Share on Pinterest
Getty Images

As the number of candles on our birthday cakes grow, so does the number of times someone reassures us that “40 is the new 20.”

It’s entirely possible to look and feel great at any age. But if you don’t meet some arbitrary beauty standard, there’s no need to feel guilty.

Everyone’s journeys are different, and sometimes an injury, illness, or even just life can get in the way of us feeling like we’re the best versions of ourselves.

That’s not only OK, but common — and almost always fixable.

As women get older, we’re more susceptible to illnesses and chronic pain, including heart disease and osteoporosis. Though moving around may be the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling down, inactivity increases the risk of chronic disease.

A little under 23 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 64 are getting the recommended amount of exercise per week, and 28 percent over age 50 are physically inactive.

Sometimes age becomes a reason people feel they shouldn’t bother working out.

“[People say,] ‘Oh, I shouldn’t lift weights because I’m too old,’” says Dr. Theresa Marko, a doctor of physical therapy, board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedics and owner of Marko Physical Therapy. “You do need cardio and some resistance exercise.”

But age doesn’t need to be a barrier.

“There are so many factors that go into our age, and chronology is the least of it,” says Jillian Michaels, fitness expert and creator of The Fitness App. “You can be extremely fit at any chronological age if you train consistently and intelligently.”

If you’re over 40 and looking to start or intensify your workout routine, try these simple tips.

Society often asks women to wear several hats. Women are more likely than men to care for aging relatives, while also making up about half of the workforce.

Working out every day can feel like a mix of a luxury and another item on an already long to-do list for a busy woman.

You don’t need to work out for hours on end every day.

Try brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. If you have less time but can do more intense exercises, such as jogging or running, the CDC says 75 minutes per week is sufficient. That’s only 15 minutes per day!

It’s important to gauge your intensity if you want to reap the heart-healthy benefits of exercise.

The American Heart Association says target heart rates vary by age.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, a simple pulse check will let you know where you stand.

“Count the beats for 6 seconds and multiply that number by 10,” Michaels says. “For example, I count my pulse when I train for 6 seconds. If it’s 16, I multiply by 10, and my pulse is 160 bpm.”

Michaels suggests using your wrist to check your pulse. You can compare what you find to the table below.

Age in yearsTarget heart rate (bpm)Maximum heart rate (bpm)

Women are more likely to have osteoporosis than men, and 1 in 3 women over 50 will experience fractures due to the condition.

This can make strength training seem daunting and unsafe, but research shows it actually helps improve the strength and balance of women who already have osteoporosis.

“For osteoporosis, strength training is one of the best things you can do,” Michaels says. “Make sure to focus on your back and hips in particular.”

Research also shows strength training reduces the risk of cardiac death and cancer. It can also improve brain function in adults ages 55–66 who have mild cognitive impairment.

If you’re new to strength training or haven’t done it in a while, Michaels suggests starting with body weight or light dumbbells.

“Body weight is super effective and less intimidating,” she says. “Then you have the dumbbells for rows, chest flies, bicep curls, triceps extensions, etc.”

Michaels says it’s important to space out strength workouts, particularly if you have osteoporosis, to prevent injury.

“The goal is to stress the bone and make sure to build in the recovery time for healing,” she says. “If you don’t have the recovery time, you risk a stress fracture from too much, too soon. I would aim for 2 strength sessions per muscle group per week with 2 days of recovery between sessions.”

Sample schedule

  • Monday/Thursday: Push muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps, obliques, quads)
  • Tuesday/Friday: Pull muscles (back, biceps, glutes, hamstrings)
Was this helpful?

Exercise is challenging, but it should be something you enjoy. You already have enough chores.

“The most important rule with fitness is consistency,” Michaels says. “While I can tell you the techniques that are the most effective, it’s irrelevant if the person won’t show up for them regularly.”

You don’t have to go all out right off the bat (or ever). If you don’t like running, signing up for a marathon may not be the best idea for you. Maybe you enjoy walking or dancing instead.

You’re more likely to stick to something you like.

“I recommend people do things that are fun and that they can fit into their schedule,” Marko says. “I know with a lot of my patients, I ask them, ‘How many exercises are too many for you? Do you like to do standing up exercises [or] lying down exercises?’”

Apps like Michaels’ or FitOn have short, varied workouts to try out if you want to get a feel for what works best for you. Once you find something you like, Michaels recommends prioritizing working out and considering it “me time.”

“I schedule my workouts,” she says. “It’s that simple, and it’s non-negotiable time.”

But if you fall off the wagon for a day or two, that doesn’t mean you have to give up and “start over Monday.”

“Go easy on yourself,” Marko says. “Give yourself some self-love and don’t get too upset with yourself.”

Sometimes, a workout you’ve loved for months suddenly feels stale. Maybe you’ve plateaued on a goal, such as increasing your walking speed or losing weight, or it could be mental. Maybe you’re bored.

If it starts to feel repetitive, spice it up by adding more intensity or another element to the workout.

But remember: Slow and steady wins the race (and prevents injuries).

“The key with upping intensity is to do it every 2 weeks by roughly 10 percent,” Michaels says. “For example, [try] 10 percent more weight or 10 percent more reps, or a slightly different variation that is a bit more difficult, like pushups on the floor versus pushups on an elevated platform.”

Michaels recommends listening to your body and taking note of your form.

“Is it compromised, or are you able to perform the more advanced version of the exercise or the last couple of reps with good form? If not, dial it back again,” she says.

Not all workouts require you to remain land-locked.

Research has shown that high-intensity water workouts improve bone mineral density and functional fitness in postmenopausal women.

A 2018 study of mostly middle-aged women found that water aerobic activity decreased body fat and blood pressure and increased explosive strength.

“[The water] gives you support while providing resistance,” Marko says. “One half of you is supported and you’re pulling through the water. [Swimming for] anyone with osteoarthritis of the knees or backs will provide support, make you feel lighter, and make the exercise a little easier.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, and the number of women having heart attacks is on the rise.

Adding cardio and strength training to your routine can help mitigate risks, but stress also plays a role.

Yoga can help reduce stress. A 2016 study showed people with heart disease who practiced yoga for 12 weeks had lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and higher mental health scores.

Need a workout buddy? If you can’t find a human to take a daily stroll with you, consider adopting a dog.

Older adults with heart disease who have dogs are more likely to be active because they have to walk their pups.

If getting a dog isn’t an option, consider volunteering at a local shelter.

You don’t have to let your age be a barrier to working out.

If you have conditions that typically come with age, such as osteoporosis, you can modify your workout routine to prevent injury while helping to improve the aches and pains associated with them.

You’re more likely to stick with working out if you enjoy it, so try to find something you like and set small goals.

It’s possible to be fit and healthy no matter your age.

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based writer. In her spare time, you can find her training for marathons and wrangling her son, Peter, and three furbabies.