"When you reach 40, it becomes harder for your muscles to recover from exercise and you need more protein to assist in the repair process," says Lisa Dorfman, RD, a sports nutritionist and adjunct professor in the department of exercise and sports science at the University of Miami. Try to eat about half your body weight in protein grams every day. If you weigh 160 pounds, you need 80 grams of protein; if you’re 100 pounds, 50 grams is enough. As a bonus, protein makes you feel fuller, so you’re less likely to overeat. It’s a proven diet aid: One study found those who followed a six-month diet with at least 25 percent of the calories from protein lost nearly twice as much fat as those who got only 12 percent of their calories from protein. Just make sure you select low-fat sources, like chicken breasts, fish, nonfat dairy, and protein-rich legumes.
If you spent your 30s: Squeezing in a few perfunctory stretches
From now on: Schedule in five minutes a day of full-body flexibility
As you grow older, your muscles become less pliable, and that affects your health and functioning. Tight muscles can interfere with your ability to get a good workout because you may not move as quickly or freely, and thus may burn fewer calories. Becoming inflexible can also make day-to-day chores a hassle: It may get more difficult to reach for a book on a high shelf or bend down to pick up a stray sock. But you can prevent these problems by stretching major muscles — hips, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, and neck — for just five to 10 minutes at a time. Coopersmith says: "My guideline is to do one solid flexibility workout for every decade of life, so if you’re 50, that’s five days a week." For a variety of easy-to-follow 10-minute routines, check out the Perfect in 10: Stretch DVD, led by Annette Fletcher ($15; StratoStream.com).
If you spent your 30: Taking a day off when you’re feeling sore
From now on: Build in active recovery
You may notice that you aren’t springing back from exercise sessions as fast as you once did. "Your ability to recover after a workout declines," says Roberts. But instead of spending the day curled up on the couch with a great book, get moving. Research has shown that light physical activity — including walking, stretching, or just moving about — significantly reduces next-day soreness. "Exercising increases blood flow and improves circulation, which helps get rid of some of the metabolic by-products of your tough workouts," Roberts explains. Another way to speed up recovery (and ease muscle tension) is to massage sore or tight areas with a foam roller. For years, physical therapists have relied on these firm foam logs as a rehab tool, but they’re great even if you’re not injured. Start by placing the area you want to target (such as the back of your thigh or your lower back) on top of the equipment, then slowly roll your body up and down, stopping where you feel a tight spot. "Rolling out muscles increases blood flow and at the same time helps to break up some of the scar tissue that surrounds the muscles and tendons as you age," Metcalf explains. Foam rollers are widely available in sporting goods stores and on amazon.com, usually for less than $20.
Originally published in MORE magazine, December 2008/January 2009.
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