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Getting Fit at 40 – 5 Habits to Help You Succeed

Ah, 40. I remember thinking when I was a kid that 40 was practically a dinosaur. I have very young parents (as in mom was 21 when I was born) so they were always the young parents. And I remember seeing other parents in their 40s and thinking, wow, that’s pretty old! And then I turned 40. All that thinking changed. I’m not a dinosaur for sure. I waited until my 30s to have kids and I feel like I have a lot of life left in this old bod.  I decided getting fit at 40 was going to be my new goal.

First, everyone has to start somewhere.  If you live a completely sedentary lifestyle, have 100 pounds to lose, hate exercise, or love junk food – it doesn’t matter. Anyone can decide to make changes. And you don’t have to wake up one day and proclaim “I’ll work out 7 days a week, eat nothing but vegetables and lean protein, and never indulge again”. In fact, you may just set yourself up for failure like that.

Small changes add up.  Ditch one bad habit and replace it with a healthy one. Swap soda for water for a week, then two weeks, then a month – all of a sudden it’s a habit that comes naturally. Skip the fast food and pack your lunch. Take a walk. Anything, but just start somewhere.

5 Habits to Help You Get Fit at 40

Start Exercising

Promise not to roll your eyes or say “that’s so cliche”. The best thing I did at 40 is join a gym.  Yep – a gym. And I don’t mean a regular old gym with treadmills for days and machines I have no clue how to use. I joined a boot camp style gym. And it’s changed my life. Dramatic – maybe. True – absolutely!

The feet of a woman running in pink shoes on a sidewalk.

The year I turned 40, I was kind of unhappy with lots of areas in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great husband, wonderful kids, and we aren’t wealthy, but we can pay the bills. But there was something missing.

I didn’t feel great physically and hadn’t since before my son was born nearly 10 years before. 10 years is a long time to not feel great physically. And that translated into not feeling great mentally either. I got pretty down on myself for not looking the way I thought I should, eating a bunch of crap foods, and I was starting to have random joint pains in addition to worsening current joint pains.

So I tagged along with a neighborhood friend to a 5:45am boot camp style workout. Not the kind that you run outside to vomit, but pretty hard core. And it was hard. I thought I was dying. I thought after 2 sessions that my abs had literally separated and I was broken.

But I went back. This particular gym also focuses heavily on nutrition and I incorporated lots of their ideas into my meal plans. And guess what? It worked. I loved it. I got stronger and my joint pains slowly started decreasing. It took months, but I could do real push-ups No knees.

My clothes fit better and I felt better. I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose when I started, but this bod needed a good tune up and that’s just what it got.

5:45am sucks. I hate when my alarm goes off at 5:07 in the morning three times a week. Especially since both my husband and me are night owls. We don’t go to bed early. I once asked my Grandma if I could reprogram myself to go to bed early and she firmly said nope. If you’re like that, you always will be.

I am my most productive after 10pm usually. But, I get up, get ready, and go. And there’s never a day that I come home from the workout and say  “I wish I hadn’t gone”. Never. Every day I start with the gym makes me feel better.

What if I Can’t Afford a Gym Membership or Hate Group Workouts?

That’s ok too. You don’t have to pay someone to workout and you don’t have to do it in a group. There are tons of free apps to help you track exercise. Download some music or listen to a podcast, lace up your shoes and go for a walk.

Commit to some type of physical activity at least three times a week. If you’re starting from zero exercise – maybe you just start with a ten-minute walk around the neighborhood. Work your way up to more. Not many inactive people can get up one day and go run 5 miles. And you don’t have to. Small changes in habits over time = big changes!

A woman writes in a journal while sitting outside on the grass.

One of my favorite fitness tools is my FitBit. It’s a great way to stay motivated and keep you stepping! The great thing is you can join challenges with other FitBit users as well as keep up with your weekly exercise, water intake, sleep, and so much more. Set a step goal for every day and challenge yourself to meet it or even exceed the goal.

Track Your Progress

Keeping up with your starting point will encourage you and help keep you motivated. When you’re ready – jump on the scale, grab a measuring tape and record your starting point. It may be unpleasant to see, but just think about how you’ll feel when you take another look and there’s progress!

And speaking of the scale.  Weigh yourself, but not obsessively. Once a week is plenty. Don’t get obsessed about the number.

Ideally, you’re going to be building some muscle which is super important when getting fit at 40. Muscle weighs more than fat. I don’t weigh that much less than when I started this journey, but my measurements are different. That’s more important. I’ve got more strength now than I did 10 years ago.

  • Building muscle increases bone density which reduces your risk of osteoporosis. In addition, it increases balance and flexibility, which decreases your risk of falls. Two super important factors in getting fit after 40.

Pick one day of the week to chart your progress. And celebrate the progress no matter how small it may seem.  An inch is still an inch and a pound is still a pound. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering. As long as you’re moving forward, that’s progress. Maybe even set up a reward system for your progress. A new pair of workout pants or shoes, a pedicure, or something to celebrate your accomplishment.

Set Goals

Many people do better with small wins. It’s motivating to step on the scale after the first week and see a loss. Especially if you’ve got a lot to lose to get healthy and fit at 40. Saying “I want to lose 50 pounds” is a lofty goal.

And I don’t mean that lofty goals aren’t attainable. They are. But if you work hard for three months and don’t see a 50 pound weight loss, are you going to get discouraged and quit? Maybe 5 pounds to start with, then 10 and so on.

Get those smaller wins that add up to your bigger goals over time. Getting fit takes time. There’s not a magic pill or wand to wave that’ll instantly get you to your fitness goals.  But aim for a goal and dedicate yourself to getting there!

A woman working on habits to get fit at 40.

