Keeping Healthy Through The Ages
Blokes are notoriously cavalier when it comes to maintaining their health. Often, living well seems to mean the opposite of living healthily. But the guidelines for leading a long and healthy life are remarkably simple, and if you accept them as part of a more holistic view on life, following them begins to feel like living well.
Eat a balanced diet and develop an understanding of portion size. Manage your stress – many men regard stress as a given or even thrive on it, but cortisol build-up can have damaging long-term physiological and psychological effects. Exercise regularly, both cardiovascular to maintain your heart, and resistance training for muscle mass. And finally, go for regular check-ups.
I’m going to live forever!
Your 20s are when you lay the foundation for your future health.
Diet: “New research shows how zinc can help improve sperm quality and male fertility so this could be a nutrient of focus in men trying to conceive in their 20s and 30s,” says dietician Monique Piderit. “Zinc-rich foods include beef, lamb, chicken, beans, mushrooms and nuts.”
Skin: Tanning now means wrinkles later. Spend time outdoors, but cover up.
Exercise: You’ll never be able to maintain a good weight or exercise as easily as you can now, so take advantage.
Sexual health: Before you get too settled, you might be tempted to be gregarious, sexually speaking. Use condoms and get checked annually for STIs. Moreover, testicular cancer is most common in the 25-40 age group. “We advise men in this age bracket to do scrotal self-examinations once a month,” says urologist and robotic surgeon Dr Hugo van der Merwe.
Get checked: Start scheduling an annual physical. This way, you’ll pick up on any problems early.
I’m going to live forever … right?
Your 30s are busy in pretty much every possible way. Increasing work, relationship and family responsibilities all take their toll on your time, making it difficult to find time for healthy habits.
Diet: Now is when your metabolism starts slowing down, so watch your portion sizes.
Exercise: Not only will you start having to work harder to shed excess kilos, but you also need to start thinking about your heart. Regular, sustained exercise will strengthen the most important muscle in your body.
Hair: If you want to keep your hair, wear a hat or a cap when you go out in the sun.
Mental health: As you’re pushing yourself in every way during your 30s, you’re pushing up your stress levels too. Stress or fear causes your body to release cortisol. Sustained cortisol build-up has been linked to increased blood sugar, impaired learning, reduced bone density, and more. Work off excess cortisol with exercise. More stress also means increased blood pressure. Prof Pamela Naidoo of the Heart and Stroke Foundation advises doing “annual checks to make sure you are not hypertensive between 20 and 40 and biannual from 40 and over”.
Your 40s are when things might start to get a little complicated. Prostate and heart problems might rear their ugly heads, and you need to keep a tighter eye on that waistline.
Exercise: Around this age you’ll start to notice loss of muscle mass, so bump up your resistance training. You might start to notice some pain in your joints, especially if you’ve led a very active life. Listen to your body in this case, and consider low-impact exercise like swimming, cycling or (swift) walking.
Get checked: If you haven’t developed any problems with your eyesight until now, well done! Now is when the peepers start ailing in most people, so schedule a regular eye examination.
Heart health: “The main issue of age transition is the susceptibility to heart disease and stroke as one ages,” says Naidoo. “Your family history is important. If you have a genetic history (of the disease) and a poor lifestyle you will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease onset.”
Prostate health: “In the past we advised men from the age of 50 to see a urologist once a year for a blood test and a physical,” says Van der Merwe. “We now start at 40 and do what we call a baseline – a blood test plus a physical examination – which helps us decide how regularly to follow up. For most men, a yearly check is overkill.”
Mental health: Between a house, family, job and more, at this age it may feel like you have to balance a lot. “As you grow older, stresses change,” says psychiatrist Dr Jan Chabalala. “Things like, is my family going to be okay? Will I keep my job? Will I be able to keep this lifestyle? As you grow, you need to take a more philosophical view of these.” He also recommends regular exercise and at least eight hours of good-quality sleep.
I’m still alive!
Now’s a good time to sit down with your family doctor and draw up a roadmap for future health, including tests, assessments and screenings.
Diet: “As men age, their natural amounts of lean body mass or muscle start to decrease with drops in testosterone over time,” says Piderit. “Because muscle is very metabolically active, this drop means that a man’s energy needs will start to decrease too, so if you keep the same eating pattern in your 50s as you did in your 20s, you will most likely gain weight.”
Get checked: Your late 40s to early 50s are when you need to consider going for a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer. You’ll also want to keep an eye on your prostate, especially if you’re at risk.
Sexual health: Around this age you may start to notice a dip in your sexual desire, as well as a dip in your erections. “Heading into the 50s we pay more attention to hormonal changes,” says Van der Merwe. “It is natural for us, as it is in women, for hormonal levels to drop as we age.” So what can you do? “It comes back to leading a healthy lifestyle,” explains Van der Merwe. “Being overweight or obese can drive male hormones to change to oestrogen. A healthy body is pivotal to maintaining a healthy hormonal state, while physical exercise stimulates the natural secretion of these hormones.”
Mental health: “Forty percent of men will experience erectile dysfunction, and that can lead to significant stress,” says Chabalala.
Exercise: There’s nothing wrong with easing off the intensity, but try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise in each session. “It is very important for men to focus on resistance training or weight-bearing activities to help keep muscle mass up,” says Piderit.
So now is when I get to start living, right?
Your 60s mark a period of change, as you ease out of working commitments and into the uncharted realms of retirement. Now, more than ever, it’s important to remain active.
Diet: “For older men, just like with women, calcium intake is important to maintain good bone strength,” says Piderit. “Also, older men who are mostly indoors and not exposed to sunlight may experience a lower vitamin D level. They need more calcium and phosphorus than younger men.”
Mental health: After 40-odd years of having your nose to the grindstone, not working can be a shock to the system. Keep your brain busy by reading more and pursuing your hobbies. Stay in touch with friends and family, join clubs and societies. Don’t withdraw too much as this can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
Exercise: You are never too old to exercise. Yoga, tai chi, hiking, tennis and swimming are great ways to keep fit and strong.