Getting fit in midlife: how long does it really take?

“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.

Here are my 5 tips for midlife fitness:

Eat real food
Eat what nature has given us. In other words, plants, fruits, roots, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, milk and its by-products, cheese and yogurt. Real food is as close to its natural state as possible. It comes from animals that have led healthy, happy lives and that haven’t been pumped full of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Food should be minimally processed and certainly shouldn’t have a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Cook from scratch
There is no better way to take control of your health than learning to cook from scratch. It means you’ll be eating fresh ingredients, with no hidden salt or sugar, and you’re in complete control of what goes into it.

Try my 2 Meal Day
Intermittent fasting can improve energy levels, cognition and body composition. The 2-Meal Day is a very simple way of keeping your diet in check without counting calories or tracking nutrients. All you need to do is push your first meal to later in the day. Just make sure you don’t make these common intermittent fasting mistakes.

Change your focus
Obviously looking fit is great, can help boost your confidence and overcome any insecurities. However, lots of the common problems people encounter with exercise – such as imbalances, injuries, a lack of mobility and motivation – are often a result of making aesthetics their only goal. Putting how you look rather than how you feel at the core of your training programme can be counter-productive, especially if injury breaks your routine and leads to extended periods of inactivity. So instead, celebrate what your body can do and remember that strength and mobility are gifts that don’t last forever.

Make it a way of life
You can do this by making the previous four steps a way of life. Don’t push yourself too hard, or deprive yourself, but rather nourish your body properly and start getting stronger, faster and fitter. Once you start to see a difference, you’ll start to enjoy the process and you’ll never look back.