. Meditation is so easy it’s hard. Most people say they feel intimated by it or don’t have time for it (which is a cop out because they probably feel intimidated by it). Mediation requires only two things: 10 (or more) minutes of uninterrupted silence and the ability to breathe, which, if you have a pulse, should be doable. If you meditate on a regular basis, you can expect to have lower cortisol levels, which in turn reduces belly fat and helps regulate hormone levels; better concentration; greater sense of happiness and self-awareness; and longer telomeres (the caps on chromosomes indicative of biological age). If you really find you need extra help in the meditation department, try going to a yoga class like Jamie Berndt’s Flowtation class at Jiva Yoga Center on Thursdays at 9 a.m. or buy the Muse headband, a personal meditation aid with brain sensing technology that choreographs your sessions for you.

• Brain games. Brain games are not just for carpool lines, airplane rides and doctor’s offices. Words with Friends, Lumosity, Sudoku and crossword puzzles, make brain boosting fun inducing.

• Mental activities. Bridge and other social card games are not just for retirees. The social aspect produces oxytocin, which helps you feel happier, and the game itself forces you to put your noggin to good use. Similarly, sports that require strategy like golf and tennis and quick, mind-body dialogue sports like boxing also stimulate the brain.

Physically, as we age, we lose collagen, our metabolism slows down, and our stamina decreases. To counteract this, we need a solid workout plan that combines aerobic activity, strength training, and flexibility exercises.

• Cross train. Explore what activities you like or might want to learn more about. Get your heart rate up three to five days a week, with at least two breathless workouts. Three days a week, take 10 to 15 minutes and focus on core exercises—this will help with injury prevention, proper alignment and toning.

• Epsom salt. Epsom salt is not actually salt, but a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate. When dissolved in warm water, Epsom salt is absorbed through the skin and replenishes the level of magnesium in the body. The magnesium helps produce serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical within the brain that creates a feeling of calm and relaxation. Research shows that magnesium also increases energy and stamina by encouraging the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy packets made in the cells. Treat yourself to an Epsom bath after strenuous workouts.

• Sports nutrition. There’s nutrition, and then there’s sports nutrition. As a holistic nutritionist, I am trained in the former and not the later, but as an athlete I will tell you from life experience it’s important to hydrate and replenish. Eat a balanced carb-protein breakfast. Wait an hour before exercising. Drink an electrolyte mix like Nuun before and/or during your activity. Wait 30 minutes post-workout, and then eat a balanced snack like one small apple with one tablespoon of almond butter, but not a carb bomb like an entire banana.

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

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