Come with me back in time…to when you were, oh, say 20 or 25 years of age.
You could eat whatever you wanted, do what you wanted, and your body just went along for the ride. No push back. No “middle age middle”, no aches or pains. Life was easy.
Then you blinked and you’re 35, 40, 45 and your life is not so easy. Somedays it feels like it slipped into a giant crap hole.
You can’t escape aging. It’s going to happen with or without your help. When you ignore the aches or pains, the 20lb. weight gain, the loss of energy, and instead imagine you’re still 20, the result can have a significant impact on your health and fitness in later years.
First up, the not so good news:
- Sarcopenia. This is the loss of muscle as you age which begins in your thirties and slowly increases to about 8% per decade unless you do something about it. Sacropenia is what gives you that “old’ appearance – fragile, low muscle tone, slow to move. You lose muscle tone but your body size may not change much – that’s because of the next item in this list.
- Fat. Have you noticed that it’s just harder to both lose weight (fat) and keep it off as you age? Some of this is due to a slowing of your metabolism, some due to changes in hormone levels, and some due to your lifestyle. Now, some people may weigh about the same from year to year and feel like pounding their chest but unless you train and be mindful of what you eat, your weight has likely become more fat and less muscle.
- Hunched over. Two things in your appearance that make you seem older than your actual age are carrying too much extra fat and a stooped, rounded shoulder or slumped posture. Standing up straight will take ten years off your appearance. And a more upright posture also tends to reduce risk of injury because your joints and muscles share the work load more equitably.
- Unforgiving calendar. Life is busy. Work, kids, housework, volunteering, church, the list goes on. When you were twenty, life was probably much more carefree. Right? Tons of time. No job. No mortagage. No kids. Oh yeah, and no money too. Of course, at twenty, you don’t see the need to do anything in particular about your physical condition. You’re invincible or you think so anyway. But as you get older, two things slide down the list of importance: physical training / exercise and sex (yeah, and there’s actually research on this – sex declines as you age for all sorts of reasons – another day to talk about that). Both are key to holding onto your health and youthfulness.
What to Do
- Sarcopenia. Sacropenia is something you can address with a blend of the foods you eat and the kind of training/ exercise you perform. From the nutritional perspective, I’ve summarized the essentials below.
And as for the physical training, you have to exercise several days per week and at least 2-3 of those days need to be a form of “intense” training. Intensity is subjective. What is tough for one person is a walk in the park for another. So, the easiest way to know if your training is hard enough is if you make a “pain face” during the routine. A “pain face” is when you involuntarily scrunch up your face in response to the effort. But keep in mind that once you’re over thirty, you have to train smarter. You have to know, respect, and train within your limits. Sure, some people can use P90x or Crossfit or ChaLean or Insanity as a training method and not get hurt. But you’re rolling the dice with your body so be careful.
- Fat. The plan for battling Sarcopenia, can also be used for reducing body fat to healthy levels. And for women, training is key, more so than diet alone. You need to have at least an approximate idea of how much fat you have to know how much you need to lose. Weighing yourself is not as helpful since body weight is a composite of lean and fat mass. If you haven’t had your hormone levels checked, specifically testosterone, that is something that’s easy to do and fix. And yes, both men and women need testosterone – different amounts but still needed.
- Hunched over. By the time you hit thirty, changing your posture is, well, more than just standing up straighter. By this time, your body – muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia – has adapted to the hunched position and it will fight you when you start changing it. So, you have to work on this a little at a time and go slowly. Some yoga poses can be helpful (which can be a form of dynamic stretching), using a foam roller to improve thoracic mobility, and even this posture shirt can help.
- Unforgiving calendar. No doubt, this is tough. I attended a seminar a few years ago and the speaker’s topic was on developing habits. One thing he said really stuck in my mind. “Something must die.” Ok, a tad gruesome but what he meant is that if your schedule is already slammed, how do you add something to it? You don’t. You have to take something away and replace it. The thing you might take away is watching TV at night so you can get up earlier in the morning or working out a strategy to pick up the kids from school so you can find forty-five minutes to exercise. I’m not saying this is easy. Bottom line, you have to have courage to tackle this. Tough decisions, tough conversations but it’s really important.
The good news is that you can change a lot of things about yourself – what you eat, how you exercise, how you manage your time – that will result in a “younger” version of you and help you enjoy all of your life.