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Midlife-What to Expect With Your Body and What Can You Do About It

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Midlife - What to Expect With Your Body and What Can You Do About It

Sure the body changes every day from when we are born, however midlife is where physical decline appears the most rapid.  The pace and timing of this rapid decline is determined by, genetics, disease, but also how well your health has been managed in earlier years.  However, rest assured unless you are extremely genetically gifted the following will happen:

 

Weight Gain

Weight gain as part of the ageing process is contributed to by the natural decline in resting metabolism, so unless calorie intake is reduced accordingly body fat will increase.   This is amplified by reduced activity as typically happens as one moves through midlife, with work and family pressures.

 

Capability to Maintain an Exercise Program

Midlife is a time when efforts should be made to prevent body weight getting out of hand, best approached by reducing calorie intake, particularly from high fat foods, and increase exercise, even if it is as simple as a daily walk.  The double edged sword of decreased aerobic performance caused by ageing and the progressive decrease of physical activity, as often happens in midlife,  can lead to the body condition getting out of control very quickly.  For most, a conscious effort must be made to manage body weight through the midlife years.    

 

Even if you were an avid exerciser in your earlier years the ability to maintain this into your forties and fifties is difficult.  This is partly because maximum heart rate decreases with age, we are all familiar with the rule of thumb (peak heart rate = 220 - age in years).  Whilst research suggests a dedicated mature man can exceed this heart rate benchmark, few men are able to.

 

Aging and Bones

There is a progressive decrease in the calcium content and a deterioration of bones with aging,  due to habitual decline in physical activity. 

 

Muscle Mass

Aging leads to a progressive decrease of muscle strength and flexibility.  Strength plateaus through 35 or 40 years of age, but declines approximately 25% by the age of 65 years.  Muscle mass decreases more prominently in the legs than in the arms, possibly because there is a greater decrease in use of the legs with aging. 

weightlifting is beneficial for older men

Regular load-bearing exercise can slow the loss of bone and muscle mass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flexibility

The elasticity of tendons, ligaments and joint capsules is decreased with age.  Adult men lose flexibility most commonly in the lower-back and hips. Loss of flexibility can and does greatly impact the quality of life, and can happen even as early as midlife, making normal tasks more difficult if not impossible to perform. 

Regular stretching though full range of motion has been proven to conserve flexibility longer in life. 

 

Aging and Disease

Midlife is the time when one starts paying for the excesses of earlier years, little or no exercise poor diet excessive drinking.   The main diseases and illnesses most commonly associated with aging males, such as

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Lung Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Diabetes

However, cardio vascular disease and type 2 diabetes are preventable, or at least the risks of suffering from them significantly reduced, by adopting a moderate exercise program and healthy diet.  Studies have shown the risk of suffering type 2 diabetes is reduced by 50% with moderate exercise of only 30 minutes per day.

 

Risks Associated with Exercise

The risk of a heart related problems is increased substantially during exercising.  If you have led a generally sedate lifestyle a medical check-up is advisable prior to taking up a vigorous exercise program, however small increases in daily activity should not be a problem. And in all cases of increased activity take it slow, you may think you are still in your 20s but increased exercise in midlife should allow for recovery, such as undertaking vigorous training on alternate days

Exercise cannot restore tissue that has already been destroyed, but it can help protect the individual against a number of the chronic diseases of old age.  More importantly, it maximizes residual function.  In some instances, biological age is reduced by as much as 20 years.  Life expectancy is increased, partial and total disability is delayed, and there are major gains in quality-adjusted life expectancy.  Exercise is thus a very important component of healthy living for the senior citizen

 

 

The Take Away

A conscious decision is necessary to manage and improve your health though middle age, as an ageing body is not able to accommodate the excesses that perhaps it could in earlier years.  Certainly as one moves in to their forties attention needs to be given to:

  • Closer control of your diet
  • Establishing a regular exercise regime if not already doing so

Neither of these can reverse damage already caused, but can certainly slow further degradation, and in most cases improve quality of life.    Midlife should be seen as an opportunity to do more, not less. Much of the physical frailty attributed to aging is actually the result of inactivity, disease or poor nutrition.

 

Diet and Nutrition

There is plenty of great websites for food and dietary advice.  The Australian Government Department of Health “Eat for Health” website (https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/)is a good place to start.  They are not suggesting anything radical, just simple small changes:

 

Consume Less Sugars (particularly processed sugars)

Simple steps like cut out the sugar added to coffee and tea, cut out soft drinks completely, read labels on you’re the foods you normally consume and avoid those high in sugar.  Obvious food items  high in sugars are most breakfast cereals (even those purporting to be healthy), and jams and spreads,  typically have almost 50% sugar.  If you are struggling to find a decent low sugar breakfast, try a high protein shake in the morning.  It will certainly keep you going longer without feeling hungry than high sugar cereals. No one is suggesting removing sugar completely, but a few simple changes in diet can make a big dent in your sugar consumption.

 

 

 

 

Consume Less Fats (particularly saturated fats) 

Consuming large amounts of saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease and should be reduced in your diet. Typically these facts are usually solid at room temperature and are found in: dairy foods such as butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese, fatty cuts of meat, processed meat, some plant-derived products such as palm oil, coconut milk and cream, margarine; many manufactured and packaged foods such as snack foods (such as potato chips, savoury crackers), deep fried and high fat take away foods (such as hot chips, pizza, hamburgers). 

Trans fats are in many packaged foods and also in butter and some margarines and act like saturated fats. They can increase levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreases the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in your body.

Not all fats are bad though.  Unsaturated fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.  Examples of these are oily fish, oils such as safflower and soybean oil, along with some nuts, including brazil nuts.  Other types of unsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds.

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in food, but also in our blood. Cholesterol has many important functions in the body but having high levels of the wrong type of cholesterol in the blood increases heart disease risk.

 

 

Consume Less Salt

Scientific evidence supports the findings that that a reduction in sodium intake reduces blood pressure, therefore cardiovascular.  Tests have shown that cutting back on salt intake reduced the risk of developing heart disease by 25%. Current recommendations on salt intake for adults is less than 6 g of salt (2300 mg of sodium) a day, about one teaspoon. 

While some medical research indicates that  salt may not be as big  a demon as it is made out to be (read Is Dietary Salt All That Bad?), there is some ways in terms of clinical trials to confirm these findings.  Until then limiting salt intake is still the current recommendation from medial authorities.

 

Consume Less Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can:

  • Interfere with the brains communication pathways, causing mood and behavioural changes, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. 
  • Cause  heart related problems leading to high blood pressure and stroke
  • Cause Liver and pancreas damage
  • Increase risk of developing certain cancer such as those located in  the  mouth , oesophagus, throat and liver
  • Weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. 

 

Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol, older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger, more noticeable from your mid to later fifties onwards.  If you have health problems or take certain medications, you may need to drink less or not at all.  Alcohol can also interact with many medications commonly prescribed for those in middle age, even common pain killers and sleeping pills.

 

You get the message.

 

 

Exercise

If you are middle aged and have not exercised regular recently, then it is strongly suggested you get a medical check-up before starting to exercise vigorously.   

Both aerobic and resistance training is important in middle and later life.  But there are a lot of options.  Gyms are good for keeping you focused.  However, as a middle aged person it can be difficult to walk in to a gym typically full younger clients, or hard-core bodybuilders.  Seek out gyms and training programs targeted for someone your age.  Every Australian city has some of these.  Or try to move your training times to off peak, even mainstream gym chains tend to be more middle-aged friendly if you can get a work out in during the day rather than the morning and evening peak times.  The gyms are less busy during these off peak times and often have lower rates.

If you have never exercised regularly this change in lifestyle will not come easily.  Exercise really needs to become part of your life, engrained as an essential element, and followed with an almost religious zeal.  Missing a couple of weeks can never be made up by trying to train harder when you finally go back.  

Finally, don’t forget that regular sleep is essential in rejuvenating the body, particularly if you commence an exercise program.

 

 

Disclaimer: The content of this article and other articles on this website are for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Please seek advice from a professional in the relevant field, in relation to any specific matter. Refer to the website Terms and Conditions. 

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