I recently came across an interesting article on MSN, which talked about unhealthy TV characters and the real life example their lifestyle habits set for us. What I found most striking about the list was how prominently it was populated by men. Of the 11 characters presented, ten were male; and of these, the majority were aged around 35 to 40.
I know they’re only fictional, but it still got me thinking about the wider social perceptions of men in this age bracket. Is it an accepted fact that men, upon reaching this age, are more likely to throw caution to the wind and exercise less?
It could certainly be argued that the duties of being a parent combined with professional life might make it harder for some to find the time to exercise and participate in sports. But these factors don’t make any exercise less essential. In fact, the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime only increases the older men get.
With this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to get in touch with the person who provided the medical insight to that article, Dr Wayne of Treated.com, and get his take on the subject in a little more detail:
Dr Wayne, why it is so crucial for men to keep up an exercise programme as they approach 40?
Hi Paul and thanks for having me on your blog.
It’s certainly a wide-ranging question with a lot of issues to consider, but perhaps a good place to start is with the increased susceptibility of men over 40 to physical conditions like high blood pressure, and diabetes.
It goes without saying that diet plays a huge role in preventing illnesses like these from developing, but so does exercise. Cardiovascular workouts such as jogging or swimming in particular are good for the heart and circulation, as they help to prevent the arteries from stiffening with age. Along with weight training, cardio helps the body burn calories, and keep it at a healthy weight; thus reducing the risk of diabetes, as well as heart problems such as angina.
Tip: For cardio, personally I would recommend competitive sports, like badminton or football, as they usually require short bursts of high-intensity sprints. This sort of workout encourages the body to go on burning calories for longer in the post-exercise period. They’re also fun, and provide a nice break from doing steady-state cardio all the time.
Also as we get older, we also lose bone mass, making us more susceptible to brittle and weak bones, and osteoporosis. Strength training can significantly offset this, however, and produce more of those hormones in the body (such as testosterone) which can help to keep bones healthy and strong. It’s also important to remember that the stronger the muscles are, the more support they provide to the joints, preventing damage and reducing the risk of osteoarthritis.
Tip: Weight training doesn’t necessarily mean pumping ridiculously heavy loads. If you’re new to it, start at a level you’re comfortable with, and concentrate on getting your form right before increasing the weight. The best types of lifts are those which concentrate on more than one area, such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses.
Another good reason to bring up is quality of life. Generally the fitter a person is, the happier they are and less susceptible to stress. But something which many men don’t consider is the effect on their sex life too. Men over 40 are much more prone to issues such as erectile dysfunction; it is thought to affect nearly half of all men in the UK who are at retirement age or over, as explained on Treated.com, requiring treatment such as Viagra. This issue is largely caused by poor blood flow; so again, cardiovascular exercise, by helping to keep blood vessels open, can reduce the likelihood of sexual problems occurring.
Tip: Cycling is a great cardio workout. Some doctors have, however, expressed concerns that sitting on a bicycle seat for extended periods puts added pressure on the perineal nerves and may lead to temporary erectile problems. If you can, try to use a ‘no-nose’ seat. If you’re using an exercise bike at the gym, you can try changing things up every now and then with a spell on the treadmill or the rowing machine.
There’s no doubt that 40 is a milestone for most of us. From my experience talking to patients, the most prominent misconception I’ve encountered about exercise is that, for those at the age of 35-40 who aren’t in great shape, it’s too late a stage to start. But it certainly isn’t. When you consider the above, this is as crucial a time as any to make sure that your health is in good standing.
Tip: If you’re a late starter, ease yourself in. Don’t feel like you have to make up for lost time by pushing yourself too hard. A great place to begin is at the NHS recommended levels. This is just two and a half hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as cycling or fast-walking; or one hour and fifteen minutes a week of intense exercise, such as jogging or playing football. If you’re in training for a charity run or event, plan well in advance, and build up the intensity and length of your workouts gradually.