“I’m going on holiday in a couple of weeks, so I need to get to the gym”. Or “I’ve just signed up for six boot camp classes this week, so by next month I’ll be in amazing shape!” We’ve all heard sayings like these, and perhaps said them ourselves. But how often does it actually pan out that way?
Because despite the promises, there is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to fitness and health – especially if you’ve been inactive for a while. So how long does it actually take to transform your strength, fitness and physique? And more importantly, what’s the best way to go about it?
The good news is studies show it’s never too late to take up exercise and eating well – even after years of inactivity, it quickly pays dividends. One study found getting fit in middle age halves the risk of suffering a stroke later in life and men who start getting fit in their forties and fifties can see their stroke risk drop to levels seen among those who had exercised throughout their youth.
However, avoid the quick fixes which are demanding, miserable to go through and, crucially, not sustainable. The general rule of thumb is that the more extreme the exercise or diet approach, the greater the likelihood that you’ll gravitate back to where you started in a matter of weeks. So avoid an all-or-nothing approach, and instead find a way of exercising and eating you can easily and happily sustain, which will keep you in shape all year round.
So how long does it take to lose fat? Everything from your hormones to neurologic system and signals adapt to every little change in your diet and exercise routine. People often do drastic things in the short term like severely cutting calorie intake or “smashing” multiple hour long HIIT (high intensity interval training) classes every week. But this puts a lot of stress on the body, potentially doing more harm than good.
Your body reacts by lowering its BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – the number of calories you burn at rest) which means you may lose weight in the short term, but as soon as you go back to eating normally you can often put on even more weight than before.
When it comes to improving strength and increasing muscle – something you want to do in midlife to counter the fact that muscle mass naturally declines with age – low fat diets work against you by decreasing your body’s ability to synthesise new, metabolically active muscle. It will also reduce your overall energy which will make your workouts feel harder.
It’s also important to remember your muscles don’t get stronger or faster during your workouts, but rather you get fitter between sessions because your muscles repair and adapt to the stimulus. So if you go from doing nothing, to training five or six times a week, you aren’t going to give your body the time to appropriately recover, which is counter productive.
So how long does it take to lose weight and get fit in midlife? The quick answer is around three months of eating whole foods, cooked from scratch, coupled with consistent, intelligent training and proper recovery. However, this is completely dependent on the individual and the more unfit you are to begin with, the more profound your results will be.