Once many people reach age 40, it becomes harder to maintain weight, keep the extra pounds away, and stay active. For some, they give up the effort, gain weight and become subject to health issues which can impact aging and create a significant risk of long-term care when we become older.
Most of us have heard that our metabolism slows down after age 40, but is there any truth to it? Perhaps the bigger question is: can you do anything about it?
Your body’s metabolism changes as you age, but there is a good reason why this happens, says Cleveland Clinic health coach Erica Stepteau.
“After age 40, your metabolism actually does start dropping a little bit, but it’s not for the reason that you think,” she says. “It’s because we are losing the muscle mass in our body — from 3 percent to 5 percent every decade after you’re 30 years old.” - Erica Stepteau
That loss of muscle mass affects your body’s ability to burn calories, and why after age 40, some people begin to see some weight gain even though they exercising the same as when they were in their 20’s and 30’s but don’t get the same results, Ms. Stepteau says.
With effort, you can beat your metabolism drop-off. Doing so will improve your overall health and delay aging issues which can cause extended long-term care down the road impacting the quality of life and finances for yourself and family members.
Stepteau suggests adding weights and resistance training to your workout routine. She says to start with a moderate exercise such as brisk walking or stair climbing. Keeping the blood flowing goes a long way toward preventing cardiovascular disease and other conditions as we get older.
“Walking is the single best exercise we can recommend on a large scale,” says Bob Sallis, MD, physician-spokesperson for Everybody Walk!, a national public health campaign created by Kaiser Permanente.
“Exercise is like a medication we should be prescribing for our patients,” he says. “And the simplest exercise prescription is walking.”
Researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C. studied inactive men and women over 60. Their blood sugar was a little elevated (105 to 125 mg/dL), but they didn’t have officially had diabetes at that point. Just a 15-minute brisk walk — a little under 3 miles an hour—helped control their after-dinner blood-sugar spike for the next three hours. The group that had after-dinner walks also had lower 24-hour blood sugar levels.
“Walking burns up the sugar that’s in your blood, and it strengthens muscles so you use blood sugar more efficiently,” says Dr. Sallis. “It helps your insulin work better. The benefit is almost instantaneous.”
Avoiding diabetes is key to better health as we get older. Complications due to diabetes lead to many other health issues and long -term care when we age.
“In your 40s, it is critical to pick up a couple of weights just so that you can create the muscle mass and keep restoring it because you are losing it every decade naturally,” Stepteau says. “We’re all going in that same direction.”
Nutrition also plays a key role in staying fit after age 40 leading to better health and better aging. Stepteau recommends eating a balanced diet that includes proteins, healthy fats, a few carbs, minerals, and vitamins from fruits and veggies.
“When you’re exerting energy, you want to make sure that you restore those calories and restore those components of the nutrition in a way that benefits your body best,” Ms. Stepteau adds.
Even if you’re in your 30’s, there are things you should be doing (even if you are older) to prepare for better health and lifestyle as you age. University of California’s Keck Medicine suggests a few simple things in addition to diet and exercise:
- Stay home more often to manage stress and anxiety. Staying home will give your body the energy it needs to rebuild, replenish and recover from stress.
- Keep your mind active by reading. The lack of consistent learning environments makes it harder for you to keep a sharp mind. Once a month, pull out a book and start reading. Reading requires you to use several different regions of your brain to work together. Exercising these brain regions will help you keep your cognitive skills sharp. Plus, it gives you another thing to do when you are staying home.
- Get some sleep. Sleep can help with weight management, mood, focus, and many other things for better health, lifestyle, and better aging. The consequences of sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your general health and your mental well-being.
- Spend time outdoors. If you spend your time in nature as you exercise, you can even kill two birds with one stone. Studies have shown spending time in nature increases health and happiness while reducing stress.
- See your doctor on a regular basis. At any age, you may be amazed how many people skip the annual check-up and lab work. Do it. It’s best to get checked to ensure your lifestyle matches up to your health goals. Your primary care physician will be able to help you create a game plan to get ahead of any potential problems that may arise. Schedule your annual appointment with your primary care physician.
Paying attention now to your health is important since people are living longer. In 1970, the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 70.8 years; in 2008, it was 78.0 years; and by 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau projects life expectancy will reach 79.5 years. Preparing for aging is key well before we get to our “golden years.” While we can delay many aging issues, some problems we will face just because of natural aging. Taking positive steps now will make for better health, lifestyle, and peace-of-mind as we approach retirement.
Be sure to plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging and how that will impact your family. A successful retirement includes your health, but you will also need to plan for a longer life and long-term care costs. Planning for these now will help down the road for a successful future retirement in terms of both health and finances.