Remember your 40s? I certainly do, and although I’m approaching the middle of my fifth decade, I’m feeling just as good as I did a decade ago. I credit this well-being with recognizing that I needed to make some lifestyle adjustments as I became more chronologically established in middle age. So here are 11 essential health changes I’m doing in my 50s that I wasn’t doing in my 40s…and why.
I’m lifting heavier
As you age, your muscle loss accelerates due to a process called sarcopenia (“age related muscle loss”). So it’s important to keep weight training and lifting as heavy as possible as you get older. Maintaining muscle is not just a vanity quest. The benefits as you age are many including increased testosterone, less fat (and estrogen), reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, and better stability and balance. Men who weight train also have a longer life expectancy than those who don’t–so that’s a good thing! It doesn’t mean I’m doing max-rep bench press however and all the traditional movements you associate with weight training. I’m focusing more on strength exercises that have common day applications like deadlifts, farmer carries, weighted pull-ups, and squats—exercises that make me stronger for life.
I’m eating a lot of fat
It’s a myth that fat makes you fat. Healthy fats—monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids—are essential for several aspects of health that are critical as men get older; particularly, brain function, maintaining testosterone levels, better heart health, and weight control. I’m getting my healthy fats by adding more extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, avocados, and nuts to my diet. Now whenever I feel hungry, rather than reaching for that “energy bar” my go-to energizer is a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil and some almonds. And I eat at least a can of sardines, a whole avocado, and take about 4 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids daily. And that’s just for starters on top of all the nuts and other fats I consume.
I’m fasting every week
I do intermittent fasts (IF) twice a week. My fasts are basically 24-hour periods with no food, caffeine, or juices. Doing IF normalizes sugar levels (and helps reduce the risk of diabetes), lowers levels of the hunger hormone (ghrelin), reduces inflammation and IGF-1 (a big risk factor for prostate cancer), and boosts both testosterone and human growth hormone levels. I feel amazing after my IF, with a heightened sense of clarity and awareness to carry me through the week. Contrary to what you might think, the day after a fast you actually feel stronger, not weaker–mainly due to the increase in HGH and testosterone.
I’m avoiding all commercial skin care products
The majority of skin care products, including after shave, body lotion, bath gels, moisturizers, and shampoos, contain carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting ingredients (otherwise known as EDC’s) that basically suck your man-force out of you. If you want to keep your testosterone levels and sexual health as well as reduce your risk of developing cancer, check out the labels on your personal care products. Avoid any type of paraben as well as phthalates, any fragrances, triclosan, propylene glycol, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium laureth sulfate. These chemicals also boost your estrogen levels (man boobs + increased fat deposits), as well as cause a decline in testosterone (bigger man boobs). Choose all-natural, fragrance-free, organic products instead. Or better yet, avoid them altogether.
I’m running less and training smarter
When I think of all those hours I used to spend running, I wonder how much of it lowered my testosterone and human growth hormone levels and raised my cortisol (the stress hormone)–and what long term damage I did. In recent years, my aerobic exercise has focused on HIIT (high-intensity interval training), Spartan racing, and natural mobility. My T and human growth hormone levels are healthy again, my stress is down, injuries are reduced, testosterone is up, and the hours I used to spend pounding the pavement are better utilized. Long endurance training is just a recipe for growing old fast which I’ve written about previously here. I’m also focusing on natural movement training–avoiding anything that’s useless and doesn’t have a “life application.” Bicep curls are out and bear crawls and rock climbing are in. Focusing on being mobile and agile is one of the most important changes I’ve made to my training as I age. Natural Born Heroes is one of my favorite books on the subject of natural movement; it will get you out of the gym and into the wild before you know it!
I’m keeping a gratitude journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is one of the best things I do for my overall health. Working on my physical health is just one aspect of overall well-being, and the time I spend each day journaling helps support my mental and spiritual health. I use the Five Minute Journal, which was developed by two young guys who created the journal for themselves and then shared their success with others. It’s easy: spend five minutes twice a day thinking and writing about the gratitude in your life. Sounds incredibly simple but it’s also intensely powerful.
