It’s a fact of life that your body will change as you age. Below, we present to you every tool you’ll need to work with your evolving physical form, rather than against it, plus strategies to look after your mental health.
Your healthy future starts here.
20s: The decade to…build good habits
Nutrients to know: Calcium & Vitamin D
It’s never too soon to start thinking of your skeleton, says sports dietitian Renee McGregor. “Bone density increases until age 25 and then begins to fall.” Getting your 1000mg recommended daily intake of calcium is essential. While dairy is a solid source, so are tofu, legumes and seafood. Vitamin D strengthens your bones by helping your body effectively absorb calcium. While you should be able to get enough through sunlight, it pays to prioritise D-rich foods, such as oily fish, eggs and fortified products.
What you can (and can’t) get away with
To be clear, you’re not invincible. But during this decade, you might be more resilient than you think.
Regular heavy boozing
As your brain isn’t fully developed until your mid to late twenties, the potential for harm is significant, says neurologist Professor Frances Jensen. Habits form easily and binge-drinking (consuming a lot of alcohol in one session or continuously over several days or weeks) can harm development of brain regions involved in attention and memory. Aim for no more than four standard drinks (around four 100ml glasses of wine) in one session or 10 per week.
An erratic sleep schedule
“You tend to get more deep sleep when you’re younger,” says sleep researcher Dr Christopher Winter. So, the sleep you get will likely make up for any late nights, as long as you aim for seven hours per night on average. You can’t bank sleep for your thirties, so enjoy yourself now.
Out-training a bad diet
A poor lifestyle can lead to fat storage that even a Kayla Itsines’ level of training will have trouble shifting. But the comparatively high muscle mass and metabolic flexibility (that’s the ability to adapt to different diets) of women in their twenties means you can handle the odd trip to fast food joints.
Avoiding the dentist
Neglecting to book in dental check-ups now (coupled with frequent nights of crashing out before brushing) can prove a painful – and potentially pricey – mistake. Tooth decay can be permanent, but it’s also preventable. Book a check-up and hygienist appointment now and you should be OK – then be sure you keep your next appointment.
Though cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among South African women, a 2018 study found that fewer than 20% of women had ever had a Pap smear in their lives. “It’s so important that you attend your HPV cervical screening regularly from the age of 25,” says Dr Alex Eskander, a consultant gynaecologist. Women should have a pap smear at least every five to 10 years starting.
READ MORE: Millennials Are Turning 40, But How Healthy are They, Really?
30s: The decade to… optimise your prime
So your face has a few more lines, your hairline some silver intruders and your list of responsibilities… let’s not go there. But arm yourself with some essential skills and you’ll enjoy your best decade yet.
Support your fertility
If you’re looking to start a family now or later, there are practical steps you can take. Here, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Larisa Corda and nutritional therapist Melanie Brown walk you through the essentials.
Mind your movement
“Sitting down all day can reduce blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, so stand up as much as possible,” says Brown. Be careful about overexercising, too. “Exercising too intensely for too long can increase levels of cortisol in the body, which can be a barrier to conceiving.”
“This is essential if you’re looking to get pregnant,” says Dr Corda. Plot out your stressors on a page, then note the things you can’t control (an unwell parent, for example), the things you can take steps to address (long working hours) and the things you can fix without much hassle (too many plans).
Reach your body’s happy weight
“If you’re overweight or obese, take sustainable steps to reach a healthy weight,” advises Brown. “If you’re underweight, increasing your body fat will signal to your brain that your body can support a pregnancy.”
Eat for balance
“It’s important to consume enough complex carbs,” notes Brown, who points to research indicating that they promote ovulation. “You need good fats for fertilisation, and quality protein provides the building blocks to eggs.”
As the responsibilities start to bite in your thirties, you’re more vulnerable than ever to anxiety-based mental health problems, such as panic attacks. Use our expert-backed timeline to dial down the intensity.
0 to 3 mins
What’s happening: A panic attack occurs when the mind makes a negative interpretation of normal events. When your boss sets you an impossible deadline, for example, your hypothalamus activates your pituitary and adrenal glands, causing stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to flood into your system: the fight-or-flight response. The result? Shallow breaths, an accelerated heart rate and trembling.
Your defence: A US study found that refocusing the mind on simple tasks can calm you down. The solution can be as mundane as counting the number of tiles on your office ceiling until the panic passes.
3 mins to 2 hours
What’s happening: Adrenaline has a half-life of three minutes, so the initial panic soon passes – your breathing normalises and your heart rate falls. Cortisol, however, sticks around for longer. It can take two hours for your more chronic feelings of stress to subside.
Your defence: Take a 10-minute break and divert your attention to what’s around you, even if it’s just your neighbour taking the bins out. Your cortisol levels will fall and you can return to a more even keel. Ahhh…
What’s happening: Anxiety can easily extend beyond a specific stimulus and its chronic form can leave your hypothalamus in a state of constant agitation. It’ll keep releasing adrenaline and cortisol and, with levels set to surge at any point, the simplest upset can burst the dam.
Your defence: In severe cases, doctors may prescribe you anti-anxiety medication, along with beta blockers, to steady your heart rate. Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish can curb adrenal activation caused by stress and there are cortisol-slashing B vitamins in legumes, meat and eggs. Plus, a run produces mood-boosting endorphins while using up extra adrenaline.
