Male health through the decades

Every man’s exercise needs change throughout his life. With this in mind, here is a guide to the lifestyle actions and exercises that you’ll need to do in order to maintain your health during four important decades of your life — your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

Life in your 20s

Statistics show that 21% more men than women aged 16 to 24 are regularly active. Young men are generally more likely to be involved in sport than young women, and are more likely to have kept up an activity since school days. However, a gung ho approach can also mean that ‘action men’ put themselves at risk of sports injuries through failing to warm up, overdoing it and showing off! Also, those of you twentysomethings who aren’t healthy and active at this stage may well be getting away with it — at least aesthetically.

With an average of 12% less body fat than women, and a higher metabolic rate due to higher lean muscle mass, young men are less prone to gaining weight than women.

However, before you relax, bear in mind that bad health habits will be wreaking damage on the inside. Too much dietary fat, sugar and alcohol, as well as too few vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, can contribute to the furring of the arteries, reduced insulin sensitivity and fatty deposits around the internal organs. But the most important health decision you can make now is not to smoke, as it will become increasingly difficult to give up as you get older.

How can I maintain my health in my 20s?

If your current activity level involves walking to the bar or ripping the packaging off a ready meal, it’s time to wake up to reality. Heart disease is one of the biggest killers of men, and the evidence that a poor diet and insufficient physical activity are the prime causes is irrefutable. If you’ve had a bit of a break from exercise, do ease yourself back in slowly, allowing a period of weeks (not days!) to increase the volume of activity.

Always warm up before you step up the pace and consider adding some strength training to your regime to make muscles and connective tissues more robust. Even if you are regularly active, make warming up and stretching part of your routine and don’t ignore aches and pains or try to ‘work through them’. It’s much more sensible to take a few days off instead — and if the problem doesn’t go away, see a sports medicine professional such as a physiotherapist.

Vices such as smoking and drinking excessively can deplete your body of vitamins and minerals. Heavy drinking and smoking increase the need for the B vitamins and vitamin C, and may affect zinc absorption levels. These needs can be satisfied by eating meat, shellfish, dairy products and whole grains.

Drinking also increases the need for folate (which occurs in yeast extract, beans and pulses, breakfast cereals, liver, and wheatgerm) and magnesium (in whole grains, nuts and seeds). Smokers may want to up their intake of vitamin E (in vegetable oils, avocadoes, nuts and seeds), as well as stock up on watercress and broccoli, which are high in phenethyl isothiocyanate — a phytochemical that has been shown to reduce the risk of tobacco-induced lung cancer.

Life in your 30s

According to the Harvard Medical School, you're likely to lose five to 15% of your aerobic capacity for each decade after the age of 30. So the rot starts here! But, as the experts point out, exercise regularly and you can combat this natural decline. What’s more, being physically fit can dramatically reduce men's deaths from heart disease, even when cholesterol rates are high, according to research from Queen's University in the United States. Doing the equivalent of four to five 30-minute workouts per week was found to be sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.

Those of you who have been regular participants in sports or exercise for the past decade will be faring better than those who have only just decided to take action — but even regular performers may notice a slight decline in performance in the second half of your 30s, as maximal oxygen uptake begins to deteriorate.

How can I maintain my health in my 30s?

It’s all too easy to slip into an exercise comfort zone as you get older — but be prepared to step outside of it regularly. If you want to stay quick, Harvard Medical School recommends adding speed work to aerobic workouts. Using weights, two to three days a week, combats the natural loss of muscle mass as you age, too.

A recent study in Sports Medicine also found that weight training helps to stimulate the release of growth hormone, which regulates body fat storage — thereby keeping your beer belly at bay! Another wise course of action — not just to maintain performance but to stave off the risk of injury — is to build a strong core.

Life in your 40s

With your career reaching its peak, your free time limited, your kids growing up and your earning requirements spiralling, stress often reigns in this decade — and there is plenty of evidence that this contributes to the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. However, research has proven that exercise can help by giving you more energy, helping you become more ‘stress-resistant’, and allowing you to burn off tension and anxiety.

But many men are stuck in a catch-22 situation, where they simply don’t feel they have the time and energy to devote to workouts. However, even if you can’t find whole hours to spend at the gym, incorporating more activity into your daily lifestyle will help. Stop driving to work if you can use public transport and walk or cycle; stop working through your lunch break; and ensure that some of your family time is spent out doing active things, rather than slumping in front of the TV.

Doing exercise will also help to control your weight — and this fourth decade is the one in which men are most likely to gain weight as a result of fewer calories being burned and more calories being taken in. Added weight puts added stress on the heart and lungs, and on the weight-bearing joints of the knees, hips, ankles, and feet.

How can I maintain my health in my 40s?

Now is the time to take control of the stress factors in your life. If you don’t even have time to walk for 30 minutes on five days of the week, you really have to re-assess your work-life balance. And as outlined above, calorie-blasting activity doesn’t have to take place at the gym. Playing sports in the park, dog walking, or going on a family bike ride or hike will all help you burn more calories, get a break from daily stresses, and put a smile on your face!

Research from the University of Arkansas revealed that the amount of energy spent on daily activity accounted for 75% of the variability in body fat levels among subjects — so the more active you are, the less body fat you’ll have. The other thing to think about — even if you are a regular runner or cyclist — is flexibility. Muscles lose elasticity and the connective tissues around our joints thicken as we get older, leading to a reduced range of motion and a greater risk of stiffness, aches and pains — and injury. Stretching, rotating, bending and extending your joints regularly — along with activities such as tai chi, yoga and Pilates — can help to restore a good range of motion and suppleness.

Life in your 50s

According to Australian government statistics, men in their 50s are in the healthiest state they’ve been for decades. Perhaps with less need to ‘prove themselves’ in the workplace (or just giving up hope of a promotion!), and children growing up, middle-aged men are able to spend a bit more time on themselves and finally do something about that burgeoning waistline or high blood pressure problem.

At the VA Medical Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah, physically fit men in their mid 50s were compared to inactive men in their mid 20s. Amazingly, it was found that active older men have lower resting heart rates than younger men — 64 beats per minute versus 85 beats per minute for the younger men — as well as higher oxygen uptake during maximal exercise, and a better recovery heart rate one minute after exercise than men in their 20s. So whether you’ve been an active footy player, runner or gym goer for years or are just deciding it’s time to get fit, it isn’t too late to reap the benefits.

And it’s well worth doing so unless you want to end up housebound: in research from the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, the risk of walking difficulties was highest among men aged 40 to 64 who engaged in a fitness activity once a week, compared with men who got active at least three times a week.

How can I maintain my health in my 50s?

While as far as your heart health is concerned, cardiovascular exercise is the key. Resistance training is arguably as essential to good physical health in your later years as it is earlier in life. It strengthens your muscles and bones, and there are indications thatit is helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, as well as improving glucose uptake (thereby reducing the risk of diabetes) and strengthening the ligaments and tendons to reduce pressure on your joints.

In the past, people with high blood pressure, heart diseases and conditions such as arthritis were warned to avoid using weights, but researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Medical School found that weight training had no adverse effect on blood pressure or heart function. So get pumping!

You might end up with brains as well as brawn if you do: two recent studies found that vigorous workouts at least twice a week could reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 50% and Parkinson's by as much as 60 %. Resistance training — and weight-bearing aerobic exercise — will also help preserve bone density. Also, although the evidence isn’t conclusive, a study from UCLA in the United States found that a low-fat, high-fibre diet and regular exercise may help to prevent or slow the rate of growth of prostate cancer.

(, October 2012)

More from Realbuzz:

 Top 10 worst male health habits

10 foods all men should eat

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