Today I am 40. Can I also be fit? What does fitness mean, and how hard is it to get fit (and stay that way) at 40?

For the past week I’ve been tweeting daily fitness, health, and diet tips on Twitter (using the hashtag #fitand40). I introduced the idea on February 1:

GCDSpa has one more week to be 39, and I’ve decided this is the year: I’m gonna be #fitand40!! For the next 7 days I’m tweeting #fitand40 tips.”

That week of tweets pretty much exhausted my bag of tricks. Since most of you probably don’t follow me on Twitter, you haven’t been able to share your own tips about fitness, diet, and health with me. So I’m posting all of my tweets here, along with some extras that didn’t fit in my 140 character tweets. I hope you’ll share what you know, too, because I need all the help I can get!

Tip 1: The first thing I’m doing to be #fitand40 is joining the Small Plate Movement! Portion control made simple.

This tip may look overly simple, but it’s based on studies that show how the size of a plate determines how much food people serve themselves. Smaller plates = smaller portions, which leads to fewer calories and as much as 18 pounds lost over the course of a year. I’ve found that if I use a smaller plate it feels like I’m eating more, simply because the plate looks full. Simple but effective.

Tip 2: I’m working out at different times to see what works best for me to be #fitand40. Info on best time to workout.

In the past few years I have made an effort to exercise every day. Sometimes I work out in the morning (super because you can check it off the list first thing); other times I work out in the evening, right before dinner (also great because you get a burst of energy for evening work). My current favorite is noontime, just before lunch. I find that I need a break in the middle of the day, and my muscles are warmed up enough that I can push myself a little harder than I can in the morning.

There’s lots of research about the best time of day to exercise, but according to this article, there is no significant difference in the amount of muscle gain and strength between men working out in the morning vs. the night. The conclusion: consistent exercise is what’s important, so schedule it when you are most likely to keep doing it.

Tip 3: Today’s tip is just what I need since working out makes me FAMISHED: eat frequent, smaller meals through the day.

I also shared that Teri at BodySystems tweeted a blog post about this very subject: eat 5 times per day to lose weight. Basically eating more frequently keeps your metabolism going, as well as preventing those diet-busting cravings by keeping your blood sugar stable. The post also talks about what and when to eat to get the most fat-burning benefit. I like that there’s real science to back up my favorite way to eat, which is constantly!

Tip 4: Set concrete fitness/health goals. Saying that I want to “Get fit” isn’t enough. I need to be more specific!

I’ve started thinking of fitness the same way I think about lots of other things: if I want to see results and improvement, I have to set goals for myself. I’m still working on this part. Right now my goal is to exercise daily, increasing my time and the intensity of the workouts gradually. My goal for diet is to stop eating so much chocolate! That’s all I’ve got right now. I know, I know, I’m working on it! I think I’ll be revisiting this in future posts.

Tip 5: Push yourself to try new things & mix it up. Get off the treadmill and take a Pilates or yoga class.

Several years ago I took a few Pilates classes and noticed a huge change in my fitness. Walking on the treadmill or running outside were great, but adding in exercises to strengthen core muscles made a big difference to me.

I asked Maurine Joy, a Certified Power Pilates Trainer and a member of Pilates Method Alliance, what she would recommend for Pilates books or DVDs for beginners:
“If you’re just starting a new workout regimen I have a few recommendations. For seniors who want to tiptoe into this I recommend “A Morning Cup of Pilates,” a ’15 minute routine to invigorate the body, mind, and spirit.’ (This book includes an audio CD.) When I need to get a Pilates workout and don’t have much time, I pull out my “15 minute Everyday Pilates” by Alycea Ungaro P.T. It includes four -15 minute workouts (also available as podcasts). This book includes a fun invigorating workout DVD. Each DVD workout is displayed in the book in detail. This book gets 5 stars in my library of workout DVDs.”

Tip 6 is that it’s NEVER too late to fit in some physical activity, even if it’s stretches or crunches. Keep a mat by the TV!

Sometimes I don’t find the time to exercise until the evening, but even if it seems late I still try to fit something in. I have found that exercise wakes me up, and since I frequently work late, I often choose to do part of my daily exercise at night to help me stay alert a bit later. Even a few crunches or squats make a difference if you do them every day. Keep that mat handy!

Tip 7: Substitute low fat foods for butter or sour cream. Use low fat yogurt on baked potato. Replace 1/2 butter w/applesauce when baking.

This definitely deserves its own post at a later date. Due to some dietary restrictions, I’ve had to modify many recipes to reduce the fat content. I’ve found lots of stand-ins: For example, the part of sour cream is now played by fat-free yogurt in my house. (It’s delicious on baked potatoes, nachos, or stirred into soups.) When I bake cookies, I replace half of the shortening with applesauce, pumpkin or squash puree. My kids don’t feel deprived, and it’s also a great way to sneak extra veggies and fruits into them!

Bonus Tip: Be kind to yourself. I’m determined to push myself harder this year to achieve a higher level of fitness, but I also think it’s important to take a break every now and then. I’ll be doing that today by eating cupcakes and taking a trip to the spa! What do you do when you need to be kind to yourself? And what are your tips to help me get (and stay) fit at 40? Please share your thoughts!