It sneaks up on you. You feel like your normal self and then, one day, you notice that your body shape has changed or that you’re holding on to a few extra pounds. Your body just doesn’t feel the same.
It’s not all in your head. As you get older, there are real changes in your body — some due to age, some due to menopause — that can lead to weight gain. But most women aren’t aware of them.
So, here’s what’s really going on with your body after 40 and what you can do to feel healthy and strong as you age.
1. Your hormones are starting to bubble out of whack
The biggest culprit behind your body’s changes after 40? Hormones. These are the chemical messengers that control most body functions, from reproduction to hunger.
As you approach menopause, levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone fluctuate, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, gynecologist and assistant clinical professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
This fluctuation in hormones causes a cascade of changes, from decreased bone density and lean muscle mass to lower sex drive and mood changes.
The fix: Don’t feel resigned to grinning and bearing the hormonal fluctuations! Talk to friends or family members, or find an online group. “You’ll probably hear that you’re all going through something similar.
The Facebook group Menopausing So Hard is led by certified personal trainer and wellness coach Amanda Thebe. She believes it’s helpful for women to hear encouraging experiences and that this time will pass.
2. You’re seeing a natural decline in metabolism.
You certainly have your hormones to thank for this. In addition to the natural slowing of your resting metabolic rate as you get older, reduced estrogen levels also contribute to a sluggish metabolism.
Moreover, you begin to put on additional weight, particularly around your waist, claims certified dietitian Melissa Burton.
Researchers have discovered that perimenopause and menopause-related hormonal alterations are a factor in changes to body composition, the storage of fat, and the distribution of fat.
What is the greatest strategy to maintain a healthy metabolism? Remain active.
Personal trainer Vera Trifunovich
Eat your fiber, too. According to Burton, you need between 25 and 35 grams of fiber daily, compared to the average American’s 10 grams. Just make sure to hydrate yourself well!
3. You start losing lean muscle mass at this age.
According to Burton, beyond the age of 40, you start to lose muscle mass, which is the body’s primary calorie-burning organ, at a rate of 1% every year. According to Dweck, it’s related to the decline in estrogen and testosterone levels that comes with menopause and perimenopause.
You don’t burn calories the same way as you did when you were younger due to a slower metabolism.
The remedy, according to Thebe, is to strength train or lift weights two to four times per week. (No, you won’t gain weight.)
“Muscle is a necessary requirement to help support your bone structure, supporting your joints and ensuring you have adequate range of motion,” Thebe says.
If you’re new to strength training, consider working with a personal trainer for two to three sessions.
“They can develop a program that is safe for you but will also have an impact on your fitness,” Trifunovich says. Focus on multi-joint exercises that work your full body.
Try Thebe’s workout below. Do each exercise for 30 seconds, and rest for 30 seconds between each exercise. Repeat 4 to 6 times.
Thebe’s workout plan
- goblet squat
- kettlebell swing
- mountain climbers
- skater jumps
4. Your body begins to develop insulin resistance.
The hormone insulin, which is in charge of controlling blood sugar levels, begins to be disregarded by the body as you age and, particularly, as you put on weight.
Because your cells aren’t absorbing it, your blood sugar level is greater as a result, according to Burton. As a result, you can have greater cravings and feel as though you are hungry.
Not only can this result in extra weight, but it also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The solution: According to Burton, every meal should contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in order to prevent a glucose overload.
Don’t just eat a lot of carbs.
Protein and good fats make the body feel fuller for longer, so you have less cravings.
Pay attention to where your carbs come from, too. “If you drink juice, it increases blood sugar circulating in the body quickly,” Burton says. “If you eat whole grains, it has more fiber and breaks down slowly,” she says. It gradually releases sugar into the bloodstream.
Dweck suggests really sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet in your 40s. “It’s been shown to be protective against cancer and heart disease, and it doesn’t cause huge swings in blood glucose levels,” she says.
5. Your appetite cues are confused
Hormones like ghrelin (which tells you when you’re hungry) and leptin (which tells you when you’re full) also fluctuate.
“As we age, the receptors for these hormones don’t work as well as they used to, and we become resistant to them, too,” Burton says. “It’s not just in your head. You’re actually hungry because of your hormones.”
The solution: Dweck advises maintaining a food journal to identify problematic eating patterns and to better understand your hunger cues. You can tell if you’re eating larger servings or truly snacking all day if you actually write down everything you eat, the expert advises.
You can determine if you are getting enough protein by keeping a food diary. As your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein at a time, Burton advises eating 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.
6. Life reduces your activity level
In your 40s, exercise may become less important due to your profession, family, and friends. According to Trifunovich, aching, creaky joints are another factor in why many women stop being active.
“Overuse injuries and joint problems
If injury keeps you from doing your beloved activity, try a new class or at-home workout. (There are tons of streaming workout options available!)
Staying active won’t only enhance your metabolism. The endorphins released during exercise will also boost your mood, Thebe says, and help you feel better in your own skin.
Also, regular exercise lowers your risk for developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
7. You might be under stress or experiencing high blood pressure.
In their middle years, women deal with a range of stressors, such as managing their careers and income while frequently taking care of both their parents and children.
Researchers have discovered that black women in particular experience high levels of stress.
Your body releases cortisol, also known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone, when you’re under stress.
Continuous cortisol production can lower blood sugar levels, which makes you want to eat more food, particularly sugar.
You gain abdominal fat, according to Dweck. Diabetes and heart disease are two illnesses that are correlated with a wider waistline.
Dweck suggests managing your stress as a solution. Whether
Two of the biggest sleep disruptors at this age are hot flashes and night sweats. You can thank your shifting hormones for that, too.
The fix: First things first: Establish a soothing bedtime routine. In particular, reduce your use of electronics before going to sleep, Dweck says.
Harvard researchers found that the blue light emitted from these devices can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. This is the hormone that makes you sleepy at night.
If hot flashes and night sweats keep you up at night, Dweck recommends a cool shower before bed and breathable pajamas.
Also avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially red wine, which are known triggers for hot flashes, she says.
Find the new you
The best starting point for getting back in tune with your body as you enter your 40s is to keep a heart-healthy diet and exercise.
If you’ve already got this foundation down but don’t feel your body is responding, try varying up your workout routine to awaken new muscles or eating a new diet to give your gut a jolt.
Sometimes tackling changes isn’t about doubling down with the same routine, but finding a new one that works for you.