Building a Better Body After 40 (Really!)

Here’s a road map to doing it all (and doing it right): perfect toners, best stretches, essential supplements, injury-proofers.

By Holly St. Lifer

If you’re always stiff, get evaluated by a physical therapist or personal trainer, who can customize a stretching program for you. "Often, the tightness originates from another, seemingly unrelated area," says Stuhr. "Pain in your low back or knees can be related to tight hamstrings, hip flexors, or hip rotators." Stretch three days a week to maintain flexibility, five days a week to improve it.

Try It: Most of us are more likely to be tight in the hip flexors, Achilles tendon, hamstrings, and low back. These two moves should be part of your repertoire:

Stability bridge (for hamstrings, low back, calves)

  • Lie on back, feet hip-width apart and flat.
  • Lift hips off floor, so torso forms a straight line from knees to shoulders.
  • Extend left leg up. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Lower left foot and slowly lower hips to about an inch off the floor, hold for one count and lift again into a bridge, this time extending right leg into the air.
  • Return to start; repeat three times. (This move has the double benefit of being a stretch and a strength pose.)

Pigeon pose (for hip flexors, low back)

  • Start kneeling. Extend your right leg behind you, keeping top of foot on floor.
  • Bend left knee at a 90-degree angle and slowly lower your weight toward floor.
  • Hold for 10 breaths; repeat on opposite side.

The New Science of Meal Timing

By now you know what (and what not) to eat, so we’ll spare you the Nutrition 101 lecture. But according to recent studies, when you eat can be just as important as what, when it comes to managing weight and energy.

More Is Better

"Many women skip breakfast, and then eat two large meals a day. The combination of eating a lot infrequently boosts insulin production, which increases fat storage," says University of Texas exercise physiologist John Ivy, coauthor of Nutrient Timing (Basic Health, 2004).

Instead, he recommends eating six or seven smaller meals throughout the day. Each meal should be a combo of complex carbs, fat, and protein, roughly 50 percent complex carbs, 20 percent protein, and the other 30 percent fat to keep insulin levels low and your metabolism humming along. You’ll notice the effect immediately: "Your energy level will be even all day, and you’ll no longer feel famished," he says.

Eat First, Then Work Out

Exercising on an empty stomach deprives your body of crucial energy. "When you don’t have enough calories available, your body breaks down muscle to use instead — just what you don’t want to do," says Karen Reznik Dolins, director of nutrition at Altheus, a health and sports performance center in Rye, New York. "Less muscle slows down metabolic rate." You’ll also get fatigued faster, so you won’t be able to perform as hard or as long. Think snack, not meal: For a moderate workout of no more than an hour, have an eight-ounce glass of water and a piece of fruit.

Work Out, Then Eat

Eating within an hour postworkout can actually reduce the amount of fat your body stores. "This is the time your body is most efficient at converting carbohydrate into glycogen and using protein for lean muscle growth, repair, and building," says John Ivy. Eating after a workout also reduces your cortisol levels — a stress hormone that’s responsible for fat deposits around the abdomen — which rise during high-intensity workouts and remain high until you eat. Opt for fruit and yogurt, or a peanut-butter sandwich.

Eat Dinner — Then Quit

Dinner should be the last time you eat in the evening. "You need less fuel at the end of the day because you’re less active, so any extra calories you take in are more likely to be converted to fat," says Reznik Dolins. Had a teeny-tiny dinner? You can nosh, but no more than 200 calories’ worth. Snack on a small bowl of whole-grain cereal, or a low-fat yogurt.

Injury-Proof Your Workouts

As you age, body wear and tear just comes with the territory; so does the potential for injury. Stay in the game with these guidelines.

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