I’m watching my blood sugar
Since I have a genetic disposition to diabetes, I monitor my blood sugar levels daily, even though I’m not a diabetic. Increased insulin resistance is something that can slowly creep up on you with age. It occurs when insulin levels are high over a prolonged period of time, causing the body’s sensitivity to the hormone to decline. Reduced insulin sensitivity is associated with increased hunger, higher blood pressure, weight gain, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes (and all the associated side effects).
I’m monitoring ketone levels
Here’s something most people probably don’t do, but it’s especially important if you’re physically active and you want to make sure you’re eating right to burn fat and not protein. Ketones are substances that are produced when your body breaks down fat for energy. Usually, your body gets the energy it needs from carbs. However, if you don’t eat enough carbs to give your body the glucose it needs for energy, it breaks down stored fats to provide glucose from triglycerides. Ketones are a by-product of this process.
Ketones are acids that accumulate in the blood and are eliminated in urine (you test your ketones using strips like these ones). I keep an eye on my ketone levels because at optimal levels, they indicate my body is breaking down fat, and that I’m not relying on carbs for energy. If the levels get too high, however, I could get ketoacidosis, a serious medical condition. Since my diet is lean, clean, and organic, my ketones are doing just fine!
I’m resting more
Don’t get me wrong; I’m just as active, if not more so, than I was in my 40s. But I have learned to better manage my time, and that includes time to rest. Research indicates that sleeping for seven hours or just slightly more is optimal for living longer, as well as for better physical, cognitive, and sexual performance. There’s nothing heroic about pulling all-nighters or boasting about getting by on just a few hours of sleep. Life’s not about “getting by;” it’s about living to the fullest, so I make sure I get my seven-plus hours nightly. Here are some of my sleep tips.
I also use an HRV monitor (heart rate variability) to track the health of my nervous system. HRV monitoring basically tells you when to rest and when to go hard based on the stress load on your nervous system. It’s a must have tool if you are serious about training. You can read more about HRV monitoring here. I use the Sweetbeat HRV free app in conjunction with a bluetooth heart rate monitor. You put it on in bed as soon as you wake up. It takes about three minutes to get the green or red light–go hard or stay in bed! It’s amazing how accurate it is.
I’m meditating consistently
Meditation should be required in school; then our children could grow up with a skill that can reduce depression, relieve pain, lower insulin resistance, and help ward off cardiovascular disease. Although I wish I had adopted meditation earlier in life, it’s one of the greatest whole-body healing techniques you can imagine. Personally I recommend teachings on the subject from the Shambhala Buddhist Monk, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, but there are many masters from whom you can learn meditation. I also use the Headspace App and make a point to meditate as soon as I get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. before I check emails or do anything else. Here’s a great book to get you started and remember that consistency is the key to developing a healthy meditation practice. Keep at it; it sounds easy just to sit still and breathe, but it’s not. Like everything, it takes practice and commitment.
I’m drinking less
I like to think of drinking less as saving more testosterone, because that’s one of the benefits of cutting back or eliminating alcohol from your life. Sure, an occasional glass of wine at a party or special dinner is fine. But with each glass, know that the alcohol boosts the metabolism and elimination of testosterone from your body, reduces how much of the hormone your body makes, and has an impact on your liver, the organ that regulates the amount of free testosterone available in your body. I still drink, but not nearly as much. I also do alcohol fasts every few months. And beer is completely off the menu. It’s one of the most estrogenic forms of alcohol you can drink, mainly due to the hops, phytoestrogens, and processing [and in case it’s not clear from all the above here is the simple rule: high estrogen = bad shit for men; more here].
That’s it! Some of the changes that I’m focusing on in my 50’s that I wasn’t doing so much of in my 40’s. I hope they help you focus on some of your own changes you might want to make as you age. Ultimately, with everything you do, ask yourself “why?” Why do you need to run 26.2 miles? You don’t. Why do you need to wear after shave? You don’t. Why are you doing crazy heavy bench presses at the gym which have no practical application, when you probably can’t even hold a plank for five minutes or crawl or sprint.
I’m reminded of the line in Batman Begins when Christian Bale’s Batman is caught under the burning log in Wayne Manor and Alfred (Michael Caine) scolds him: “What is the point of all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log!”
Think about what matters going forward in life and stay strong!