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Researchers say starting a fitness routine after 40 is as beneficial as being active from adolescence through adulthood. Getty Images

It’s never too late to get in shape and reap the health benefits of physical fitness.

So says a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

In fact, increasing physical activity later in life results in the same risk reduction of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality as being active from adolescence through adulthood, the study’s researchers said.

Optimal risk reduction for both younger and older participants was seen when engaging in a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate activity, such as gardening or housework, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as fast-paced walking, running, swimming, or aerobics, said Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, PhD, a study author and postdoctoral fellow at the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute.

Getting active later in life can also provide additional benefits outside the study’s findings.

According to University of Maryland School of Nursing professor Barbara Resnick, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, and past president of the American Geriatrics Society, there’s a lot to gain psychologically speaking.

Resnick told Healthline that while benefits vary on an individual basis, general benefits include “an overall sense of well-being and psychologically feeling better” with less depression and more energy.

Older populations can also benefit from “improved balance and fall prevention” and “improved strength and function,” said Resnick.

However, for those over 40 returning to or starting a fitness routine, there are some key factors to consider.

Meeting the weekly activity guidelines set forth in the study for optimal risk reduction is something that needs to be done incrementally in order to avoid injury.

“Start low and go slow,” Resnick advised.

But what does this really mean?

Louis Bezich, the senior vice president of strategic alliances with Cooper University Health Care, offers some insight.

While conducting research for his book, “Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets That Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50,” he interviewed Dr. Daniel Hyman, the head of the division of Internal Medicine at Cooper University Health Care and associate professor at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in New Jersey.

This was Hyman’s advice:

  • See your physician for an evaluation.
  • With physician approval, embark on an exercise program that includes:
    • stretching before every workout
    • a slow starting routine that includes aerobic exercise, like biking or a treadmill, and sensible weight training that builds up to a 30- to 40-minute workout, five times a week

Getting in shape after 40 comes down to two main things: specific exercises and mindset.

Resnick offers her expert advice on the combination of activities that see the greatest success.

After easing into fitness, this is what those over 40 should aspire to do regularly:

  • moderate aerobic activity for 30 minutes daily (100 steps per minute)
  • muscle strengthening with all major muscle groups three days a week
  • balance exercises two days a week at minimum

She suggests using “The Nia Technique” book for specific workout routine ideas.

Bezich, on the other hand, focuses more on setting your mindset toward success.

In his experience, the best way to get in shape after 40 is to “build a motivational platform anchored by the most valued relationships in your life like your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, or career.”

“These relationships define your personal ‘why’ when it comes to the effort and sacrifices of living healthy,” said Bezich. “Remember, healthy living is a team sport.”

Bezich says keeping a robust social calendar that’s centered around healthy activities can help keep you on track with your fitness and health goals.

The new study says it’s never too late to get in shape and improve our health outcomes, so what’s stopping so many of us?

Bezich says the chief barrier to success is mindset.

“Most can’t even keep their New Year’s resolution for more than a month or two,” he said. “I attribute this to a weak cognitive association between their day-to-day behavior and their most valued relationships.”

In his own research with physically active men over 50, he found the success factor is an ability to connect the dots between between one’s diet and exercise routines and their ambitions in life.

“They get that in order to fulfill their ambitions they need to be and stay healthy. It’s the power of this positive association that keeps them going when others quit,” Bezich said.

Those who don’t follow through with their fitness goals, Bezich says, lack a strong “why” factor.

So while getting fit after 40 is about easing into specific exercises tailored to success, it’s also about understanding your underlying motivation for doing so.