By the time we reach our 40s, most of those bad habits from college and young adulthood—late-night snacking, getting too little sleep, eating too many processed foods, perhaps drinking or smoking—are hopefully a distant memory. By the time we reach middle-age territory, most of us are pretty knowledgeable about what's healthy and unhealthy, and do our best to stick to more of the former…right?|
Even if you think you're on the path to wellness, you may be surprised to hear that some of your seemingly smart choices could actually be derailing your progress. If you're in or near your 40s and aren't getting the results you want, perhaps one or more of these common mistakes is the culprit.
General Wellness Mistakes
- Not getting enough sleep. Many people in their 40s face pressures as they juggle career stress and family obligations, which can result in limited sleep. According to fitness coach Ivana Chapman, most people don't get the recommended seven hours per night. "This affects their energy levels, mood, willingness to exercise and the quality of their food choices," she says.
- Putting others first. As the head trainer for Exercise.com, Tyler Spraul often sees clients in their 40s sacrificing their own health and well-being to prioritize their children, careers or other obligations. "In order to be the best parent or provider, there must be a commitment to an overall healthy lifestyle, [including] getting enough sleep, eating the right amounts of healthy foods and getting regular exercise," says Spraul.
- Ignoring stress. Many people in this age group resign themselves to living with stress as an inevitable side effect of a busy, fast-paced lifestyle, but Chapman warns about the risk of not acknowledging it. "Stress can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks, and many medical experts believe that stress can exacerbate any medical condition," she says. Discover ways to use stress to your advantage.
- Having bad posture. Back pain is the most common cause of disability in aging populations around the world, and is often caused by poor posture habits. Dr. Charles Wang, healthcare expert and creator of the posture corrector Lumo Lift, recommends these three tips for maintaining a healthy back as you grow older:
- Vary your movement: Transition from seated to standing positions often throughout the day to realign your spine and relieve pressure in the neck or back.
- Find your perfect seated posture: For ideal alignment of your head and spine, imagine that your head is being pulled straight up by a string, lift your chest and draw in your abdominals.
- Stretch and strengthen: Exercises like yoga or core training will help your muscles build strength and resistance against poor posture.
- Resisting technology. "Don't be afraid of apps—use them to your advantage," recommends Fit Chef Katy Clark, fitness and nutrition expert with Lean for Life by Lindora Clinic. "There are so many apps that help you understand and track your diet and workouts."
- Getting too much sun exposure. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, while more than 90 percent of cases are related to sun exposure. Plus, sun damage can accelerate signs of aging. Annaliese Allen, founder of Honeybell Waterwear, says it's especially important for aging adults to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and sun protection clothing.
- Not taking a multivitamin. If you eat healthy, you don't need to worry about taking vitamins, right? That's not necessarily true. "Most of us fall short on certain nutrients," says Dr. Arielle Levitan, co-founder of Vous Vitamin. "Our food supply isn't as nutritious as it once was due to soil demineralization. In the name of eating healthier, we're consuming less red meat, leaving many of us iron deficient." To fill in the gaps, Levitan recommends taking a personalized multivitamin tailored to your diet, lifestyle and health concerns.
- Making too many big changes, too quickly. According to physician's assistant and health coach Kate Martino, the best approach is to have a long-term goal, and then break it down into shorter-term goals and small changes. For example, instead of changing your diet and starting a new exercise routine the same week, you could replace one sugary drink with water or commit to walking a mile each day. "When you make changes that aren't too extreme, you can go at your own pace and develop healthy habits that stick," says Martino.
- Trying to fit it all in. You know you need to work out, but there are 1,000 other things on your to-do list. Fitness instructor Shannon Fable has had clients who stay up late working or doing chores, wake up early to fit in a workout and then work all day while eating on the fly. "In reality, you don’t need to work out every day, but you do need to move and sleep," says Fable. "The key is finding a realistic schedule that allows for it all."
- Keeping injuries quiet. Men and women in their 40s need to be even more aware of pre-existing injuries than those in their 20s and 30s. "Working through pain can exacerbate the problem and lead to chronic injury," warns Scarlett Redmond, yoga advisor for Clothing Shop Online. "If you're trying a new fitness regimen or class, let the instructor know what's going on with your body, so he or she can provide modifications." Also check with your doctor to ensure that you can safely pursue your fitness goals.
- Thinking you don't need accountability. Life has a way of messing up the best of intentions. To keep you on the right path, Clark recommends using a program designed to help you reach your weight loss, nutrition and exercise goals while addressing your feelings, frustrations and questions. SparkPeople offers a combination of accountability, education and community to maximize your results.
- Getting caught up in social media comparisons. "In our older generation, we can often feel overwhelmed with all the experts on social media, and feel like we don’t measure up," says Clark. "Try to find just a handful of consistent positive influencers to help you reach your goal."
