"Why Women of 40 and 50 Are the New 'Ageless Generation,'" reads a headline from UK-based publication The Telegraph. According to the publisher's exclusive survey, 96% of women over 40 "don't feel middle-aged at all," with two-thirds considering themselves to be in their prime, particularly because of a focus on health and wellness. And while our bodies experience loss as we age (bone density lowers, metabolism slows, estrogen levels decrease, etc.), maintaining a consistent fitness routine is paramount to counteracting signs of internal and external aging, something celebrity fitness trainer and fitness ambassador for Lycored Kira Stokes knows to be true.
"When it comes to women hitting midlife (life expectancy is still in fact about 71 worldwide and 80 for developed nations), the first thing I encourage people to think about is that 40 is no longer the stereotypical version of 40 that's existed for decades," she says. "Women used to be questioned for being in great shape and focusing on fitness past a certain age. Now the question is 'Well, why they heck aren't you in great shape?' The game has changed in terms of how we look at age, access to healthcare and wellness offerings and products, and just in terms of how we look at societal norms. It is tough to look at a Salma Hayek, Gabrielle Union, or Reese Witherspoon and say, 'That's past prime.'"
To help you reach your own fitness prime well into your 40s and 50s, Stokes shared with us her best fitness and nutrition tips, which you can find below.
What are some common workout mistakes women over 40 make?
"The most common mistake a woman over 40 can make is feeding into stereotypes about whether or not they should be working out," says Stokes. She recommends high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in combination with strength-training (something you'll get from participating in her own workout program called The Stoked Method or by downloading Kira Stokes Fit app).
Remember to incorporate weights or movements utilizing your own body weight, rather than solely focusing on cardio, to encourage weight loss, build strength, and improve endurance.
Weightlifting is also critical for bone health as it supports strength and motility.
What are the best exercises for women over 40 to start doing if their goal is to stay in shape?
One of Stokes's favorite moves for women over 40 is jumping rope, or "what I often call a great way of squeezing in 'sneaky cardio,'" she says. "It keeps the heart rate up and fuels a higher level of fat burning and increased stamina during recovery."
She explains that jumping rope is key for interval training, as easy cardio exercises help strengthen joints and boost oxygen levels to improve your blood circulation. If it seems too intimidating, Stokes recommends splitting jumping rope into three- or five-minute chunks a day so that essentially you're jumping rope for 15 minutes a day. (Also, fun fact: Stokes says jumping rope for just 10 minutes can be the equivalent of running an eight-minute mile.)
She also recommends push-ups as they're a "gateway to doing more for the fitness-challenged or averse," adding, "A major theme for my workout philosophy is to think of 'working it in' instead of 'working out.'" By adding variations, you can get a full-body workout from the move, she tells us.
Are there any exercises women over 40 should avoid?
"Stay away from anything that isn't form-focused and methods that don't put an emphasis on training properly," explains Stokes. She says that if you aren't working with proper form, you're going to injure yourself or completely defeat the purpose of your goals to strengthen, condition, and sculpt your body.
Seeing a trainer can help with this (most gyms have staff on hand that can help you for free if you have questions about machines or moves) or reference digital trainers by using Stokes's app or watching workout videos with licensed trainers on YouTube.
How many days per week and for how long should women over 40 work out?
The length of time an individual should work out weekly is situational, but generally speaking, Stokes says to aim for four days of cardio and strength per week, with an additional emphasis on strength-training target zones at least two days per week. On rest days, she encourages you to make sure you're still staying active, perhaps by going for a light run or 20-minute walk. Continuing to move will actually aid in your recovery and maintain your stamina.
What's better: Eating before working out or after?
Again, Stokes says this is all about personal preference. "I personally need to eat a snack 45 to 60 minutes prior to a workout (typically a complex carbs/healthy fat combination—one of my go-to snacks is brown rice, avocado, and cucumber Maki) to perform at my best and again within 30 minutes post-workout to ensure the recovery process is underway (this is typically a protein shake to ensure my muscles have what they need to begin the rebuilding process)." However, it's up to you to decide what feels the most comfortable, based on your workout schedule and the caliber of your workout, she says.
Any diet tips for staying lean?
Essentially, the same nutritional tips for staying in shape and optimizing muscle definition apply in your 40s as they do in your 20s and 30s. Here are Stokes's golden rules:
"1. Avoid sugars and quick-fix starches: When you are experiencing hormonal shifts, it's easy to go for these energy grabs. Remind yourself what this craving is, and don't give in."
"2. Pack smart snacks: The smart snacks I would suggest are nuts (in moderation), veggies (cucumber, celery, broccoli, hardboiled eggs—I love to create my version of a healthy deviled egg by adding a dab of hummus to a hardboiled egg white), apple slices with a bit of almond butter, and, when truly on the go, a low-sugar protein bar with balanced nutrition."
"3. Don't skip 'snacks': "Rather than snacking continuously throughout the day, it's wiser to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need from a single meal to balance your blood sugar and keep you satisfied until the next one hours later," says nutrition and fitness expert Christine Bullock. "This allows insulin to leave your blood stream between meals, giving your body the opportunity to burn fat rather than store it. That being said, what matters most is meal regularity (independent of the number of meals you have). I would recommend to readers that they don't snack irregularly throughout the day and after dinner at night. If you choose to snack, those snacks should be full of healthy fats, veggies, and protein rather than empty calories."
"4. Investigate foods and supplements to support heart health: Heart disease is the top killer of women and a leading cause of serious health complications. I'm happy to work with companies like Lycored, a producer of heart-healthy wellness products which can help put more lycopene into your diet. Lycopene is known for preventing heart disease, cancers, and even helping to treat HPV."
Cleveland Clinic. Aging challenges and choices. Updated November 30, 2016.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Exercise for your bone health. Updated October, 2018.
Patel H, Alkhawam H, Madanieh R, Shah N, Kosmas CE, Vittorio TJ. Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World J Cardiol. 2017;9(2):134-138. doi:10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134
Cleveland Clinic. Strenuous workouts: try these 6 best recovery tips. Updated April 10, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women and heart disease. Updated January 31, 2020.