While 40 may feel like the new 30, there’s one truth about reaching the fourth decade of your life that’s a bit of a buzzkill: It becomes far more challenging to maintain a flat belly.
As we age, we lose muscle mass, which causes our metabolism to slow. And as a result, it becomes harder to ward off belly fat. Not only can an expanding waistline make it tough to fit into your favourite jeans, but it can also be bad news for your health. Visceral fat, the fat that hangs out deep inside the abdomen, has been connected to an increased risk of breathing problems, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
The silver lining: There are plenty of things you can do to lose weight around your middle. Here, trainers share how they help their clients over 40 look instantly trimmer, while working towards a tight tummy they can maintain for life:
Sip peppermint tea.
Yoga and Pilates instructor Claudia Matles recommends drinking a cup of hot peppermint tea 20 minutes after a big meal. She says doing so helps you look and feel slimmer within hours, and it also has long-term weight loss benefits.
“It can really reduce bloating,” she says. Research shows peppermint calms the muscles in the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which is what your body uses to digest fats. Ultimately, this helps food pass through your stomach more quickly, speeding digestion and warding off bloat.
Sipping peppermint tea may also help ward off cravings for indulgent treats. One study presented at the 2008 Eastern Psychological Association Conference found that people who sniffed peppermint throughout the day ate 11,700 fewer kilojoules over the course of the week, and lost weight as a result.
Not only does running and jogging help burn fat and improve heart health, but it also promotes good posture which can instantly make your stomach look flatter, says fitness and Pilates instructor Grace Albin. “It’s hard to run if you’re slouching your back, hunching your neck, or scrunching your shoulders. Running retrains the body and mind to hold the torso, necks, shoulders and hips in their proposer positions, which transitions to better posture in everyday life.”
Do a “screen audit.”
Certified fitness trainer Marcello Pedalino does a “screen audit” with each of his clients to find out just how much time they’re spending in front of their computers, tablets, smartphones and TVs. “I’ve noticed the 40-plus population, in particular, is wasting a lot of time watching Netflix and thumbing through their social media feeds,” he says. “I find that those clients who start investing those hours in themselves—not necessarily just exercising more, but cooking healthy meals, spending time with friends, and even relaxing more—get a flatter belly after just a few months.”
Add compound exercises to your workouts.
To see a noticeable change in your physique, you’ll need to work all of your muscles—not just those that make up your core. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours doing a million exercises. Compound exercises, or movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, help burn kilojoules and build strength in a fraction of the time. Personal trainer Katie Peters suggests working these two exercises into your existing routine:
- Wall sit with overhead lift: Stand with your back against a wall and hold a 2-5kg weighted ball or dumbbell. Then, squat so your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your back and shoulders pressed against the wall, raise the ball until it’s overhead, then slowly lower it to chest height, keeping your arms straight. The focus is to press your back against the wall the entire time, which forces you to pull your stomach in as the ball lowers, working your abs as well as your arms, says Peters. “One of my clients credits this move as the one that helped her get back into a bikini at age 42, after having three kids,” says Peters.
- The starfish: Lay on your back on an exercise mat and hold an exercise ball between your hands, overhead. Simultaneously lift the ball and your legs into a “V” position, placing the ball between your ankles. Then, lower your legs as you squeeze the ball while also lowering your upper body and arms back to the mat. After the ball taps the ground, bring your legs back up as your lift your upper body. Grab the ball from your legs and bring it back to the starting position. That’s one repetition; repeat 10-15 times. “This super-effective move hits the upper and lower abdominal muscles as well as the obliques, and it helps my clients see results—fast,” says Peters. “In order to get that flat belly, it’s really important to focus on pulling your core in towards your spine while doing any core training. The starfish allows you to understand what ‘pulling the core to the floor’ feels like. The moment your lower back starts to lift off the mat you know that your core is not engaged,” Peters adds.
Avoid processed foods.
TRX, yoga and Pilates instructor Laura Amis says she tells her clients over 40 to eat a whole-foods based diet—and avoid anything processed. “Our bodies weren’t designed to digest the chemicals and preservatives in processed foods, which means those foods are more likely to fuel hunger and cause fat and bloating,” says Amis. Research supports Amis’ inkling. A new study from Cedars-Sinai found that several commonly used food chemicals damage hormones that communicate between the gut and the brain, which messes with our natural satiety signals.
Dial back the intensity.
If your goal is a flat tummy, there’s a good chance your instinct is to adopt an eat less, exercise more attitude. Yet Matles says sticking to a healthy diet and working out at a lower intensity than you may think is necessary is often more effective than extreme kilojoule restriction and pushing harder at the gym. “Cortisol, a potent stress hormone that’s tied to belly fat, actually increases when you eat less and exercise more,” she says. Considering the stress hormone is already produced at higher levels after age 40, this is the exact opposite of what you want. “I’ve seen clients see the best tummy-tightening results when they back off,” says Matles.