The plain truth is, as we get a little older, it’s harder to make muscles and convince them to stick around, especially in the abdominal area. The potential for maximum muscle mass lasts until the 30s, after that it’s a small gradual decline in mass month by month, year by year. Gasp, experts say a sedentary lifestyle can result in a 3 to 5 percent decline per decade! This loss of muscle is often replaced by a little extra padding around the middle or “muffin top,” even if you are in good or reasonable shape overall. Plus, the hormonal changes brought on by peri-menopause or full-on menopause don’t help matters much.
The quest for a flat mid-section or six-pack abs in middle age or older shouldn’t be about rocking a bikini or turning heads at the gym, although I guess these are nice side benefits – but, haven’t we moved past this ego feed?! Instead, appreciate what a strong core through functional fitness can do for your daily living. Strong abs help improve balance, stability, back strength and posture, and, in my opinion, can make you feel and look 10 years younger. A strong core also lessens the chance for injury from actual exercise or random stupid stuff, like twisting the wrong way while holding a bag of groceries, keeping up with your kids, or even playing with grand kids. Read on to get the tips on How To Age Proof Your Abs
The good news is you can dramatically slow this part of the aging process and optimize the goods that ‘ya got! In fact, there is no reason why a woman in her 40s, 50s and beyond can’t have a toned tummy or even washboard abs if that’s what she wants.
Keep Moving: The plain fact is that, you need to have cardio in your life to be healthy. Strive for 30 minutes of walking, running, biking, swimming, dance class, high-intensity intervals or other cardiovascular activity, 5 days a week (or 150 minutes or more total per week). Cardio exercise also burns calories which helps to reduce the layer of subcutaneous fat around the middle, allowing abdominal muscles to pop through. However, you can still have a very strong core and NOT see the six-pack – so don’t give up on exercising if you never “meet” them officially.
Lift Stuff: Lifting moderately heavy weights helps improve overall muscle mass and ward off the age-related muscle decline touched on earlier. Plus, lifting weights boosts up the metabolism as more muscle takes more calories to maintain. And, weight training also helps lessen the incidence for osteoporosis as do weight-bearing cardiovascular activities like running and walking.
Target Core Muscles: in addition to cardio exercise and a full-body weight training regime, it is also important to focus on the core muscles – front side and back. Easy exercises to do at home that don’t require equipment include planks (in every variation), V-ups, reverse crunches, windmills, hollow rocks, supine heel reaches, and figure 8’s.
Diet Matters: No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Abs are made in the kitchen” – this is partially true. While you have to maintain a fitness regimen to keep the actual muscles strong, eating the right foods will help to maximize muscle gains and also keep you lean so that they are visible. A higher protein diet, low or void of process carbohydrates (but using some whole grains and complex carbs for energy needs), along with lots and lots of leafy greens, and other detoxing produce like celery, watermelon, cucumbers, etc. is key.
Power of Protein: Protein is essential to the healthy diet, it is the key to muscle recover, maintenance and growth. While the RDA for protein is only about .8 grams protein per kilo of body weight, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that athletes need more — about 1 gram of protein per kilogram to maintain muscle mass and 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram to build muscle mass (per pound that is 0.64 to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight) So, for my 120lb frame, I strive for 78 to 98 grams of protein per day. Protein timing is important too, I’ve blogged about this so much – space protein out evenly at least three times per day starting with breakfast in the amount of 20 to 30 grams per meal Regardless of your size, the body can’t process more than about 30 grams for its intended muscle management duties at one eating opportunity, if you eat more than this at a meal it will be save for energy or stored as fat. Also, depending on your activity level and needs, two protein snacks per day (about 10g – 20g per snack) are ideal – especially after a workout and an hour before bed.
Sleep Well: Sleeping well helps maintain a strong core and overall body composition. That sounds strange, because you’re just lying there doing nothing for 7 or 8 hours. But, deep REM sleep is when the big surge of growth hormone occurs, helping to maximize muscle gains (especially if you’ve been eating enough protein through the day and even a protein bedtime snack). Too little sleep has been shown to cause weight gain. The sleep deprivation causes bad decision making (like grabbing that donut for breakfast and skipping a run) and also messes with huger hormones, causing carb cravings and over-eating in general.
Manage Stress: For many of us, stress in middle age is off the charts, juggling careers, families, aging parents and more. Unfortunately, stress can increase the hormone cortisol, another little nasty hormone that can cause weight gain when out of whack. Cortisol fluctuates throughout the day, but when it is continually haywire, it also affects learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease. (Here’s a post that includes a list of cortisol-reducing foods and in-home cortisol testing) While you may not be able to change your daily obligations, there are ways to lessen stress including, of course, exercise, but also meditation, yoga, laughing, scheduling time with friends, and having a pet, (although my husband says this adds to stress).
(above) Three things you can do for your core right now!
Get Well Checks: In middle age, it’s even more important to visit your healthcare professional to keep tabs on your overall health. In this stage of life, many life stage changes and medical issues could be beginning to fester and a thicker middle may just be one of the symptoms. Menopause, thyroid issues, uterine fibers, kidney problems, food intolerances, and certain cancers pop into my mind. An annual physical exam, blood work and any other needed testing, along with a two-way conversation about your concerns, will give you peace of mind, and a plan if necessary to optimize your overall health.
Do you have a favorite core-strength exercise to share? What is your biggest struggle in maintaining fitness as you age? Mine is sleep and struggling with stress, high coritsol. Please share in the comments – XOXO, Jennifer