How to Build Muscle Tone in Women After 40

Exercising with a buddy can help you stay motivated.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, women tend to gain the most weight in their lives in the years leading up to menopause. During those years, muscle mass naturally decreases in a process called aging sarcopenia, and you’re especially susceptible to weight gain if you’re not very active. You may find that your bones and muscles seem weaker, your skin begins to sag and your weight distribution shifts. While those effects are natural, you can combat them with a regular exercise plan, good nutrition and healthy habits.

Exercise Types

Although many women prefer aerobic exercise to weight training, both strength and cardiovascular exercises are necessary to effectively tone muscle and fight age-related weight gain. Aerobics are important because they burn more calories on a short-term basis, which encourages weight loss and weight maintenance; resistance training is the key to building lean muscle mass, which burns more calories than fat when the body is at rest.

How to Exercise

To maintain a healthy weight, tone muscle and improve bone health, aim to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations for physical activity. The ACSM suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise that includes two or three resistance training workouts. Simple aerobic choices include biking, jogging, dancing, step aerobics, swimming or using a treadmill or elliptical. When you lift weights, do two to four sets of each exercise with 10 to 15 reps in each set. Start with light weights and work up to heavier dumbbells as you get stronger. Try presses, rows, curls, lifts and ab work. Weight bearing exercises, in which your body weight is used as resistance, are especially helpful at maintaining muscle mass and proper bone density. Try pushups, pullups, squats, lunges and situps.


How you eat is just as important as how you exercise. Reduce or eliminate processed foods, refined sugar and foods high in saturated fat. Instead, focus on getting plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats into your diet. Choose foods that have a low energy density, meaning they provide a maximum amount of vitamins and minerals with a low calorie count per serving. You may also need to eat less to maintain your weight. The Mayo Clinic suggests that as women enter their 50s, they need about 200 fewer daily calories than they did in their 30s and 40s.


The healthiest way to exercise is to ease into any new activity. If you aren’t used to working out regularly, build up slowly and start with short sessions. Get approval from a doctor before beginning any exercise plan, especially if you have a medical condition. Finally, keep in mind that outside factors, such as stress and the amount of sleep you get, can influence weight gain. If you notice significant and unexplained weight gain as you enter middle age, see your doctor.

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