'I was forced to completely rethink how I exercise in my 40s. I wish I'd done it sooner.'

There’s no denying that as we get older, our bodies don’t bounce back like they used to. 

Take me, for example. I’m 41 and in the first half of this year, I suffered a Grade 2 (pushing a 3) calf tear. It happened in a dance class, something I’d gotten back into earlier in the year because it brings me so much joy. 

There I was, bouncing around to Doja Cat’s 'Boss Bitch', having the time of my life, right until I very much wasn’t.

As I hobbled out of the class with shooting pain surging through my right calf, I had to admit that I felt anything but a boss bitch. I had taken a sharp turn into sad hag territory – not exactly the vibe I was going for, but I digress.

The next three months involved a moon boot, crutches and a hell of a lot of physio.

Emily and the moonboot. Image: Supplied.


As time passed and my calf healed, I slowly returned to my usual exercise routine. This involved what I can see in hindsight was a somewhat chaotic mix of reformer pilates, HIIT, yoga, swimming, jogging and walking. I’d only been back at it for a couple of weeks when I did something to my rotator cuff with a kettlebell that required five trips to the osteo in two weeks, and more time out of action.

Needless to say, at this point, I knew something had to change.

What am I doing differently now?

Watch: Superwoman is dead. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

My husband had recently read Peter Attia’s book, Outlive, and suggested I try Attia’s training program, which is centred on exercising for longevity and sustainability.

Considering where I was at, this seemed sensible. So a couple of months ago I started a weekly plan, mostly focused on strength training and Zone 2/low intensity, steady state cardio using an air bike.

Depending on time, I might also throw in an interval session on the bike where I hit my maximum heart rate for repeated short bursts, or an online yoga class. Overall, it's a lot lower impact than I’m used to, which made me a little dubious to begin with. 

It’s probably worth pointing out here that for the past 20 years, I’ve exercised fairly regularly – first and foremost, for my mental health. For me, exercise has always been the best tool I have for managing my anxiety and making me feel better.

Likewise, I’m fortunate to have a basic gym set up in our garage where I do all of this. Having easy access to fitness is obviously a privilege and one I don’t take for granted. Oh, and also? This is what a good week looks like for me. Of course, there are many weeks that I just can’t get through all this and in those cases, I just pick up from wherever I left off.

So, what have the results been like?

Since starting this new program, I’ve had a lot fewer injuries, niggles and visits to the physio and osteo – I haven’t actually been to either since I began. I also feel like I’m getting better results, particularly from the strength work, which I’m getting a little hooked on. There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to lift heavier and heavier weights each week.


And my biggest takeaway, in a nutshell, is that less really is more. This has been a huge epiphany to me. So much so, it makes me feel like I’ve finally cracked the fitness code, at least as it pertains to me.

Like a lot of people, I spent many of my younger years thinking exercise equated to hour-long high-intensity cardio sessions – think Les Mills Body Attack or whichever workout class was in favour at the time.

I firmly believed I had to end up red-faced and dripping in sweat every time I exercised or it didn’t count. This new program has turned all that on its head. I don’t feel like I’m going to my edge every time I train, but I’m getting great results and I’m missing fewer sessions because the recovery time is a lot lower. This feels revolutionary to me and it seems I’m not the only one.

In a recent interview with ELLE magazine, Jennifer Aniston shared that she’s recently come to a similar conclusion. Like me, Aniston, was forced to rethink how she trains following a back injury.

On dialling down the cardio, she said: “What’s changed for me in a big way was, if I didn’t get that five-to-six day a week workout in and it wasn’t a good solid hour of sweating, I’d feel I’ve failed myself. So it’s all this dialogue that we have to shift and change… Your body just doesn’t need to work that hard.”


Health and fitness coach Danny Kennedy says this is something he comes across regularly with clients. “It's definitely a mindset that a lot of people have… more often than not it’s females coming from a background of a lot of cardio-based classes and thinking that in order to see better results, they just need to do more and more and more.

"Eventually, people come to realise that they can see better results and enjoy the process a lot more by focusing on quality rather than quantity. It then tends to become a lot more sustainable and a lot better for the body… You don’t need to train like an Olympic athlete.”

Ben Lucas, Owner and Director of Flow Athletic has seen the shift first hand at his Paddington gym in Sydney. “We turned a HIIT room into a reformer pilates room 12 months ago and it has gone absolutely gangbusters. Our lower intensity classes… where you're still getting a good workout but you're not thrashing yourself have picked up exponentially.”

So the big question for me is, how should we be approaching midlife fitness? 

For sustainable, long-term results, Kennedy recommends prioritising the following in your training routine: 

  • Enjoyment: “The first most important thing is following an approach that you genuinely look forward to. There are so many different ways to train and the way that’s most optimal 'on paper' may not be optimal for you if it's something that you genuinely dread every time you do it.”

  • Resistance/strength training: “The second thing is resistance training and lifting weights. Whether you're in your 30s, 40s or 50s, it really does come down to 'use it or lose it'. The more muscle tissue that you can have, the better it's going to be for reducing the risk of injuries and joint pain. You should be aiming to do at least one to two resistance sessions per week.”

  • Cardio: “If cardio is something that you enjoy, then do it, but in general, I recommend just trying to keep your non-exercise related activity as high as possible – things like walking and just staying active.”

Lucas agrees that resistance training with a progressive overload approach – where you're adding a little bit of intensity every week – is key. He adds that regular low-intensity, steady-state cardio is also important but overall, consistency is more important than intensity.


Both Kennedy and Lucas add that overdoing high-impact activity is generally best avoided as you reach midlife, predominantly due to the risk of injury. (See: my own aforementioned experiences...)


Lucas’ main advice for people who haven’t trained in a while is to ease yourself into it. 

“I get clients in their forties and fifties that haven't done anything for five, 10, 20 years, wanting to jump back into what they were doing when they were 20 and unfortunately, the body just doesn't like that. Start with lower intensity and then move into the higher intensity. Even when you do get up to that level, I would still do less total high intensity training because you just don't need it.”

While I’m not quite sure if I’ll return to my joy-filled dance class yet, I do feel certain that I’m finally on the right path with my training. If anything, I only wished I’d figured this out sooner. 

Likewise, as Aniston commented, “I think the big thing is – I wish I’d known this 20 years ago – that you don’t have to break your body.”

And if it’s a fitness approach good enough for Jen*, you can bet it’s good enough for me. 

*This is not to say that you should be taking health and fitness advice from Jennifer Aniston or other celebrities. It is highly recommended that you consult a health or exercise professional before commencing any new fitness program. 

Emily McGrorey is a full-time reader, part-time procrastinator and freelance writer. She lives on Awabakal Land/Newcastle. You can follow her on Instagram here.

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