Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Men in their 40s: what changes & how to fix it

This is no time to slow down

During your 40s, you realize that your body's warranty has indeed expired. And you could probably use a little body work. "All my buddies are getting fat," says 48-year-old Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist at Northeastern Texas Community College and author of Athletic Abs: Maximum Core Fitness Training. Your 40s are also when you've established your career a bit, so you can leave the late-night duty to junior staff. For the first time since college, you have a little discretionary time. You've earned 3 hours of workout time during the week and a longer session on the weekends. No excuses. Your body needs the work right now; delay isn't an option.

Change #1: The Incredible Shrinking Man

For most men in their 40s, height begins to decrease. "Disks in the spine are fluid filled, like shock absorbers," says Seabourne. "But as you grow older, they act more like dried-out sponges." By the time you hit 60, you'll likely have shrunk by 1 1/4 inches.

The fix Stand and sit up straight. Seabourne says posture is more important now than ever. Imagine you have a string pulling your body up from the top of your head: shoulders back, head up, spine neutral. "That'll keep those disks healthy. And you'll appear thinner and taller because your posture will be better," he says.

Lengthen and strengthen. Developing the muscular endurance of your core is essential to maintaining good posture, says Seabourne. The key is to lengthen your spine through stretching, and strengthen your abs and lower back. Try to do this exercise at least once every day:

The Yoga Pose: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands against the small of your back. Inhale as you slowly lift your chest. Exhale as you stretch, slowly tilting your head back and gently pulling your elbows toward each other. Remain in this position and let gravity stretch you into the natural arch of your back. Do this for 3 to 8 seconds. Try it between sets of your weight workout.

Change #2: Sore Subject

Whatever your sport, you have to prepare your body to perform. Lots of middle-aged weekend warriors come home with injuries like torn hamstrings, sprained ankles, or worse.

The fix Feel the flow. Seabourne says a short warmup--8 to 10 minutes of light cardiovascular work--starts the flow of synovial fluid, a natural lubricating solution found in joints. It also elevates your core temperature so your muscles are more elastic and you have less chance of injury.

Change #3: Age-Old Problems

As your personal odometer ticks upward, your risks of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure also go up. You owe it to yourself and your family to stick to an exercise program--the best way to dodge heart and head bombs. But to keep in the game, you have to prepare your body to perform. The day after exercise, you want to feel a pleasant soreness, not debilitating injuries.

The fix Find a trail. A study of nearly 11,000 Harvard alumni found that a brisk 30- to 60-minute walk 5 days a week cuts stroke risk by 24 to 50 percent.

Keep track. Get credit for every step you take with the Garmin Foretrex 201 ($180), which keeps track of your speed, distance, and pace. Don't worry ab0ut getting lost; the built-in GPS will guide you back home again. (In your 40s, your memory declines as well.)

Change #4: Less Muscle = More Fat

"After age 30, you lose about half a pound of muscle per year--if you're sedentary--which turns into 2.6 pounds of fat per year, just because of metabolic slowdown," says Seabourne. In that trade-off, everybody loses.

The fix Eat six small meals daily instead of three big ones. It'll keep your furnace stoked, making it burn fat more efficiently. It'll also boost HDL (good) cholesterol and cut LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Add a pound of muscle. Muscle tissue needs more calories for maintenance and rebuilding processes than fat tissue does. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn--even at rest. "Gain just 1 pound of muscle, and that's an additional 50 calories you'll burn each day," says Seabourne.

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