Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 24, 2021
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Women: Living healthy in your 40s

Unless you're one of the lucky few to hit it big in the genetic lottery, staying fit ain't easy. And if it's this difficult now, imagine what it's going to be like in 10, 20, 30 years. But before you begin planning your future as a wobbly, overweight hunchback, understand that getting in the shape of your life for the rest of your life doesn't have to be daunting. In fact, if you find your fitness groove now, you'll set yourself up for success in the future. Studies show that working out may lower a woman's risk of breast cancer by 47 percent, osteoporosis by 45 percent, and heart disease by 14 percent. So we tapped dozens of doctors and fitness experts to find out exactly what you should do to add years to your life, and asked four stellar women — one from each decade — for their secrets to outsmarting that wily Mother Nature. The bottom line: Whether you're fresh out of college or funding Junior's tuition, the moment to launch your lifetime fitness plan is now. Then simply adjust your workouts throughout the years to give your muscles, bones, and heart what they need to keep working well enough to keep up with you.

Fate Says: Your Muscles Start To Shrink

After 45, most women who don't lift weights start losing a significant amount of muscle, most of it from the lower body. Less junk in the trunk may sound like a good thing, but decreased muscle mass leads to a slower metabolism. The fast-twitch muscle fibers — the stringy part of your muscles responsible for generating power — are at the highest risk. They allow you to, say, jump to snag a shirt from the top shelf of your closet or sprint to your 10o'clock appointment.

Cheat fate: jump to jive. Maintaining muscle power and strength requires fast, explosive movements (think sprinting and jumping) — the kind of thing most of us stop doing once we graduate from middle school. Keep your power levels high with this jump squat. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, arms hanging at your sides. Keeping your torso as upright as possible, quickly bend your knees and lower your hips back and down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then immediately jump straight off the floor as high as you can. Land as softly as possible, sinking back down into squat position — that's one rep. Repeat the jump. Do three to four sets of six reps, resting 1 minute in between sets.

Fate Says: Where's the F%$&#! Sandman?

Sleep studies show that women over 40 spend more sleepless nights (and not the coed naked kind) than 20-somethings. Experts aren't sure why exactly, but one thing is clear: less sleep = less energy = half-assed workout.

Cheat fate: keep your paws off the snooze button. One cure for insomnia: Exercise before work. A 2004 Northwestern University study found that sedentary women who started exercising in the morning slept better than they had before. And according to public health researchers in Seattle, women who boosted their fitness levels by 10 percent over a year slept better and were less likely to pop sleep meds than women who improved their fitness by only 1 percent or less. Feeling too groggy to work out? That's because it takes the brain up to 2 hours to wake up. Make yourself a bowl of instant oatmeal with half a cup of fat-free milk before your morning workout. According to researchers at Tufts University in Boston, people who ate one packet of instant oatmeal received a shot of glucose strong enough to jolt them awake.

Fate Says: Getting A Little Chunky, Aren't You?

Cardio is a good way to protect your heart and burn calories, but you'll lose weight only if you're burning more calories than you're taking in (duh). Your metabolism is starting to put on the brakes as a result of dwindling muscle mass, so continue hitting the iron. That way you don't have to worry so much about curbing your dark chocolate habit.

Cheat fate: go to the mat. "Yoga teaches you to go to the edge of discomfort in a nonreactive way," says Alan R. Kristal, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine. "It trains you to be mindful so that you're more likely to pass on dessert even when you want it." Okay, that sounds nuts. But in his studies Dr. Kristal found that women who practiced yoga for 10 years starting at age 45 gained 3 fewer pounds (if they were at a healthy weight) compared with those who didn't do yoga. Overweight women lost 5 pounds over the 10 years. He recommends trading in one of your cardio days for a 1-hour yoga class once a week.

Meet Cheryl Hines

Hines didn't freak out on her 40th birthday earlier this year. "You don't change into this hag overnight," the Curb Your Enthusiasm star says. "The people who dread getting older are missing out on the beauty of it. My grandmother lived to 99 because she had fun. She was the type who drank beer when she felt like it." Hines doesn't swear by beer, but she is big on enjoying herself: She recently glided above Costa Rican rainforests on a zip line. She admits that working out isn't always a priority — being a good mom to 2-year-old Catherine comes first — but finds ways to sneak in daily exercise. On a good week, Hines works out three times, doing yoga and seeing a trainer. "He makes me jump rope," she says. When she needs motivation, she recalls how hard she worked to lose baby weight. "I made an effort to watch what I ate right after her birth. When I did plateau, I was a few pounds less than when I got pregnant."

Her advice: Walk a mile a day. "Even if I can't do anything else, I always find time to walk at least 20 minutes."

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