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Fitness for a Lifetime

How much exercise - and what kind - do you need for lifelong fitness?

Your 40s

Although she may still feel as powerful and energetic as she did in her 20s and 30s, by the time a woman hits her 40s, her body begins to change. One of the most significant changes is a decrease in hormones that not only affect bones and heart health, but also weight.

So your main fitness goals this decade are to build muscles, protect bones, condition your heart and control your weight. The best place to start: Strength training.

"This can help you build new muscle, which in turn will burn more calories and help control weight," says Calabrese. "It can also help put stress on your bones, which will encourage the growth of new bone cells."

She reminds us that "a woman loses at least 5 to 7 pounds of muscle every decade, and that loss begins as early as the 20s." Strength training is one of the only ways to compensate, she says.

Among the best strength-training workouts, she says, is lifting weights. And she advises you to do your lifting while standing, not sitting: "This gives you an added edge and turns a muscle-building exercise into a bone-strengthening exercise."

If you spend a lot of time in high heels, or if you're concerned about knee problems, your workout should include exercises to strengthen your thigh muscles, or quadriceps, says Litman, a rheumatologist.

"If you start in your 30s and 40s to keep these muscles aligned and strong, you will avoid many mobility problems in your later years," says Litman, a clinical assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

One of the best ways to strengthen quad muscles, she says, is to ride a stationary bike -- and you can get results from just 10 minutes twice a week. Don't have a bike handy? Litman says you can get similar results by sitting in a chair, then standing up, 20 times -- using only the power of your legs to lift your body.

"I always encourage my patients in their 40s to start protecting their knees with the quad workouts, especially if they have a family history of knee problems," says Litman.

In terms of cardio workouts, Carmichael says, it's safe to continue the routines you started in your 20s and 30s. This can include any form of activity that gets your heart beating faster -- like power-walking on a treadmill or doing step aerobics -- at least twice a week.

To get the most benefits from these workouts in your 40s, Carmichael suggests, work out shorter but harder.

"Studies show if you cut down on duration but increase intensity after age 40, you get more benefits than if you do that before age 40," says Carmichael. "The cardiovascular benefits will increase and that can help reduce the onset of hypertension."

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