Getty ImagesNobody ages backward. Now that we have that unpleasant fact out of the way, let's get to some good news: You don't need to be a genetically blessed model or have a plastic surgeon on speed dial to keep your body in remarkable shape. Instead, just dive into the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth: fitness. With the right workout strategy, one targeted for your age and physiology, you can fight back against the inevitable slowdown, build muscle and keep your weight in a happy place. Whether you're blowing out the candles on your 30th-birthday cake or planning a big 5-0 bash, follow our decade-by-decade game plan—based on advice from scientists, nutritionists and fitness pros—to get the body you want right now.
Next Page: In your 30s [ pagebreak ]
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fitness-yoga , causing weight gain. If you skip out on strength training, you'll likely lose another 5 percent of your muscle mass, Westcott says. But (deep breath!) these are just "ifs" and general rules. In fact, the average age of female participants in the Ironman World Championship is 41.
Fitness game plan: While you need to continue with your cardio, strength training—any exercise that puts progressively greater force on your muscle and bone—is more important than ever for keeping muscle mass and bone density at their peak, and fending off unwanted pounds. Think gradually working up to heavier dumbbells or adding more reps of push-ups. "The key to a better metabolism is breakdown and repair of muscles," Westcott says. The moves in our Ultimate Metabolism-Boosting Workout (page 44) are the perfect combination of cardio and resistance work.
Test yourself! To check your overall body strength, get in the plank position. You should be able to hold it for at least 60 seconds. If you're in your 30s, raise the benchmark to 70 seconds. If you're in your 50s, lower it to 50 seconds. Retest yourself every four weeks after starting a strength program to see how your results improve.
Nutrition game plan: Don't cut your calories any further. But do aim for balance in your meals, advises Sass, by focusing on foods rich in good carbohydrates (like fruit and whole grains), lean protein (fish, yogurt and beans) and healthy fat (avocado, nuts and olive oil). The carbs will give you the fuel you need to stay energized all day, while the protein and fat will help you heal and maintain the muscle that's so crucial to maximizing your metabolism in your 40s, Sass adds.
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fitness-thai-chi . Lack of estrogen has also been linked to weight gain, especially around the abdomen. Then again, there are ways to maintain your fit body—just ask marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, 56.
Fitness game plan: Turn to a combination of regular walking, strength training and stretching to keep yourself lean and strong—and safe, since in the next couple of decades, balance issues can lead to injuries. "Stretching not only has an effect on flexibility but also builds muscle strength," Westcott says. Yoga's a great addition to your routine if you're not already into it: According to a study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, subjects between the ages of 45 and 55 who did yoga at least once a week for four or more years gained about 3 fewer pounds than folks who didn't hit the mat.
Test yourself! Stand with feet together, hands on hips. Place bottom of right foot on inner left calf, just below knee. Hold for as long as possible. Repeat on opposite side, then calculate your average hold time. If you can maintain the position for more than 50 seconds on average, you have excellent balance (woo-hoo!). If you crumble after 25 seconds or less, improve your time by incorporating yoga or tai chi into your weekly workout routine.
Nutrition game plan: You should keep aiming for that 1,500-a-day calorie count, and make sure you're eating enough protein. By the time you reach 50, you don't process it as well as you did in previous decades, Westcott says, so you have to exceed the recommended daily amount of 46 grams.
Here's more motivation to get it now: A study at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that eating 4 ounces of protein-rich food per meal (as opposed to eating 12 ounces all in one sitting) maximizes your body's muscle-building rate by up to 50 percent. Westcott recommends following up a sweat session with foods like chicken breast or chocolate milk. Turns out, a glass of red wine could help your anti-aging efforts, too. A recent study in the journal Menopause suggests that having one or two glasses a day may help slow bone breakdown. Cheers to that!
Next Page: Build up your willpower now [ pagebreak ]
Getty Images Build up your willpower now
In your 30s
Catch some z's. People who sleep less than five hours a night may be more likely to gain weight, research suggests, and it may be partially because we lose the willpower to stick to a healthful diet (and stay away from the vending machine) when we're tired. So make it a priority to get six to nine hours of quality time with your pillow tonight—and every night.
In your 40s
Know that you can do it. This can be a frustrating time as the pounds become harder to lose. "My research finds that believing weight is changeable (called an incremental mind-set) can help you overcome the mental challenges of dieting, including helping you cope more successfully with those inevitable setbacks," says Jeni L. Burnette, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond. End that "once fat, always fat" mentality, and you'll find it easier to make better food choices.
In your 50s
Start simple. Hormonal changes brought on by menopause can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, which can zap willpower. But just taking a brisk walk five times a week can help alleviate them, according to researchers at Temple University. After a few weeks, you'll be in a much better place to tackle those extra pounds—and you may even have lost a few already.