Is Your Exercise Causing Accelerated Aging? 5 Fitness Mistakes That Make You Age FasterJun 12, 2022
You’re probably well aware of the many benefits of exercise and you’ve likely heard the advice that we need to “Move More”.
So that means any workout you’ll actually do is good, right?
Well, yes, but… it depends. It’s a little more nuanced, especially for women over 40.
But research shows that not all exercise is created equal.
In fact, certain types of exercise can actually cause hormone imbalance weight gain, inflammation, and muscle wasting – all of which can accelerate aging.
I’m gonna get a little sciency for a sec…
Starting in perimenopause (usually in early to mid-40's), our hormones fluctuate wildly, sputter, and then decline. When our anabolic (muscle-building) hormones – estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormone – decrease, we lose lean muscle tissue. Less muscle means less strength, energy, and a slower metabolism, making it easier to store fat, especially belly fat.
Building muscle after 40 is especially important. We NEED muscle. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it burns more calories – even at rest. Muscle keeps our bones strong. It’s also what gives us tone and definition. Our actions to preserve lean muscle will directly affect how well we age – or don’t.
Many women try to counter this by eating LESS and working out MORE – often in the form of cardio. This approach can actually make things worse. Over-exercising and following a restrictive diet can (read: WILL) actually make things worse.
But there’s good news! This is not out of your control. And while aging is inevitable, you can definitely slow – and even reverse – many of its negative effects.
Avoid These 5 Things That Can Contribute to Accelerated Aging… and What To Do Instead.
1. You’re A Cardio Queen - Many women think cardio is the holy grail to weight loss (spoiler alert: It’s not). Recent studies show that long sessions of endurance cardio (60-75+ minutes) increases cortisol levels. Increased cortisol shifts the body from fat-burning to fat-storage mode. It is also catabolic (breaks down lean muscle) and increases inflammation. These all contribute to accelerate aging.
So, if you’ve been schlogging on a treadmill, banging out long Peloton rides, or training for 10Ks, understand this: Cardio is great for heart-health and other benefits and should definitely be a part of your fitness routine – but frequent long, endurance cardio can cause hormone imbalances, inflammation and muscle loss.
What to Do Instead? Try adding just a couple of short HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts a week, 45 minutes max for the week (20-25 minutes twice a week or 15 minutes three times). The goal is to reach breathlessness, followed by a full recovery between intervals. Shorter, smarter, more efficient.
2. You’re Not Lifting Weights - For women over 40, strength training should be a priority. But those pink 3 pound weights aren’t going to cut it. They are not enough stimulus to overload your muscles so they can grow stronger. You need to lift heavy enough to reach temporary muscular fatigue. That means the final few reps in every set are super challenging to complete with good form.
How to Lift Weights: Do full body strength workouts just twice a week. Focus on compound moves that work your major muscle groups – and follow a plan with progressive overload (how you get stronger over time). My Bolder STRONG programs are designed in this way.
3. You are Overtraining - This falls into the “eat less, exercise more” camp. I’m assuming here, that you’re not training for an Ironman or the Tour De France or some such thing. Women over 40 need MORE recovery. So if you’re crushing boot camps 5-6 days a week, you are actually breaking down muscle faster than it can repair.
A few signs you might be overtraining:
You’re exhausted (yet you can’t sleep)
You’re still sore when it’s time for your next workout
You hit a fitness plateau or you’re actually getting weaker
Your cravings are out of control
Your mood swings like a screen door in a hurricane
What to Do: Be sure to allow for adequate recovery between your workouts. Schedule your strength training workouts 72 hours apart. Be sure to take 1-2 days off each week – be active, but no formal exercise.
4. Your Sleep is Poor - Getting enough sleep (or quality sleep) is a common challenge for midlife women. 60% of women in peri/menopause report sleep issues. When you are sleep deprived, your cortisol level increases, and your hunger and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin) are thrown out of balance. When we have less energy after a poor night’s sleep, we tend to move less during the day, and reach for fast “comfort” foods (usually carbs and sugar) for quick energy.
What Can Help? Try to improve your sleep by creating a nightly routine to help you wind-down and get ready for bed. Limit blue screen exposure at least an hour before bedtime, keep your bedroom cold and dark, read, do some light stretching or Yoga, or relax with some herbal tea or a hot bath.
5. You’re Chronically Stressed - Women in midlife are more sensitive to the negative effects of stress. Stress – from life, work, family, dieting, even dieting and exercise – elevates cortisol levels. When cortisol is chronically elevated, even your best exercise and nutrition attempts won’t move you to your goals. You need to make managing your stress levels (and getting quality sleep) a PRIORITY.
Pro Tip: If you are feeling super stressed, hitting up an intense workout is not the way to go. I know it may sound counter-intuitive. Be flexible enough to adjust your workout schedule, based-on your body’s feedback. This is the time to dial it back. Go for a brisk walk, do some light stretching, Yoga or mobility work. Or just freaking rest. Your body – and your hormones – will thank you.
The KEY to slowing – and even reversing – the aging process, is doing the right kinds of exercise, in the right amounts– at the right time. This is exactly what I teach in my Bolder Strong programs (click the link to learn more).
Curious to find out what workout may be right for you now? Read Is My Workout Right For Me?