And goals don’t have to be your weight.  One of my goals this year is to increase my water intake to at least 80 ounces of water a day. I keep up with it on my FitBit app.

Another goal I have is to get back on track after all the holiday eating! I missed two weeks at the gym and indulged a little too much this holiday season. But I’m not quitting. My goal is three days a week at the gym. It’ll keep me motivated after the first week to look back and see that I met my water goal and my exercise goal.

Accept that You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

There are weeks that work is horrific, kids are up late, I don’t make a meal plan, and everything just seems to go to shit. I might drag myself to the gym once or even none that week. And guess what? It’s ok. 

You don’t have to be perfect. 

It helps if you stay motivated and dedicated, but don’t beat yourself up if you slide back a time or two. Start again. One of the best sentences I read recently was from a newsletter I get from the gym.

It mentioned the start of the new year and some people may be feeling shame or regret for choices they made over the break, whether it was lack of exercise or food. And the point is to just stop feeling shameful. No one is perfect. You get back up and you start again. 

Aim for an 80/20 rule when it comes to food if that helps. Sometimes we crave things even more when we tell ourselves we can’t have them. Some days are just crazy and the last thing you want to do is cook. So maybe you ordered that pizza for the family, but tomorrow you get back on track. 

Don’t think if you make a bad choice one day that your week is ruined. It’s not.  You can pick back up and start again. Aim for at least 80% good choices to start with. Don’t let those other 20% make you feel like a failure!

And I know I’m not 20 anymore. I’m proud of the fact that this bod has delivered two babies. Along with the years and the babies, my body has been through a lot. And it doesn’t have to be perfect and I’m ok with that.  But I feel better if I’m working towards being fit. Mentally and physically, the rewards far outweigh the work I have to put in.

Summer bucket list ideas for the family.

Learn About Nutrition

You can workout 7 days a week, but if you constantly fill your body with crap, you won’t reach your goals. This is something I believe is incredibly important in getting fit at 40 or after. When I was a teenager, I could eat and drink like crap, but I didn’t pack on many pounds. I was somewhat active, but I definitely didn’t have good eating habits.

Now that I’m past 40, that’s a completely different story. Good nutrition is absolutely necessary to meeting your goals and keeping you healthy.  I know that if I want to meet my end goal on the scale, I’ve got to carefully watch what goes in my mouth. Period. End of story.

And don’t think you have to starve yourself. That’s far from what you should be doing to meet your goals. I made a list of healthy eating habits that are simple and affordable.  (check them out here!) Simply put, you’ve got to find the nutrition plan that’s right for you. Maybe it’s keto, or maybe you just start off by cutting out fast food and sodas.

Fresh produce including zucchini, garlic, and tomatoes.

I recently added a protein powder supplement when making smoothies. It adds to my daily protein requirements (it’s got 25 grams per scoop) and helps keep me full longer. I was never a huge fan of protein powder because they have a weird taste or are gritty. But this is my fave. I’ve only tried the Vanilla Bean but it’s delicious.

And there are minimal ingredients. Be careful when choosing supplements so you don’t end up with a lot of garbage your body doesn’t need. It’s low carb (2 grams per serving) so you won’t blow your keto or low carb diet with this one. It’s expensive compared to some, but this bag will last me at least 4 or 5 months since I don’t use it every day.

One of my nutrition goals is to eat more vegetables.  Even if all I have time for is a bagged salad kit, there needs to be some type of vegetable in my meal plan. The nutritional benefits from vegetables are incredible. They keep you full longer, have vitamins and minerals that you need, and there is amazing variety to choose from.

You don’t have to have a crazy elaborate meal plan either. Sit down and make a list of a few simple changes you can make. They won’t be easy at first, but you can do it!

  • Less processed food – shop from the outer edges of the grocery store. Do online grocery pick up if it’s available in your area so you only buy what’s on your meal plan
  • Make a weekly meal plan – Write out your nutrition for the week and make your list based on that plan
  • More water instead of soda
  • Decrease sugar intake – skip the candy bar after lunch or cut down on the sugar that goes in your coffee
  • Increase fiber and vegetables to keep you full longer
  • Eat breakfast! Don’t skip this one – you need a good start to the day or you end up starving by lunch and are more likely to make bad choices.
  • Increase lean protein – again, keeps you full and helps keep you on track
  • Eat out less – if you’re anything like me, it’s so hard to make a good choice at a restaurant – I like food and I have a very hard time choosing the “better for me” options on the menu

Even if you don’t want to follow a specific diet or lifestyle plan like keto, you can still eat a healthier diet. And if you don’t like to cook, keep it simple. Grill a few chicken breasts, get some salad mix, throw in a veggie and call it good for a few meals. You don’t have to be a chef to eat healthy. Fruits, veggies, lean proteins, decrease sugar. Start with those four things and plan some meals around what you like.

Start Now!

It’s not easy to change your lifestyle. Especially if you’ve had 40 years of the same habits. But it’s possible to get fit over 40 or any age for that matter – Your body and your mind will thank you for it!

  • Start Exercising
  • Track Your Progress
  • Set Goals
  • Accept That You Don’t Have to be Perfect
  • Learn About Nutrition

For more info:

5 Healthy Eating Habits You Need Now

Eat More Vegetables, Even if You Hate Them

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Saturday 24th of September 2022

Great article with lots of really good points. Except muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat!! 1lb fat is the same as 1lb muscle, the difference is that muscle is more dense, so it’s smaller in size, not weight. As you’ve said though, the key is measurements rather than the scale.


Thursday 28th of May 2020

Great tips. Especially about the nutrition. You are right...we cannot keep putting crap in and expecting to be fit. The older we get the more careful we need to be about what goes in.

create and find

Sunday 31st of May 2020

100% agree!