Sunday, May 29, 2011

Keeping Fit after Forty

Hey, it's Memorial Day Weekend, so nobody is reading, so I can update about my fitness journey quietly.

Index of other posts here.  

It was last May about this time that I  read The End of Overeating and decided to try to make some changes in my habits.   As I move well into perimenopause my weight has been creeping upwards whenever I don't pay attention.   Something similar has been happening ever since I was a teenager, but in my younger days my weight would only go up about 5-10 pounds when I let things slide for too long.

Nowadays it goes up 15-25 pounds and from what I have read, my less effective habits will get in my way more and more as my years adance.   A middle-aged woman's bones lose density gradually and her muscles (what there were -- never very much developed in my case) will be replaced with fat IF she is not careful to avoid this.  The result is lower metabolism and more risk of debilitating chronic issues. 

On the bright side, lifestyle makes more and more of a difference at these ages.   Healthy food and proper exercise can do a lot.   Even people who didn't exercise regularly in the past can improve markedly with relatively mild levels of exercise (say, a 30 minute walk 4 times a week).

And though I've found my middle aged body is less forgiving of lapses, my middle aged mind and will seem at least a bit more able to plan and keep to the plan. Since I can't any longer convince myself that my health will last forever, I'm more motivated to take my responsibility seriously. 

Last year I aimed to lose 15 pounds and keep it off.   Instead I lost almost 25 pounds and then put 15 back on.   If you look at my weight chart at the bottom of my blog (there for accountability reasons and so I don't forget about it!) you see that I was slowly creeping up during the holidays, but I got through February with a gain of only about 6 pounds, and I was still under my original goal.  Then BAM I gained 8 pounds all in slightly over a month.   I wasn't conscious of doing anything THAT differently except that I stopped exercising during this time.


Exercise really makes a difference!

IT didn't really seem to matter much when I was in my 20's or 30's.  My mother in law says that is when you are chasing toddlers so you get your exercise naturally, and maybe she is right!   But nowadays my metabolism seems to demand a more systematic approach.    Probably a good thing, since there is all kinds of evidence for the benefits of regular and intentional exercise in all areas of middle-aged life.

Another good thing is that FINALLY I enjoy exercise.   This was never true before.   To be honest, I think I can tolerate being somewhat bored better than I used to.  Plus, I really notice a difference in mood and mental energy now after I exercise.  I honestly didn't used to when I was younger, but now I do.  I have a feeling my whole system is slightly less flexible than it was 20 years ago so it responds more dramatically to things that are good for it. 

My main mode of exercise is riding the stationary bike.   There is a rack where you can put a book and that's what I usually do.  When my family convinces me to watch a movie with them I bike while I'm watching.  My problem with movies is that I get bored and claustrophobic when watching them, so riding gives me something to do to get rid of the excess energy.

I also stretch and lift light weights about 3 times a week.   This becomes increasingly important as you get closer to menopause and aren't packing babies and toddlers around anymore.

When it snows, I love to shovel the deck.  That is a good workout that combines resistance and some aerobic exercise.

This summer, I'm looking forward to raking the yard.

I love to go on morning hikes but Aidan gets up at dawn when everyone else besides me is asleep, and I don't like to leave him here.   Sometimes I take him on walks but it's a lot slower pace because of his hemiplegia.  Sometimes we go on family hikes and Aidan goes in his wheelchair.   But we don't do that regularly enough for it to be my main mode of exercise.

All the research about exercise seems to show that you are most likely to succeed if you:

1. Have more than one option for exercise (different activities for different seasons, or several activities so that if your first plan isn't going to work, you can resort to another one).

2.  Find something you rather like to do -- I like stationary biking, but many people simply die of boredom doing that.   On the other hand, if I signed up for a gym workout I just wouldn't go, so that wouldn't work for me, not at this season of my life. 

To this I will add that what worked for me the best was not expecting too much of myself.   All last spring I only expected myself to bike for 20 minutes a day and lift weights twice a week for 10 minutes.  Often I did more, but this was the basic minimum.

This year I am naturally motivated to exercise for much longer than that.   I just don't want to stop after 20 minutes because I feel like I'm just getting warmed up.   But it took a long time for me to get to feeling that way.   During the months of exercising minimally, instead of suffering, I was having fun, so I built up a mental habit that associated fun with exercise.

It was so worth it to have that foundation, because for many years I hated exercise.  I still sometimes have trouble getting out of inertia to actually start, but the difference is that now I know that once I start, I will enjoy it and feel good, and if I need to have a lighter day, I can back off without guilt.

That might be a temperament thing.  If I was choleric maybe I would want to push myself and try daring things like snowboarding.   In this way, finding what works was a learning process for me.    I made myself focus on progress rather than what I wasn't doing, and it worked. 

When I exercise it pays off in that I have more cravings for healthy food and less for food that messes up my blood sugar.   So I naturally cut back on the white flour and sugar.   (and it helps that it is spring --- I don't like candy and sweets as much in the spring as I do in the winter).   


  1. HA!! I am here and reading this on Memorial Day weekend! ;)))

  2. Me, too!

    I need to exercise more too. Thankfully, my 13yodd is interested in walking. We have been taking Mere Christianity walks this spring-- she narrates much better when she is moving, so I read aloud while we walk (not so easy sometimes!) and then she narrates. We walk for around 45 minutes and have excellent topics for discussion.

  3. Katie that is a great way to get exercise and spend time with your daughter too!

  4. Willa, exercise is on my mind too! I'm better motivated now that I'm at a stage where muscle mass and suppleness are naturally decreasing. Like you, I try to lift a few weights. Pilates too. I must get some aerobic exercise as well. I used to run. I wonder if it is too ambitious thinking about running again!

  5. Sue, I have never done much running but I have read about people starting after 40. I know there are plenty of marathoners in their 60's and 70's, so I am sure it is possible! I want to start trying to run this summer -- last year it wouldn't have worked, my knees were just too weak.

  6. Chari, I thought you had guests over this weekend -- were you stealing a moment with your computer or did you have to be at work?

  7. stealing moments :)

    I have been walking with at least one of my three daughters, 3-5 times a week (except last week with the freezing cold weather)...we usually get in 3.7 miles....I have lost about 4.5 inches....not much in weight loss...but my clothes fit better...and I got two new dresses!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!