I get asked a lot of questions. A lot. Every day I get at least a dozen questions about training for over forty-year olds.
A lot of the questions are about specific exercises or the best ways to accomplish a specific goal. But easily the number one question I get asked is one thing:
How do I get back in shape at forty-plus, and how long is it going to take?
The answer is often a mix of my all purpose “it depends” coupled with my own questions about their own personal health history. Let’s split the answers into two categories – category one will be guys who previously were in fantastic shape and over the last two to three years have found themselves out of shape. Category two will be people who have been out of shape for longer, maybe even their entire lives. When I’m talking out of shape I am really speaking about two main variables – body mass and actual fitness and strength.
The reason body mass is a first priority is simple – being overweight brings an enormous number of extra risks with it. It’s linked to higher rates of cardiac disease, strokes, various cancers, high blood pressure, and diabetes. If I could give everyone in the world one gift it would be to stop them being overweight. The savings alone to our health care systems would be in the trillions of dollars globally. So body mass has to be a concern for those reasons but there is another reason too…
As we age it’s easy to feel invisible. Like our best years are behind us. Having a flat stomach, or arms that bulge from under your T-shirt are important parts of how we feel about ourselves as men. Equally, being seen as attractive in the eyes of our partner is important too. The number of guys I have spoken with who tell me that their partners have flat out said to them that they find them unattractive is overwhelming. There’s simply no reason why we should become less attractive to our partners as we age.
As we age there are some factors that conspire against us. Many people will point to a slowing metabolism as they age as being responsible for the fat gain. While there is some slowing of the metabolism, it isn’t as pronounced as many think – it’s only one to two percent per decade after twenty. In other words, in your mid forties your metabolism is only a maximum of five percent slower than it was when you were at university. That’s not a significant enough difference to account for the fifteen to twenty kilograms of excess weight most carry.
A far bigger factor is food intake. Put into the simplest terms possible, if your metabolism has slowed by five percent then eat five percent less than you did at twenty. But the problem with food is that there is often a lot of tied up emotional baggage with it. For instance, did you ever get hurt as a child and get a treat off your parents to stop you crying? Congratulations, you now have a relationship with food as consolation for any hurt or injury, emotional or physical. That can be a tough bond to break. Do you have a plan in place to do that?
During the 28 Day Challenge we begin with something very different. We don’t start with the program or the diet. We start with listing all of the Risks, Triggers, and Obstacles that you face during your journey to better health and fitness. A common problem is that when you’re in a group setting, either work or social, that you tend to over consume food and alcohol. Once we’ve identified that it makes it easy to start making plans to overcome it. This is the key difference in what makes some people successful versus others as adults trying to get into shape. Very few people will be able to change deep rooted habits overnight into completely new ones. The rest who are successful have seen an area of weakness and then treated it like a work problem and sought to find a way to overcome it through better planning. Perhaps it means learning to say no to some engagements, or making sure to drive to others so you can’t drink. Maybe it means eating a meal before going to the office party so you’re not tempted with finger food as much. Regardless of what the plan looks like, having a plan will always beat not having one. Even if that plan isn’t fully successful it gives a starting point to further change behaviour and modify for next time. It’s very seldom Plan A that works. In diet situations it’s more likely Plan F, G, or even M that sees you finally fix all those issues.
Once you’ve identified why you have negative behaviors, and set plans to overcome them, you need to know exactly what you should be eating. That doesn’t mean you need a nicely made up PDF meal plan. In fact, I never provide meal plans to any clients as I believe there is a massive flaw in the logic behind them. You don’t need to be told that you need to eat two eggs, one cup of spinach, and half a banana for breakfast on day one of week one. While that’s not a bad breakfast it doesn’t explain the reasoning behind it. Because if you have to travel for work suddenly and don’t have access to the foods from that perfect looking PDF, what happens then? I’ll tell you – you’ll revert back to all those bad behaviours seen in your Risks, Obstacles, and Triggers. A smart nutrition system isn’t reliant on specific foods just like a smart training plan isn’t reliant on specific pieces of equipment. They’re both reliant on why certain things are done instead of specifics. When you understand the reasons certain choices are made then you are also free to change things to suit your own life and lifestyle.
When it comes to how much to eat, we already know you need roughly five percent less than you did two decades ago. But what else do we need to know? It’s not enough at our age to try to eyeball the right amount of food. Not if you’re trying to maximise body composition. Many people will tell you that you don’t need to weigh and measure food to be lean. Most of those were born with six-packs and have no idea what it’s like trying to suddenly lose twenty kilograms at forty to avoid a heart attack. I’ll make this easy – if you’re overweight then you have a flawed concept of how much food is the correct amount. Your body mass clearly shows that. Once you’ve worked out how much food you need to eat it is a matter of only eating that amount.