- Relying on fad diets. Kristopher Johnson, nutritionist for The Gantry Restaurant & Bar, sees a lot of people attempt to "diet away" the extra belly fat that tends to appear in their 40s. "There's only one proper formula to fix that: proper diet and exercise," says Johnson. "When people turn to fad diets, they often miss out on key nutrients that are important for preserving bone density and muscle mass."
- Underestimating protein needs. According to Darin Hulslander, owner of DNS Fitness and Nutrition, most people tend to underestimate their protein needs. "A protein deficiency can lead to fatigue, a weakened immune system, unclear thinking and even weight gain," he warns. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, while also helping to curb appetite. For a typical female, 40-50 grams per day—which equates to five to eight ounces of chicken breast—is sufficient. However, an active woman requires more. Hulslander recommends multiplying your bodyweight in kilograms by 1.3 to find your daily minimum protein requirement.
- Eating too much "healthy" food. Just because foods or snacks are billed as good for you doesn't mean they won't send your calorie count skyrocketing. "If you're eating fruits, veggies and other nutrient-dense foods, it may be more difficult to overeat calories, but watch out for those not-so-healthy 'health' foods like pretzels, fat-free chips and cookies and giant bagels," warns Galina Denzel, coauthor of Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well: 52 Ways to Feel Better in a Week."
- Eating out too often. As fortysomethings juggle kids, work, career and house chores, cooking is often replaced by restaurant food. This adds industrial fats and extra salt and additives, not to mention too many calories. "Cooking is the best prevention," says Denzel. "Agree to a maximum number of restaurant meals per week and stick to it."
- Not getting enough magnesium. As people age, particularly women, they tend to focus on calcium intake, but Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of "The Magnesium Miracle," says that magnesium is just as important—but often neglected. "Magnesium is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium," she says. "When women consume too much calcium without sufficient magnesium, the excess calcium could cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease."
- Not eating enough. If you're trying to lose weight or counteract a slowing metabolism, it might seem logical to limit your calories—but cutting back too much could backfire. Fitness trainer Julia Buckley warns that very low-calorie diets deplete your energy and could trigger your body to hold onto fat, while also breaking down muscle tissue and decreasing bone density. "It's great to make healthier choices, but starving yourself does not produce good results and makes you feel awful in the process," says Buckley.
- Eating the same thing every day. "For the same reasons that women in their 40s can get stuck in a fitness routine, they can also get stuck in a diet rut, eating the same few foods all the time," says Marks. Even if the foods are healthy, a diet that lacks variety can also lack key nutrients. Marks stresses the importance of eating a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
- Cutting out fat from your diet. Contrary to the marketing hype, fat is essential for your body to function. "The important thing is to know which fats are healthy and which are not," says Rene Ficek, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. Fats to avoid are found in commercial baked goods, margarine, doughnuts, french fries and other snack foods. The "good fats"—such as the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in avocados, olive oil and nuts, as well as the omega-3 fats found in fish—should have a regular place in your diet.
- Not going with your gut. Your stomach is more than just a food repository—it's home to the "human microbiome," a network of bacteria that affects all types of bodily functions, including thoughts, feelings and cravings. "The microbes in your gut communicate with your brain to regulate or deregulate your appetite and to calm or increase cravings," says Clark. She recommends including more probiotics in your food choices, such as low-sugar yogurts, kimchee, sauerkraut and Kombucha drink.
- Believing in detoxes and cleanses. While it may be tempting to believe that you can make up for weeks and months of poor food choices with several days of restriction, Denzel says there’s nothing magical in a juice fast or detox. "While there may be short-term psychological benefits, detoxes and cleanses tend to strengthen an already detrimental trend in how we relate to the body, its needs and its functions," she says.
- Consuming too much sugar. With diabetes becoming a real concern for many in their 40s, Amie Valpone from The Healthy Apple offers quick tips to cut back on refined sugar. "Remove the white sugar and high fructose corn syrup from your pantry and replace it with cleaner options, such as honey and pure maple syrup," she says. "While you’re at it, remove the alternative sweeteners, which can lead to more sugar and sweet cravings. You’ll feel less bloated and your digestion will be much smoother."
- Eating a lot of "healthy" frozen dinners. While these convenience meals may give you some vegetables and protein, and certain varieties will help you stay trim by limiting your portion size, Denzel warns that they're not especially healthy. "Many frozen meals lack nutrients and contain preservatives and other unsavory ingredients," she says. "Also, eating too many heavily processed foods can leave you short on fiber and antioxidants, such as vitamin C."
- Trying to exercise away a bad diet. Many people think they can work out a little harder to compensate for high-fat, high-calorie splurges, but Martino says this only addresses the calorie aspect. Overindulging also causes increased inflammation, escalated blood sugar, hormone imbalances, bloating, higher cholesterol and a range of digestive problems. "I've had clients in their 40s who practice this routine and are in great shape, but have high cholesterol and high blood sugar," says Martino. "This eating pattern can cause health complications now and also down the line, so it's best to keep indulges reasonable, portioned and in moderation."
