Let’s face it: Turning the big four-oh isn’t what it used to be. But just because crossing the threshold into middle age doesn’t mean you’re “over the hill,” it doesn’t mean that your body isn’t going to start undergoing some meaningful shifts, either. “We know that after 40, one’s metabolism slows and muscle mass decreases,” says Robert Herbst, a 63 year-old personal trainer and 19-time world champion powerlifter. “As a result, body composition changes and one can have more fat. To lose that fat, a good strategy is to reverse the trend and build muscle and boost the metabolism.”
This is why every single trainer and medical expert we spoke to for this article recommends strength training as the #1 way for you to burn more fat, enhance your metabolic process (more muscle means you’ll burn more energy), and get a slimmer figure when you reach your 40 and over years. “Staying slim is all about what you eat, but if I could recommend an exercise, it’s strength training all the way,” says Pam Sherman, a personal trainer and proprietor of The Perfect Balance. “We will never ever get big and bulky by lifting. In fact, you can get smaller and leaner and tighter! Lifting heavy weights increases our metabolism and helps keep our bones strong.”
For what it’s worth, Herbst says that performing compound movements such as squats, lunges, bench presses, and deadlifts is the best way to go. “They are great because they raise your metabolism for 48 to 72 hours afterwards as the large muscles involved are repaired and new muscle is built,” he says. “The exercises should be done twice a week after the 72 hour recovery period has taken place to ensure that you have had a chance to fully recover from the prior workout.”
So if you’re over 40 and looking to get a slimmer body, you know that your journey begins in the weight room. But what else should you be doing? Read on, because we’ve asked several top trainers for their tricks for getting a slimmer, leaner figure fast, and here’s what they said. And for more great exercise advice, don’t miss the Secret Side Effects of Lifting Weights for the First Time, Says Science.
As we’ve reported in the past, being stressed out all the time has physiological consequences that extend far beyond your mental health. Stress affects your immune system, your memory, your muscles, your heart, your skin, your hair, and even your hair. Of course, it also affects your waistline and your lifestyle habits, so if you’re instilling discipline in your life and trying to slim down, you need to gain control over your anxiety.
“We hold cortisol in our body when we’re stressed, and this can hold us back from shedding the desired excess weight, especially as we get older,” says Kyla Gagnon, CPT, founder of YogaLean.
In addition to mindfulness exercises and regular exercise, she recommends yoga. “Yoga is a great place to start. The constant flow between poses won’t push your heart to its max, but it will keep it in our fat-burning zone—similar to a walk or slow jog. There’s still the improvement in cardiovascular conditioning and the activation of stored fats over the course of a Yoga workout. Not only will an easy yoga session help to increase your natural caloric expenditure, but yoga will also help you to build more muscles that will in turn burn more calories every day.”
As an added bonus, she notes that the balance and stability movements “develop the secondary stabilizer muscles that often get ignored during traditional workouts. This is important especially as we age.” And for more great exercises you can do, see these 5-Minute Exercises for a Flatter Stomach Fast.
“Weigh in once a week,” says Sherman. “If the scale starts to creep up, it’s time to get back to food logging. This is the single most important thing to do when wanting to lose some weight. A person has to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Accurately logging everything eaten in a day is a great way to do this.” And for some exercises to avoid as you get older, don’t miss this list of The Worst Exercises You Can Do After 60.
We’ve established that you need to pump some iron or perform some other sort of resistance exercises in order to burn more fat and slim down. But you can’t lift 7 days a week. On your other days? Do some steady-state cardio.
“It’s important to combine strength training with sufficient amounts of steady-state cardio such as walking, biking, or jogging (indoors or outdoors),” says Karisa Karmali, an ISSA-Certified Personal Trainer, ISSA-Certified Online Fitness Coach, NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach, and founder of Self-Love and Fitness. “Cardio is critical for slimming down and it increases endurance. Of course, the right amount of cardio varies person to person, but it must be part of the program alongside strength training.”
Yes, the size of your weights matters. “Creating muscle definition to slim you down will be best accomplished by picking a weight that’s heavy enough so you struggle during the last few reps,” explains certified personal trainer Josh Schlottman, CPT, C.S.C.S. “These extra pounds will push your muscles to work harder so you can then create more muscle. Most end up picking a weight that’s too light for them and end up with lackluster results. Women shouldn’t worry about going heavier when lifting weights for fear of getting bulky. But instead you’ll add muscle that will tone and tighten your body.”
“Calorie reduction is important for weight loss, but exercise and increased physical activity in combination with calorie reduction is better,” says Damien Howell, PT, DPT, OCS, of Orthopedic Physical Therapy in Richmond, Virginia. “Increased physical activity and exercise provide other benefits in addition to weight loss.”
Want to burn more fat? Increase the intensity of your workouts, says Zoe Schroeder, MS, RDN, C.S.C.S. “Maintaining a healthy body composition and losing body fat after 40 poses a whole new set of challenges for most people,” she says. “Keep the intensity high, try changing up your normal routine by adding supersets or trying a new exercise class. If you really want to increase fat loss with your cardiovascular exercise, try incorporating intervals—try one minute on (high intensity) and one minute off (active recovery to bring your heart rate back down). Ramping up your exercise routine in addition to proper nutrition will help you achieve those goals even after 40!”
Another great trick for ramping up your intensity? Lower your rest times, says Schlottman. “In between each set you should have a rest time,” he says. “This is when your body recovers and can then perform the next exercise. But the more time that passes after doing an exercise, the weaker you’ll get overtime. This is when you can make or break your workouts. Use a timer on your watch to make sure you’re resting no more than 20-40 seconds if your goal is to slim down. Shorter rest times between sets will cause a greater release of hormones that enhance fat burning and for adding muscle.”
“Apart from workouts one of the important things is to be more active during the day,” says Mohinish Nirwal, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. “Stand up, take a walk every 30 minutes. If you can then do 5-10 squats every 30 sitting minutes. It can work wonders for your body.” And for some great workouts to try, don’t miss these—straight from our in-house training team!