We’ve all heard the phrase, “Life begins at 40,” and without a doubt, some of the best years of my life were in my forties. But, all that good didn’t just happen. As I turned forty, I began to notice changes in my body that I should have expected, but didn’t.
I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but whenever I drive across a state line, I can sense that I’m in a different state because of the subtle changes in the environment. I grew up in Colorado and when I’d drive into Nebraska, I’d suddenly be surrounded by cornfields. When I crossed into Utah I’d find myself in sandstone canyon country. New Mexico was nothing but desert, cactus and adobe, and Wyoming was filled with nothing as far as the eye could see. I never knew if I was just imagining it or whether it was really happening.
A similar thing happened when I turned forty. Something changed. I felt as though I had crossed an invisible border of some kind. All of a sudden, my metabolism slowed down and I couldn’t eat as much as I used to. My body felt a little more tired after my runs. And, everything seemed like it took a bit more effort. It didn’t seem fair… all I had done was turn forty!
Looking back on that decade, I can now see that those changes were real, and not imaginary. I had indeed crossed into new territory. So, as someone who’s “been there and done that,” here are some helpful observations of what to expect when you cross that “state line.”
Here are the four biggest changes that can happen in your 40’s, along with some suggestions for how to best respond:
- You notice a difference in the way your brain works
- You notice your metabolism slowing down
- It’s more difficult to build and maintain muscle mass
- You start to feel your joints more and notice your range of motion diminishing
After turning forty you might notice your reasoning skills slowing down. Along with that, your memory will lose some of its crispness, so you find yourself keeping lists or calendars of important items or events. You might also notice that your verbal fluency doesn’t have the same edge, like not being able to always find the best word to describe an idea you’re trying to get across.
These mental changes happen subtly at first but will increase as you move farther into your fourth decade.
On the upside, there are some things that actually improve. Other types of cognition, such as moral decision making, regulating emotions, and reading social situations are the byproducts of the wisdom that comes from trial and error… learning from your mistakes. I spent a lot of time in my forties working to move beyond the plethora of mistakes I made in my 20’s and 30’s. As I got older, I became increasingly tired of doing face plants, which forced me to get smarter, wiser and preventive.
So, even though most forty-year-olds don’t feel a drastic drop in their mental abilities, here are some things you can do to combat the onset of any mental decline.
To keep your brain in good shape by spending some time every day exercising your ability to focus your mind. The mindful focuses of ChiRunning and ChiWalking are the best ways to engage your mind with your body. As you pay attention to how your body is moving, those neural-transmitters in your brain are firing. It’s like weightlifting for the brain! My recommendation is to take walk breaks during your day and use the time to closely watch some aspect of your body movement.
You can also keep your brain active by doing mentally challenging things. Using your mind to focus on your body while moving your body is THE BEST way to maintain cognitive function. You can also keep your brain in great shape by learning a new hobby or skill, learning a new language or musical instrument, or any activity that involves both your mind and body.
Women in their mid-forties sometimes begin to move into perimenopause. The female body begins to produce less estrogen, which can negatively affect calcium levels and reduce bone mass.
The best way to counteract the potential loss in bone density and avoid osteoporosis in your fifties is to keep running and walking as weight-bearing exercises for healthy bones. If you haven’t already, it’s a great time to start weight-training, yoga, Pilates, walking with hand weights, or signing up for 10K or half marathon training programs. There are also nutritional supplements to help balance the hormones that help keep your bones strong.
Remember, also that as we age there is a tendency to reduce our physical activity. This will eventually limit the range of motion in your joints and if you don’t maintain good movement habits, you could be in danger of arthritis. The best policy to follow is, “Move it or lose it.” So, make friends with any activity that keeps your muscles toned and your joints loose. Go for short walks, stretch or do body looseners multiple times each day.
Men in their forties begin to start producing less testosterone, the hormone that helps build and maintain muscle mass. When paired with a slowing in metabolism (usually around 45), it often shows up as weight gain and loss of muscle tone.
The Chi approach to maintaining good muscle tone is to make sure you are adding either speed intervals or hills to your weekly running routine. Short accelerations of up to 2 minutes (with a 30 sec. jog break) are an easy way to strengthen your upper body muscles. Holding more of a forward fall and keeping a vigorous arm swing going is a perfect way to get both cardio/aerobic exercise and increase tone in your arms, shoulders, chest, back, and abs.
This is also when it’s time to maintain your muscle mass with upper-body resistance training like TRX, free weights, or cross-training. This should be accompanied by a regular stretching routine to maintain good mobility in your shoulders, spine, and hips throughout your forties. As I suggested for women, you can do yoga, Pilates or t’ai chi to build good strength and ROM in your muscles and joints.
For both sexes, it’s also a time to take a good look at any vices that are diminishing your health, like smoking, drinking, poor diet choices and not enough sleep. All of these things, if not moderated, can deteriorate your immune system and lower your body’s ability to fight off illness and the effects of aging. Your forties are a great time to drop unhealthy habits and replace them with activities that ensure a vibrant and healthy lifestyle.
We have lots of forty-year-olds who come to us looking for ways to sustain a mentally and physically healthy life. And all the principles we’ve borrowed from T’ai Chi, and applied to ChiWalking and ChiRunning, are a perfect way to guide yourself through this crucial decade.
The ruling idea of aging well is “mindfulness.” By paying closer attention to everything you do, doing more of the right things and limiting some of the less healthy things, you’ll be guaranteeing yourself many more years of great mental health and physical vibrancy.
One of the best things the Chi approach has to offer is to engage your mind to improve the technique of moving your body, instead of relying so much on strength. Instilling good movement habits will more than makeup for any loss in muscle mass as you move on toward your fifties. And, paying close attention to how your body moves and feels will give you a great skill set that will serve you for many more decades.
The most important thing to remember as you age is to keep your CHI FLOWING; doing movement that is not forced, but guided by balancing the needs of your body with its capacity to do. THAT is truly vitalizing…