Is cardio ruining your weight loss efforts as a woman in your forties? Here’s the truth about cardio and its effect on your body.

Plenty of women in their 40s and 50s have tried cardio as a way to lose weight and tone up. Yet, something we see time and time again with our clients is women who are doing intense cardio sessions every week… but not reaching their goals. They’re working really hard, but seeing no results in the mirror! This can be incredibly frustrating.

They might be going jogging every week, sweating buckets, then stepping on the scales and seeing zero movement. Or perhaps they’re jumping around and ending up with sore knees, hips and backs… which can lead to long term injury.

A lot of the time, these women are worrying that nothing is going to get them the body they want. They think that the extra weight around their middle is just part of the “ageing process.”

The reason this happens is simple; the truth about cardio is that it is NOT the ideal way to drop a dress size when you’re over forty.

In our recent podcast episode, we explain the truth about cardio. Plus, we reveal the exercise plan we use with our clients to help them drop 2 dress sizes, feel AMAZING in all their clothes and regain their confidence in just 12 weeks!

What is cardio?

Cardio counts as any activity where the primary focus is raising your heart rate. There are a few different types:

  • Low intensity steady state
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • High intensity interval training
  • Body pump
  • Spinning
  • Joe Wicks

The purpose of cardio is to improve your heart health and your performance at a particular activity (e.g. running, cycling, swimming).

It can work really well for a certain purpose and person! Usually, it works for those who are younger with very little to no weight to lose.

Now, we’re not saying it never ever works for a women in their 40s or 50s. There are cases where it can work, however the truth about cardio is that it’s not the easiest way to lose weight. It can actually lead to very poor results for the majority of women we work with.

Why doesn’t cardio work for women over 40?

High intensity cardio spikes cortisol levels, which can block weight loss efforts. Women’s bodies change with age, and not just due to menopause! This is something a lot of mainstream plans don’t take into account.

The way the body deals with stress changes for women when they’re over forty years of age. You can read more about this in our blog post on cortisol, but essentially this can be really negative if it’s high for a long period of time. It leads to:

  • Leptin resistance: causing increased cravings, especially for comfort foods
  • Insulin resistance: which makes it harder to lose weight, especially from around the middle
  • Thyroid deregulation: aka a slower metabolism!

This stress response increases with age, so the amount of stress the body can handle reduces over time before these problems occur.

What’s more, for women, this stress response increases three times more with age than for men.

Plus, HIIT training puts a lot of stress on the body, which can make it much harder to lose weight – especially when your life is already pretty stressful.

The majority women we work with inside our Fit Over 40 program:

  • Have a stressful high-pressure job
  • Have the responsibility of looking after the family

HIIT training on top of all that is going to mean you’re flooding the body with cortisol 24/7… and weight loss is going to be much harder!

If you’re going through menopause, this effect will be even more significant.

Most forms of cardio are hard on the joints

Running puts around four times your weight through each knee, meaning that if you weigh 12 stone, you put nearly 50 stone through each knee when running!

Many exercises in HIIT workouts involve jumping up and down or doing dynamic movements like jump squats, burpees and tuck jumps. And for anyone, this is always going to carry a higher risk of injury than slow, controlled exercises.

Plus, for women over 40 in particular who may already be dealing with joint issues (many of the women we work with struggle with knee, back hip or shoulder problems)… many types of cardio carry an even greater risk of injury!

The problem with getting injured is it puts the brakes on your fitness plan, and therefore your results.

Not only that, but if you injure your lower body, you might also have to reduce your overall activity level. This means you’ll use less calories throughout the day and be more likely to gain weight if you eat too much.

Cardio burns muscle (especially longer durations)

Muscle is what makes you feel firm, toned and youthful. It:

  • Lifts your bum
  • Firms up your arms, legs and stomach!

It’s something that’s more easily lost when older, and it can be much harder to build. Having more muscle also increases your metabolism, making it much easier to maintain and lose weight.

So, having muscle is important! Especially if you want to lose weight and maintain a leaner figure with ease. However, most forms of cardio don’t strive to build muscle. In fact, many actually burn muscle for energy!

Longer durations of cardio, which are over 30 minutes especially, will make you feel more flabby and less toned. They’ll slow down your metabolism and accelerate ageing, which can have negative impacts on women over forty.

What’s the solution?

The solution is to do the right type of exercise for you.

The truth about cardio, like HIIT and high-impact training, is that it puts a lot of stress on the body and your joints. This is fine if your life is very relaxed and easy, especially if you’re in your 20s and 30s.

However, after turning forty, it’s very important to keep stress levels under control if you want to lose weight.

It’s also important to do something that builds muscle, rather than burning it, to keep you feeling toned and youthful and to keep your metabolism high!

Therefore, it’s better to focus on exercise that will still get good results, but that does it without spiking stress hormone levels too high or burning through your muscle.

Focus on low-impact strength training

Low-impact strength training (LIST) involves lifting weights in a controlled manner. This still burns calories like other forms of exercise, but it also has a number of added benefits!

It keeps stress hormone levels low, so that your body is kept in a state where it’s easier to lose weight. Plus, it increases your muscle mass, which means you’ll feel firm and toned, as well as increasing your metabolism! It also helps to increase your bone density which helps to combat osteoporosis.

Doing this 3-4 times per week consistently is the key to seeing amazing results in the mirror for women in their 40s and 50s!

We do this for clients inside our Fit Over 40 program and they typically lose 1-2 stone every 12 weeks!

If you’re interested in finding a long-term, sustainable diet designed for women over 40, you can find out more about working with us here!

Snacks to lose weight