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

Start slowlyBegin every exercise session with 10 minutes of rhythmic activity (try marching in place) or your intended activity at a slower pace. "This raises your heart rate and body temperature, and makes muscles and joints more fluid and less prone to injury," says Robin Stuhr. Stretching is not warming up. "Stretching cold can lead to injury," warns Douglas Brooks. Save stretching for after a workout.

End SlowlyGradually slowing your cardio activity over at least five minutes normalizes heart rate and circulation. "Blood is directed to working muscles when you exercise and then flows back to the rest of the body during the cool-down," explains Wayne Westcott. "Stopping abruptly interrupts this flow and can cause dizziness as well as increase your risk for a heart attack."

Cross-TrainIt’s a proven way to avoid injury and mental burnout, notes Jonathan Fields. If you mostly walk or run, cross-train by lifting weights or doing yoga or Pilates. If you’re into cycling or Spinning, mix it up with weight lifting, walking, jogging, and yoga/Pilates.

Take Rest Seriously During any vigorous activity, microtears occur in your working muscles. When you take a day off between sessions, muscles repair themselves and become even stronger. "If you don’t allow the repair process to take place — which happens only at rest — you won’t experience the same strength improvements and you’ll risk injury," says Robin Stuhr.

Massage Your MusclesGrab a firm small ball and roll on it wherever you feel tight or tense, such as your shoulders or lower back. You’re using your own body weight to get a deep, penetrating massage, says New York personal trainer Robert Caravetta. Over time, you’ll be stretching muscles and increasing the range of motion in the joints, which translates into fewer aches and injuries. Plus, it feels good. Caravetta recommends this self-massage as cool-down after a workout.

Consider Supplements

"Once you hit your 40s, alleviating joint and muscle pain and improving bone health should get equal billing in your effort to stay strong, healthy, and fit," says nutrition scientist Shari Lieberman, PhD., author of The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book (Avery, 2003). Here are her top picks to tackle both.

  • Vitamin D: Recent studies show that it reduces your risk of fractures by improving bone-mineral density while also helping the body absorb calcium better.Daily dose: 800 IU. (Consult your doctor if you’re currently taking more than 1,000 IUs a day.)
  • Calcium and magnesium: Calcium is essential for bone health, but magnesium is just as important: When you take calcium alone, this upsets your body’s mineral balance and can lead to magnesium deficiency, which actually contributes to bone loss. Daily dose: 1,000mg. of calcium and 500mg. of magnesium.
  • Glucosamine: May help alleviate joint pain by repairing damaged cartilage between the joints.Daily dose: 2 grams a day. (It may take four to six weeks to feel effects.)
  • Vitamins C and E: Take these together an hour before a workout. "These are powerful antioxidants that can prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness — that stiff, achy feeling that sets in 48 hours after a strenuous workout," says Lieberman.Daily dose: 400 IU of vitamin E, 2 grams of vitamin C.

10-Minute Body-Shaping Plan

Functional fitness exercises are designed to work muscle groups used in everyday movements like lifting groceries, hitting a tennis serve, or stepping off a curb in heels. "The idea behind it is to train the body for real life," says J. C. Santana, director of the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida. "It’s about teaching all the muscles to work together, rather than isolating them to work independently."

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