Nutrient to know: healthy fats
Found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, mackerel and anchovies, they’re hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet, which studies suggest can reduce your risk of heart disease. That shoots up in your forties, so take pre-emptive steps now. Doubts remain about the effectiveness of supps, so stick to natural sources.
Nine in 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, so let doc know about any family history of ticker problems. “If anyone in your family has suffered heart failure under the age of 50, raise that with your GP, no matter your age,” cardiologist Professor Chris Gale tips. Consider a cholesterol and blood pressure check before you turn 40. The Heart Age Calculator at heartfoundation.org.au weighs up risk factors, such as weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking and alcohol intake.
40s: The decade to…secure your future
Your time feels increasingly like it’s not your own, but get things right with your health during your fourth decade and you’ll be set for life.
Your new fitness rules
1. Develop a good baseline
Increasing lean body mass by building muscle is a sustainable way to lose weight, if that’s your goal. So, become consistent with low-volume work. Aim for light weight or body weight exercises with higher rep ranges – 12 to 15 reps for two or three sets.
2. Engage before exercise
A key difference between your 20s and 40-plus years is you’ve had more time to develop the bad habits that can lead to injury. Always spend 10 to 15 mins warming up, stretching tight tissues (hip flexors and pecs if you sit often) and waking dormant muscles with resistance band drills.
3. Ramp up to muscle growth
After four weeks of low-volume work, you’ll be ready to accelerate strength building, performing eight to 12 reps per set – a range that will help you build muscle. Supersets and circuits can up the ante: pair, say, bench presses with 30 seconds of rowing to increase your heart rate.
What is the perimenopause?
The change before The Change, when your periods become irregular. You may experience fatigue, low mood and memory loss, thanks to a gradual decline in hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone. Perimenopause can begin as early as your late thirties.
How do I get through it?
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) “tops up plummeting hormone levels to reduce [symptom] severity, while mitigating long-term risks of low oestrogen levels, like osteoporosis and heart disease,” says specialist Dr Louise Newson. Taking MHT can look like a daily dose of progesterone and oestrogen in a tablet or in pessaries, creams and gels, applied topically.
Doesn’t that increase breast cancer risk, though?
Only by a tiny amount – less than that posed by drinking a couple of glasses of wine a night, says Newson. But the association, from a flawed 2002 study, leaves women hesitant. It’s worth noting leading gynaecologists believe benefits outweigh the risk.
How to lose weight at 40
While it’s true that long-time, ardent gym-goers can continue to get stronger and fitter in their forties and beyond, the physiological realities of this phase of your life stack the hot chips in favour of weight gain. A drop-off in testosterone makes it harder to maintain muscle mass, which, combined with the gradual slowing of your metabolic rate, causes you to burn far fewer kilojoules than you did in your youth. To reinvigorate your metabolism – as well as your excitement about training – start slow and stay consistent, in the gym and in the kitchen.
Nutrient to know: fibre
Increasing your fibre intake is a great way to keep you feeling full for longer. Plus, research shows it can significantly reduce your risk of bowel cancer – the third most common cancer in both men and women. There are plenty of delicious food sources beyond the ones you might expect – berries, mangoes, pears, kale, butternut squash and asparagus, to name a few.
Consider your type 2 diabetes risk and ask your doc about screening, regardless of your BMI. A third of people over 45 are prediabetic, and that includes those who are a healthy weight. Prediabetes can be reversed through lifestyle changes, but it’s tougher if left to develop into type 2.
READ MORE: Could Intermittent Resting Be The Key To Your Fatigue?
50s: The decade to…own your new silver age
WH research showed that your sixth decade is likely to bring with it a confidence spike. Use it to stand taller, think faster and become stronger than ever – in both your body and mind.
Your new fitness rules
1. Start safe
If you’re fairly new to the game, McFarland suggests doing basic moves that are unlikely to lead to injuries – think the plank, bird dog and rotator cuff exercises, such as the doorway stretch and reverse fly. For metabolic conditioning, he favours rowing.
2. Switch it up
Taking it easy isn’t imperative. You can work out six days a week if you do it wisely. Alternate between days of fast-paced strength training using light weights or bodyweight, and interval-style cardio on a rower or treadmill. You’ll stimulate muscle growth one day and ramp up your heart rate the next.
3. Listen to your body
There will be days when you feel burned out or sore. Ignore this at your peril: train through the pain and you’re at greater risk of injury. Don’t feel up to a full session? Go for a brisk walk instead. This will increase your overall kilojoule expenditure and improve blood flow to your muscles, without wearing you out completely.
Hit reset at 50
After menopause, your risk of having a heart attack or developing type 2 diabetes increases steadily, so take control of your health. Muscle mass is harder to maintain, but stamina is one of the last things to wane. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t, and you’ll be surprised how far you can push yourself.
Nutrient to know: potassium
“Your risk of hypertension [high blood pressure] increases every year,” says nutrition consultant Dr Mike Roussell. “Potassium balances the sodium in your diet and supports healthy blood pressure.” Get your fix from whole foods by upping your intake of things like apricots, artichokes, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, beans, peas and potatoes.
Osteoporosis affects one in two post-menopausal women. Plummeting oestrogen – a hormone that protects bones, among its many functions – reduces bone density, which can lead to the condition, symptoms of which include back pain. “Everyone should [prioritise] vitamin D and consuming enough calcium in their diet – both of which have been linked to better bone health,” says Newson. “Plus, weight-bearing exercise also helps improve bone density.”
The post Generational Gains: How to Adapt Your Fitness and Nutrition As You Age appeared first on Women’s Health.