Entering midlife can make you feel more vulnerable than you’ve ever felt and there is mounting scientific evidence that the lifestyle decisions you make in midlife can dramatically impact your health in your senior years. Here are some things that you can do to get on the right track.
1. Educate yourself about exercise and diet.
Crack a book or two to get a glimpse of what you’re going to need to do to improve. The power of exercise and diet cannot be overstated. It is your responsibility to figure out what you need to know. When I am approached by the average, middle-aged novice in the gym, I can’t help but sense the expectation that I should be able to explain everything that person needs to know in a short 2 – 5 minute talk. That is optimistic at best. It takes years to build a strong, healthy body and it can take a long time to explain how to do it. Start educating yourself as soon as possible and use multiple sources. The fitness industry is ripe with disinformation designed to separate you from your money. Don’t believe everything you read, but read it nonetheless.
2. Build a working relationship with your doctor.
Most of us have a love / hate relationship with our doctors; we love to hate them. To make it through midlife and beyond, you will need help from people in the medical fields from time to time. One of the people you need to get to know is a competent doctor who you trust with your life. You need to have a working relationship with this doctor. That means he/she is someone with whom you can work to get to the bottom of your health issues. Liking each other is secondary to this.
3. Exercise with weights.
The effects of resistance training on older adults has been well documented. If you want to prevent major muscle atrophy and lower bone density in your senior years, it’s time to start pushing some weight. You NEED to get clearance from your doctor before starting any exercise program and you NEED to educate yourself (#1 and #2). Most people underestimate how easy it is to get hurt doing weight lifting without proper training. Unfortunately, many of the trainers in commercial gyms are barely more than salespeople with a perfunctory understanding of weight training. The fact is that learning basic, compound movements with weights and doing these movements three times per week is the equivalent of the fountain of youth. You must find a way to do this.
4. Do some cardio.
Cardio work is second in importance to resistance training for midlifers, but it is still important. Adding 15 to 20 minutes of low impact cardio at the end of your workout can do wonders for your heart and help reduce body fat. Remember to use the cardio formula to find your target heart rate. 220 – your age = max heart rate. Target heart rate = max heart rate X 0.65. You can go higher than the target but stay under your max. That’s why it’s called MAX heart rate.
Stretching and mobility work can help keep you moving like a well oiled machine. If you are training two to three times per week, you are going to be sore. Make sure to take time after workouts to stretch and do mobility work on days off to increase blood flow and range of motion. Some of my associates even do light yoga workouts on their days away from lifting weights to stay limber and pain-free.
6. Eat right.
Controlling what you put in your mouth has to be one of the most difficult things you can do in midlife. Let’s face it. You’ve probably been eating that way for decades and old habits are the hardest to break. Most of the fitness gurus recommend multiple meals every 3-4 hours with a good mix of macro-nutrients in each meal as the gold standard for a healthy diet. That simply means a little protein, carbohydrate, and fat in each meal. One of the recent changes has been the advent of organic food being better for us because of reduced exposure to chemicals. If you aren’t eating right, you must change as soon as possible. If you can keep the good habits for at least six weeks, they will become permanent.
7. Supplement your diet with protein and creatine.
These two supplements have been around long enough and studied enough to safely state that they work. They can help you in the fight to keep muscle and functional strength. I don’t recommend spending too much on supplements, but protein synthesis needs a hand as we age. Many diet texts state that at least 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is a good thing for active, healthy people in midlife.
8. Get enough sleep and rest.
Sleep is one of the three things we need to get stronger. We must train, eat, and sleep in order to grow. If any of the three are lacking, we don’t grow like we should. While it’s natural to feel like we need less sleep as we age, I assure you that while engaged in resistance training you will need every bit of eight hours sleep per night. You should treat this just like diet. You’ve been doing the same sleeping ritual for decades, but now you need to get eight hours per night while training. Find a way to make it happen for six weeks and it will become habit.
9. Quit smoking.
This is arguably the hardest habit to break. As amazing as it sounds there are still people around who don’t believe smoking cigarettes will kill you in an accelerated and painful way. While I understand addiction (I’m a former smoker), there are a lot more cessation methods around today than there were a few years back. But nothing will work until you really want to stop. In the end, it’s all up to you.
10. Drink less.
All things in moderation and a wise man knows his vices. There are some studies pointing to the health benefits of wine in moderation. Many health gurus say we shouldn’t drink at all. I think we should weigh the consequences of our actions against the quality of our lives… and then have the glass of wine anyway.
In closing, this list is not exhaustive, but it contains the “Big Bang for the Buck” items that could make your golden years a lot better. Remember that one of the things everyone wants late in life is the ability to get around on their own or at least to be able to get up on their own. Make these changes and fight to remain mobile.