Updated: Apr 21
Even if you are not a fitness buff, you likely have a general idea of what is required to get fit. It comes down to a lil’ ol’ thing known as exercise, both strength training and cardiovascular. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation for adult aerobic activity is:
• at least 2 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity, or
• at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity,
• or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity.
HHS says adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week. These exercise recommendations do not change for older adults.
I had planned to write that one thing that does change with age is metabolism. Metabolism is the amount of energy (calories) your body uses to maintain itself, and it was previously thought that metabolisms slow down more each year after age 20.
But, as I researched in preparation for this article, I found a new study published last year in Science which indicates that metabolism may not decline as early as previously thought. The study agrees that metabolism declines slowly up to age 20 but that it “remains stable in adulthood (20 to 60 years).” These surprising findings were shared again and again on sites such as NBC News and Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing Site (health.harvard.edu).
So, if this is true, why are so many mid-lifers struggling to maintain fitness? For many, it is due to low activity levels that do not meet the HHS recommendations. As we reach midlife, we have fewer and fewer excuses to play like we once did in our younger years. This is why it is so critical to find an exercise that you enjoy.
Takeaway: Find a type of exercise you enjoy
Additionally (even if metabolism doesn’t slow as previously thought), unless you are underweight, it is still beneficial to speed the metabolism up. My go-to method for this is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which is thought to increase the amount of energy your body uses to maintain itself even after you have finished exercise.
Takeaway: Try HIIT to rev metabolism
Click here for info on Levitation Nation's HIIT class
As a 44-year-old personal trainer, I personally have never had much trouble finding activities that I love (including HIIT). But, as a 44-year-old with a major love of food, I have found that (despite my love of exercise), my health ebbs and flows along with my commitment to fueling my body with nutrient-dense food.
So, if you struggle with fueling your body well, please know that you are not alone. Appropriately acrynomed “SAD,” the Standard American Diet (characterized by the consumption of pre-packaged foods high in carbohydrates and saturated fats, while lacking in plant-based foods and essential nutrients) leaves a lot of room for improvement. But the good news is that all diets work. You just have to pick a plan and stick to it.
Takeaway: Pick an eating plan and stick to it
Regardless of the new findings on metabolisms staying consistent during midlife, your eating plan might still need to change throughout midlife simply because your circumstances may not always stay the same. In my 30s, I had several surgeries and had trouble recovering, so I explored the autoimmune diet protocol to help my recovery. This opened the door to intermittent fasting. Both of these eating plans worked well for me until (in my 40s) my 8-5 job started providing us with free snack bars. Once the snack bars were mere steps from my desk day in and day out, when I went to work fasting, the first time I had a hunger pang, I couldn’t resist getting into the snack bars. But I refused to acknowledge complete defeat, so I recently shifted to a low carbohydrate eating plan (snack bars are now off the “approved” list of foods), and the new eating plan has really helped me get back on track.
I love my job but hate those snack bars. Which is a plug to office managers everywhere: free sugar is not an employee benefit. Other things that could result in the need to shift your eating plan include changes in weather, travel, and family (shout out to the moms out there struggling to make it all work).
Takeaway: Stay aware of the evolving needs of your diet
Another simple nutrition hack to improve health midlife is to take a collagen supplement. And, it's important to be aware that there are calorie-free causes of weight gain. Stress and lack of sleep are bound to surface at some point in your life, so do your best to keep these at bay.
Takeaway: Take a collagen supplement, and keep stress and lack of sleep at bay
No article on improving your health would not be complete without a mention of mental health, because if you made it to midlife without any traumas or dramas, I suspect you are in the minority. Personally, I have been through an emotionally abusive relationship followed by an extremely bitter and heartbreaking divorce. I have been through miscarriage and surgeries that pulled me into a pit of depression. Loss and death have touched my life; normal for anyone my age. Counseling, journaling, and building my support team have been the tools that have helped me the most to heal my traumas.
Takeaway: Do the work to heal past traumas
With the experience of our younger years to aid us, midlife can be a beautiful time. If you made it here and need to improve your health, remember that you are not alone and just take it one day at a time. Rest easy knowing that if you are willing to do the work, you can do more than just improve your health; you can even find your best self in your midlife (and ditch the midlife crisis altogether). You got this!
Article by Mindy Cochran. Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and life coach. Mindy is also the founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catchphrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, please visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy.