The Times on Saturday: Your middle age health check

Peta Bee speaks to Lynne Cantwell regarding Pilates: The Times, 25th April 2015

In your thirties, within reason, you can eat and drink what you like; exercise when you want to; keep everything ticking along nicely. Turn 40 and your waist thickens, seemingly overnight. Back fat appears on women; moobs on men. Fine lines become deep grooves; muscles lose their tone. But some things get better. Sex can improve. Workouts can get shorter. And, with a little effort, you can be as fit as you were decades earlier. Indeed, in a recent study, Professor Stephen Harridge, director of the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College, reported that there was little physical difference between keen cyclists at 79 and at 55. The trick is to keep exercising.

Here are the rules for surviving advancing years. 11 things men should (and shouldn’t) do as they age

Lift weights. Studies have shown that middle-aged men who lift weights for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, may be able to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 34 per cent. The other benefit, of course, is that it keeps you toned and strong.

Swim regularly. “Swimming is a great form of aerobic exercise if you have painful joints or arthritis –the water acts as a giant, protective cushion for the body,” says trainer Matt Roberts. Different strokes work different muscle groups, so try to combine front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.

Take salt baths. Soaking in bath water containing salt could soothe knee and hip aches and pains, according to research by biologist Dr Vincent Compan. In his study, he found cells in the bodies of arthritis sufferers expand, but salt water can reduce the swelling by dehydrating them.

Beware the male menopause. Are you falling asleep after dinner? If yes, you could have low testosterone levels. Studies have suggested that as many as one in five men over 50 have, although some experts claim it is higher. Levels can be checked with a blood test. Dr Malcolm Carruthers, the founder of the Centre for Men’s Health, a Harley Street clinic that offers testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), says it can be treated with hormone injections. Alternatively, products such as Testogel or Androderm patches, applied daily, are available.

Don’t go barefoot. A lot of middle-aged exercisers have fallen foul of the trend for barefoot running or wearing “foot gloves” in recent years, says Matt Roberts. “My feeling is they do not offer enough support and can aggravate problems for middle-aged people with tight calf muscles, weak hamstrings or gluteal muscles or back tightness. You need a shoe with good structure and support.” Reduce your mileage. Findings presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference a couple of years ago suggested that regular running lowered the risk for mortality as long as no more than 20 miles were covered in up to 5 sessions a week.

Kick-start your fitness with a four-minute run. Norwegian researchers published a study in PLOS One that showed a single four-minute run at a hard pace performed three times a week was enough to boost health and fitness. After 10 weeks, subjects had improved their endurance capacity by 10 per cent and lowered their blood pressure.

Aim for at least four workouts a week. And not just for fitness gains. A study at the University of California looked at the sexual behaviour of two groups of middle-aged men. The first group did a 60-minute workout 3 to 4 days per week; the second group were sedentary. After 9 months, those in the first group reported a 30 per cent increase in the frequency of sex with their partners.

Eat two apples a day. Plus a daily portion each of vegetables and pulses. The high amount of soluble fibre in apples can strike a blow to abdominal fat, which is prone to settling around the organs in middle age, reported researchers in the journal Obesity. For every 10g increase in soluble fibre eaten, internal fat was reduced by 3.7 per cent over 5 years.

Take CoQ10. Dr Peter Langsjoen, a former cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Centre, recommends this supplement for boosting the heart health of middle-aged men. “It functions as an antioxidant, protecting against molecular damage and preventing the oxidation of cholesterol, something that is thought to play a role in clogging arteries and accelerating heart disease.”

Walk 20 minutes a day. Even if you do no other exercise, make this your goal. A Cambridge University study found that even this modest amount of activity prolonged life.

9 things women should (and shouldn’t) do as they age

Eat less. You need, on average, 145 fewer calories per day at 45 than you did at 25.

Drink more water. From 40 onwards, your kidneys are less efficient at conserving water, so you will get dehydrated more easily. Aim for 2 litres a day.

Check your bra size. Breasts alter with age. You may get away with it at 20 but, past 40, an ill-fitting bra will accentuate drooping. Get measured and fitted professionally.

Skip daily. Loss of bone mass accelerates around the menopause as levels of bone-protective oestrogen drop. Weight-bearing exercise helps to protect bones. Try a few minutes of skipping or 15-20 star jumps a day.

Don’t run marathons. Excessive amounts of endurance exercise can cause dramatic fat loss from the cheeks and give rise to the gym face – a gaunt, ageing look, says Dr Tracy Mountford of the Cosmetic Skin Clinic. “By all means run, but on softer ground to lessen the impact. And not excessively,” she says.

Do Pilates. From 60, you could start to shrink. By 80, many women are 3 inches shorter than they were in their thirties. “Pilates helps to counteract postural challenges that occur with age, strengthening muscles that leave you standing tall,” says Lynne Cantwell, a physiotherapist at Six Physio in London.

Target your middle. Female fat distribution changes most dramatically between the ages of 40-55, with many women finding they become a classic “apple” shape. It’s not good news – the more visceral fat (around the organs), the greater your risk of heart disease. High-intensity interval training-style exercise is best for banishing it.

Walk at least 2.5 miles a day (or 5,000 steps). A study of 6,000 women aged 65 and older at the University of California found those who covered that distance experienced a much slower decline in memory compared with those who walked less than half a mile a week.

Keep dancing. Get into the groove for 45 minutes twice a week and you will not only ease hip and knee stiffness, you’ll boost your mood, too.

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