Getting Fit After 40 – Where’s My Muscles Gone?

Tired? Aging muscles? Don’t worry, there’s something you can do about getting fit after 40. And you’ll feel great for it.

Coming into and out of our 40s (or 50s) we forget that as the years have gone by, we spend more and more time sedentary and less time moving around. Our muscles have lost their pizazz.

As the last decade was swept past, the demands of work, family and raising children have piled up, and little more activity has occurred than going from the house to the car to where ever and back again.

Staying fit after 40 is not just “aging”

If you’re feeling tired and have put on a few extra pounds it’s not just the aging process as you may believe or have been told but it could well come down to decreased muscle quality.

Yes, that’s quality and not necessarily muscle quantity. Advances in science have been showing us that it’s not just the showy muscle bulges, “the guns”, that count but what’s inside the muscle cells that matter.

Funny sport nerd with fake muscle drawn on the chalkboard

Muscles should be active, without harmful fats and full of mitochondria, the energy furnaces within each of our cells that not only supply our energy but also have an influence on our weight and whether we suffer heart disease or get diabetes.

Even the chances of beating cancer are affected by the quality and health of the muscles.

So you’re feeling a bit tired, maybe a few extra pounds but otherwise you feel okay. Losing muscle that has that battery powered metabolism boosting characteristic is an invidious, below the belt problem that starts in our 30s.

And so as the years go by and these fuel sources in our cells, mitochondria, slowly lessen in number and quality and the fat begins to creep in, marbling your muscle until it looks like rib eye rather than good quality lean sirloin, slowly your health and energy levels take a downward spiral; you suddenly notice your favorite outfit no longer fits properly.

overweight trying to get into jeans

You’re out of breath after a short run for the bus (yeah like that happens) and you’ve just been prescribed pills to control your diabetes or high blood pressure – what’s happening?

For any activity when there is a demand for energy, the mitochondria are called upon to release adenosine triphosphate (units of energy) from sugars and fats – more on this later.

When there isn’t a demand, your body decides these efficient sources of fuel aren’t required any more and are removed or become less efficient so leaving your furnaces a smouldering wrecks.

What’s worse is that the encroaching fats in your muscle tissue can be toxic and cause the fibers to become less resistant to insulin, therefore fuelling weight gain, making it harder to lose it as well as increasing the risk of diabetes.

Oh, enough of all that – let’s have some good news. Well not quite yet but hang in there. Research has also shown that muscle riddled with fat causes weakness and mobility problems – have you noticed losing your balance more? No? – then you soon may.

At the margins of the day, you probably feel weak, tired and ready for a bit of a chill.

It can be very hard to get motivated and go out for a brisk walk. Getting too comfortable on the sofa and snacking on something bad is a more appealing option. But this only creates a circle of attrition as you see exercise more and more as something that is a thing of the past.

Getting fit after 40. The good news

Fit woman with superb back muscles

Somehow, and science hasn’t got the how yet but, just a little aerobic exercise on a regular basis actually creates new and efficient mitochondria (the basis of metabolism) in just a few days of reasonable aerobic exercise.

A demand is put on the muscles and genes are switched on with the help of tissue enzymes creating new fuel cells.

The more you do the more are made and muscles become more efficient at burning fat to give us more energy breaking the downward cycle – research has shown even after 3 to 7 days of brisk walking for 45 minutes positive growth of mitochondria occurs.

Muscle loss after our 40s or 50s can be negligible

Muscle fit images

Check out the differences in these cross sections taken from the mid thigh using resonance imaging machines of men from a report on muscle loss and aging.

This goes some way to show that it’s not necessarily aging that causes the loss of muscle but atrophy through disuse ​.

The 70 year triathlete’s muscle mass is virtually the same as the 40 year old.

Remember those furnaces ​working over-time to break down sugars and fats to give us energy.

Well yes, they do and if there are plenty of sugars available (broken down from carbohydrates) they will process those​. If there is too much however the carbs will be stored as reserves, that is fat.

However, if carbohydrates aren’t available these reserves of fat will be used instead and your body will become a fat-burning machine.​

So along with a regime of regular exercise, it’s wiser, especially as we get older, to replace those starch-filled carbohydrates, pasta, bread, potatoes etc. with more protein, meat fish eggs and leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli.

Top Tip

No need to worry too much about fat in meat but mix it up throughout the week. Stick to mainly lean meat, chicken breast, fish, crustaceans, offal. No harm in enjoying belly pork now and again – in fact, I have a great recipe for pork and beans stew. Healthy, filling and more-ish.

Eat less so you don’t feel stuffed and maybe try reducing your calories to under 500 on one or two days a week. You think you’ll be mad hungry the next day but you’ll be surprised.​

It’s not necessary to over exercise, in fact it may be detrimental in the short term. But from a motivational point try putting aside at least 30 minutes every other day to start with and have fun.

Don’t forget to drink water in small quantities often and regularly.

And if you do your exercise at the gym or at home it’s up to you. This may help decide.

You will be looking forward​ to the workout and the feeling you get from the benefits of getting fit after 40.