Interestingly, eating the right amount of food can seem like both a lot of food and not much. It’s an odd phenomena because when you start to eat clean you realise how relatively few calories are in most things. An apple and a handful of almonds is two hundred and four calories – or roughly a tenth of what most adult men will need to consume in a day. A Snickers bar and a can of Coke is six hundred and twenty-seven calories – this is nearly a third of a normal calorie intake for a forty-year old office worker. So you actually can be quite full on a relatively small amount of food. However, it’s still likely going to be less than what you’ve been used to thanks to stretching your stomach out eating from too much. That will fix itself within a short time frame, and the new food amounts won’t leave you feeling hungry.
How much can you change just from this one element alone? One of my clients just lost three kilograms in his first week of really watching his food. When was the last time you lost three kilograms in a week and knew you could keep it off?
Food is usually the biggest hurdle to tackle when to comes to weight loss but it’s by no means the only roadblock. Did you know that getting less than six hours of sleep per night doubles your chances of both having a heart attack as well as being obese? In these days of everyone wanting to show how busy they are sleep often gets left out. “Sleep when you’re dead” is the cry, except usually it’s made by unhealthy people holding themselves together with sugar and coffee. You may be able to hold the back the bursting dam that way for a while but sooner or later those flood gates will open and the crash will be massive. Your mother was right – you need eight hours of sleep per night. As a sign of how powerful sleep is when I trialled the 28 Day Challenge program for the first time the client didn’t want to address food. But by getting more sleep, drinking more water, and walking each day he managed to drop twenty kilograms. Pretty nice to lose weight while you’re sleeping, right?
I just mentioned walking, and it’s value can’t be underestimated. The human body is a little bit like a shark’s in that we are designed to move a lot. Far more than many of us do in modern life. It’s estimated that foraging for food took between five and eight hours a day, totally fifteen to eighteen kilometres of movement. That sounds like a fair bit more than most of us get, right? Now I know most people can’t find the time in a day to move for five hours, but adding in a single thirty to sixty minute walk daily can make a tremendous difference. I’ve seen studies on a single outdoor walk daily leading to improved mood, work function, lowered stress levels, and of course, lower body fat. Walking is such a powerful tool in the fitness arsenal it’s even been linked to decreased risks of Alzheimer’s. If you walked an hour a day for a month, with no other changes to your diet, training, or lifestyle you’d lose one kilogram of fat each month.
The guys in the 28 Day Challenge are usually surprised that out of all the elements involved that they enjoy the walking the most. It’s a great time to get some alone time, as well as gain all those other benefits. And who doesn’t want to lose a kilogram of fat in a month?
By now you’re probably wondering what is wrong with me? I’m known for my hard and complete training programs, yet I haven’t mentioned training at all. Instead I’ve written about walking, sleep, food, and underlying psychological traits. The thing is that while training is important, it is just the fuel. Lifestyle – food, sleep, and your daily movement habits – are the spark. A jerry can full of petrol might be dangerous if it’s on top of a spark, but left alone without any way to ignite it it’s harmless. We clearly need both but there is no point in worrying solely about the training – as most plans do. When you make it all about the training you’re focusing on less than one hour a day to get healthier. That’s the time you’ll take to train. Instead, if you focus on sleep, food, walking, and the rest of your lifestyle you’ll be living a healthy lifestyle twenty-four hours a day. When you add the training onto that twenty-four hour mindset, don’t you think it will be more successful?
As the guys in the 28 Day Challenge will tell you, it’s amazingly successful. The training plan within is less than an hour a day. In fact, it works out to about four and a half hours each week. But it doesn’t need to be huge because we’re living that twenty-four hour fitness lifestyle. When we add the fuel on top of the killer spark we’ve got it doesn’t just flicker and go out, like most fitness plans do. It explodes with results. In fact, I’ve never seen anything get results as fast as the 28 Day Challenge does for men over forty. The average result from guys who finish the program would be between four and six kilograms of fat loss. They usually report better sleep, less work stress, and energy levels through the roof thanks to a carefully constructed, well-balanced plan. (They also usually report back to getting more action from their wives too!)
So my real question is are you losing four to six kilograms of fat in a month and feeling better? Or are your results less, and is it leaving you tired and beaten?