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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Over 40, Fit, and Ready to Bare Arms

From toned arms to trim ankles, celebs and other high-profile older women show off top physical forms. Why not the rest of us?
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Let's Get Real continued...

Bottom line: the muscles in your arms and elsewhere may look good, she says, but not like they're 30 again.

And, as active as a 40-, 50-, or 60-something might be, Bairey Merz says, it's a good bet they're still not as active as active 30-somethings who are often running after children in addition to squeezing in formal workout time.

On average, older women tend to have more overall body fat than do younger ones, she says. "The average 50-year-old woman has gained 20 or 30 pounds since the age of 20, is much less physically active, and is well on their way to sarcopenia,'' she says. Sarcopenia refers to the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength.

Hormonal factors come into play also, Bairey Merz says. An older woman has less estrogen than a younger woman. That means less estrogen is converted to testosterone, which is crucial for muscle-building. "You will have to work harder [when you are older] to maintain the same muscle mass."

Of course, she says, there are exceptions.

How Much Is Too Much?

The recent Madonna photo showing her veins bulging from toned arms sparked alarm from some trainers, who said she may be overdoing the training. But others say they can't judge from the picture.

''She has a very low body fat percentage," Matthews says, judging from photos. ''Athletes have 14% to 20% body fat,'' she says. Doctors don't want women to go below 10% to 13% body fat, although experts tend to disagree slightly on these numbers, she says.

Matthews estimates that Madonna's body fat is possibly in the 10% to 13% range.

Bairey Merz guesses that Madonna has a very low amount of fat directly beneath the skin, called the subcutaneous fat, making the veins more visible. Most people have a layer of fat between the skin and the muscle, she says.

Gregg Miele, a Beverly Hills, Calif., personal trainer who has worked with celebrities such as singer Mary J. Blige and Ellen Pompeo of Grey's Anatomy, doesn't think Madonna has taken her workouts to dangerous extremes. He points to a photo of Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, whose 40-plus body looks ''ripped'' like Madonna's. Yet, he says, the swimmer's body doesn't draw the same criticism.

Miele does caution exercisers to be aware of clues to overtraining, such as aching joints, insomnia, decreasing immunity, and getting sick more often than usual.

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