How to get fit after 40 - your midlife exercise routine

how to get fit exercise over 40 best fitness plan
Don't stand and send emails when looking after your children: run around with them instead Credit: Getty

Bad news, everyone: if you’ve been ruthlessly pruning your exercise schedule back into a short-but-bitter handful of minutes a week – doing HIIT, or Tabata, or one of the other regimes that promises results in mere minutes – you’re going to need to find some more time. Quite a lot more, in fact.

Research published by Cambridge University, carried out on Britons aged 40-79, suggests that, while simply following the government-suggested minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week can cut mortality risk by almost a quarter, more is in fact better. Participants who nudged their daily dose from 42 minutes to just over an hour slashed their risk of early death by 42 per cent. 

On the one hand, this seems ridiculous and depressing – who, after all, has a spare hour every day, apart from professional Iron-Men and the recently-retired? But look at it from another angle, and things get more manageable. According to the study guidelines, ‘activity’ included not only sport and cycling, but walking and ‘office work,’ suggesting that even extremely low-level movement makes a difference.

And so the good news is this: what most over-40s need isn’t a new gym membership but a slight life-recalibration – a rethink to incorporate more activity here and there, rather than a wholesale embrace of press-ups.

Here’s how – and where – to get that crucial bit more exercise, every day, as a busy midlifer

Suggest more walk-and-talks

…as opposed to the old slouch-and-grouch. Standing meetings, it’s rapidly being established, are a very good thing: if you can get over the social awkwardness of staying erect while everyone else is seated, Brunel University Research suggests you’ll benefit from feeling more engaged and confident. Plus, if everyone in the room is standing, you’ll be inclined to wrap things up faster.

If there are three or fewer of you involved, suggest upgrading to a stroll somewhere – walking meetings are reportedly better for brainstorming, and encourage idea-sharing. 

Get involved at the playground

This is easiest if you're a late-blooming parent with a boundlessly-energetic pre-teen – otherwise you'll need to borrow one – but it's worth the effort, since it's absolutely one of the best ways to get 10,000 (tiny) steps in before Saturday lunchtime.

Instead of being the parent at the park who answers emails while little Llewellyn runs amok, get involved – take the opportunity to kick a ball about or play tag (look at the World Chase Tag championships to see just how ridiculously competitive it can get).

Get addicted to a form of exercise

The trick is, it doesn’t have be one of the popular – or even particularly active – ones. A quick swim three or four times a week beats one arduous gym-trip a fortnight, and even a round of petanque is better than lying on the couch. The key is to experiment until you find something that speaks to you: you might hate badminton but love Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or hate running but learn to love the rower.

Even in traditional resistance training – good for bone strength, among other things – powerlifting, Olympic lifting and strongman-style training are very different styles, with very different ‘feels’.

Saying you don’t like physical activity in general is as broad-brush an approach as pretending you don’t like TV. 

Briefly acquire a dog

You don't actually need to own one: alongside the RSPCA, organisations like the Cinnamon Trust are desperate for dog-walkers to register as volunteers. Wandering around with a faithful hound offers the kind of unstructured-but-purposeful walking it's difficult to get outside a daily commute, and comes with an added bonus if you do it in the park – researchers have recently linked spending more than two hours a week in green spaces to feeling healthier and happier.  

…and, yes, take the stairs

It’s the advice you’re sick of getting, but it’s as valid today as ever – though it might only take a couple of minutes, taking the stairs (or getting off the bus/tube a stop early, volunteering to do a morning coffee run, or popping to the shops mid-week instead of waiting for the Ocado order) all adds up, and provides the kind of moderate-level activity that stops your body from setting your metabolism to idle. And remember: even if adding a couple of extra years to the tail-end of your life doesn’t appeal now, there’s every chance it’ll make you feel brighter, more sprightly, and better equipped to face the world in the short term, too.

Something to remember the next time you’re queueing for a lift.