- Skipping breakfast (or any meal). Although there is no "one size fits all" answer to the question of whether to eat or skip breakfast, Ficek is an advocate of starting the day with a healthy meal. "Your body needs nutrients in the morning to get going," she says. "Skipping breakfast will leave you famished, and prone to overeating or binging on junk food come lunchtime." Ficek's advice extends to other meals, too: If you skip, you'll likely be so hungry that you'll overeat later.
Some "healthy" choices may not be as beneficial as they seem at first glance. Are you making any of these well-intentioned mistakes?
- Doing too much cardio. Patrick Henigan, owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy, says this is the biggest mistake among adults in their 40s. "As you age, your hormones and metabolism change, making it more difficult to build and maintain muscle mass," he says. "For this reason, adults should concentrate just as much on strength training. Lifting weights burns more fat because it only utilizes blood glycogen (stored carbs) and fat for fuel, while cardio breaks down muscle fibers to use as fuel." Other benefits of weight training include a higher metabolism, stronger bones and more balanced hormones.
- Shying away from the floor. As we age, we tend to forgo the floor exercises we favored in our younger years, but Denzel says this is a mistake. "Many of us become comfortable with exercise machines and completely forget that the floor is still our playground," she says. "Floor exercises, such as rolling and crawling, can build core strength and shoulder stability, helping to keep men and women over 40 more mobile."
- Doing the same workouts over and over. While it's great to have a routine that includes your favorite activities, trying new things can throw a little excitement into the mix. "If you're always lifting weights, try yoga or Pilates," suggests Burdumy. "If you're a yoga junkie, try some resistance training. A couple other ideas are hiking, rock climbing, taking a self-defense class and bicycling."
- Not taking rest days. It can be mentally challenging to take a day off from exercise, but it's important to give your body a chance to repair the damage done during workouts. Plus, rest days provide an opportunity for stretching and relaxation, which are important for managing stress.
- Not warming up. Most people in their 40s can't just head out for a run the way they did in their 20s. At this age, it's important to warm up the joints and muscles before exercise. "If you just start out at a full-on run without warming up and getting blood flowing to your joints, you're not only risking injury, but your body won’t perform well or for an extended period of time," says Brouk.
- Not moving enough throughout the day. Many busy people in their 40s hire others to clean the house, walk the dog or tend to the yard so they can focus on work all day—and then try to make it up during an hour of exercise time. Instead, Denzel recommends finding natural ways to move throughout the day, which will help keep the body functioning well and build good habits for the next season of life.
- Not making the muscles do the work. "When lifting weights or doing any kind of bodyweight exercise, it's important that the muscle, not the motion, does the work," says Clark. For example, when doing a biceps curl, you should engage your muscles, keeping your elbow close to your side and not just letting your arm swing the motion. Clark recommends going slow and watching in a mirror to ensure proper form.
- Focusing too much on machines. "Many people tend to play it safe in the gym by relying on machines, which focus mainly on muscles," says fitness coach Jim Burdumy. "Building strong legs on a leg press machine is good, but when you go to lift something over the weekend and your core doesn't work together with your legs, this can lead to injury," he says. Instead, he recommends focusing on movement patterns—such as squats, lunges, bends and pushes—that will help you perform functions in everyday life.
- Not focusing on balance. Having good balance is important at any age, but especially as we get older. The problem, says Burdumy, is that very few gyms have safe, quality tools for proper balance training, such as stability balls and the BOSU ball. "Incorporating balance training into your routine is essential," he says.
- Sticking to low weights. As Burdumy points out, once you hit 40, your body doesn't retain muscle as easily as it did in your 30s. "To maintain muscle mass, you need to put some tension in the body," he says. "Incorporating heavier strength training, when done properly, will boost those good hormones and promote muscle growth and retention."
- Doing things in the wrong order. Many people start with cardio, followed by some strength training and then stretching. To prevent injury after 40, chiropractic doctor Philip Cordova recommends going in the opposite order. "First, warm up by working on your range of motion with a yoga class or foam rolling," he says. "Next, get started with weight routines that address the whole body, including your back and core. Last, increase your levels of cardio, and be sure to stretch after you work out."
- Wearing the wrong shoes. In your 40s, joint health is more important than ever, and wearing the wrong athletic shoes can increase the risk of injury. Jen Mueller suggests visiting a specialty shoe store, where a specialist can analyze your foot and gait and make a personalized recommendation for your activity of choice.
- Going it alone. For busy people in their 40s, long-term results tend to improve when fitness and food choices don’t conflict with family or social life, according to Denzel. "Think of what’s important to you and how you can combine your movement, eating and exercise in a way that honors your other priorities," she suggests. "Walking with a friend you haven’t seen in a while could do you more good than an hour on the treadmill with your headphones on."
- Getting stuck in a routine. By the time women reach their 40s, their day-to-day lives are often a well-oiled machine. While organization and routine can be great, fitness trainer and yoga instructor Dempsey Marks warns against getting stuck in a rut doing the same forms of exercise. "Variety is key in fitness, both in seeing results and in keeping it fun and engaging," she says.