How to get stronger, faster, fitter, and healthier as you age
Every guy wants to be fit, lean, sharp, and sexually active as he ages. An avalanche of recent research has upended conventional wisdom about how to eat right, exercise, and take care of your body for a longer life. What this means is men who want to increase longevity and vitality have a new road map with more direct routes to reach these goals.
Total cholesterol, for example, was once considered the final word on heart-disease risk. Today advanced new blood tests like the Vertical Auto Profile – not even on most doctors' radar – provide a vastly more precise picture of actual heart health. Scientists also say that how much omega-3 fat you consume is more critical to preventing cardiovascular problems than how much saturated fat you do or don't eat. And study after study suggests that physical Fitness and muscle strength decline less with age than previously believed, and that a committed exercise program can drastically slow this decline well into your seventies.
Exactly what you eat, how you exercise, which medical tests you get, and which supplements you take are imperative, though. We've sifted through reams of new research and talked to leading experts to come up with a crystal-clear action plan for living long and performing at your peak in every decade of life.
By Daniel Duane
In your 30s
"If you don't take care of yourself now, you can easily wake up in your forties 30 pounds overweight," says Mark Verstegen of Core performance, a strength and training center in Arizona. "And if you let that happen, you'll spend a decade trying to dig your way out." Long hours in the office, infants up at night, and limited time for Healthy eating and exercise can lead to malaise, stress, fatigue, and lost fitness. You're not likely to die of a heart attack or cancer now, but if you're not building healthy habits, you're setting yourself up for disease later. Adopt a healthy lifestyle in your thirties and you'll add years at the back end – and feel better along the way – helping prevent what Verstegen calls "deficit spending with your health."
You still have the potential for amazing performance: Embrace it by challenging yourself to train hard and lift more. At the very least, you need a bare-bones exercise routine that can keep you fit and lean into your forties. Nothing does this better than kettlebells. "Kettlebells raise heart rate, build strength, and activate metabolism quickly," says David Edwards, a trainer at New York sports Club. "It's quick, intense, and you can knock out all the major muscle groups just by doing a standard kettlebell swing." Kettlebells also burn up to 21 calories a minute – the same as running a six-minute mile.
Most gyms have kettlebells, but all you need are two 15-pounders and one 35-pounder at home to get in a full-body workout. Supplements Omega-3 Many supplements lack evidence that they work. The biggest exception is omega-3, which is repeatedly linked to reduced risk of heart and brain diseases. Take one gram daily of a marine-based form that contains EPA and DHA. Multivitamin If your diet isn't optimal, take a multivitamin with calcium, antioxidants like lutein and lycopene, vitamin E (no more than 400 IU), B vitamins, and at least 400 IU vitamin D.
Metabolic rate declines one percent every four years after age 20. To help control weight gain, "pump the leafy greens," says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, an integrative aging specialist, building your diet around vegetables, lean protein, fish, and low-fat dairy. Get your carbs from whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and nuts. Eat organic or locally grown vegetables and grass-fed meats, which often contain fewer chemicals than conventionally or industrially produced foods, to limit the effect toxins can have on health and metabolism.
More men in their thirties are developing diabetes. Find out if you have a problem with insulin resistance – the body's inability to regulate sugar in food – by getting your blood-glucose levels tested. Also, ask for cholesterol and blood-pressure tests to establish baseline numbers, even if you're fit and lean. Sleep Get more deep sleep, which is when the body releases growth hormone. Deep sleep primarily occurs in the first four hours of your sleep cycle. But since everyone has a natural time when it's easy to fall asleep, don't try to push past that with the consolation of sleeping in late. Go to bed early.
The 25-Minute Routine
Do the following workout twice a week.
Two to three minutes of dynamic stretching – active exercises like leg swings and lunges that mimic natural movements – to help increase elasticity and mobility. Research shows static stretching, such as touching your toes, may even be harmful. Cardio-strength combo
Fifteen minutes of alternate kettlebell swings to near-failure; one minute of light rope-jumping to rest between swings.
Do three sets of three Turkish get-ups to each side, with one minute of rest between. To do a Turkish get-up, lie flat on the floor with a kettlebell in one hand above your head and stand up straight. Recovery Two to three minutes on a foam roller, massaging your calf muscles, glutes, and lower back.
In your 40s
Your maintenance-free years are over, says Dr. Harry Fisch, a urologist at New York's Weill Cornell Medical College. Wrinkles deepen, muscles sag, and you pee more frequently. Your testosterone is at least 10 percent lower than it was in your twenties, and you produce, on average, about 30 percent less human-growth hormone, responsible for stimulating cell growth. These hormonal changes cause you to lose muscle mass at a rate of about one percent a year after age 45. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, less muscle mass also means fewer caloric needs, so that by the time you reach 45, you need 200 fewer calories per day than you did in your twenties. Most of us don't adjust our eating accordingly and replace fading muscle with fat. To stop muscle loss and prevent weight gain, tweak your cardio to include interval training – short bursts of high-intensity effort alternated with periods of rest – which can burn calories and increase lean muscle mass more than sustained exercise.
Endurance exercise, like running, cycling, and swimming, can restore your heart's strength and blood pressure to what it was in your twenties, effectively reversing 100 percent of age-related decline in aerobic power. Yet not all endurance training is created equal. A recent study indicates that interval training increases fitness, lean muscle mass, and weight loss. But since you can't bounce back as quickly from exercise as you did in your twenties or thirties, prioritize good recovery habits: Eat after exercise, sleep at least seven hours, drink plenty of water, and space out interval days with easy recovery days.
Ignoring proper recovery can speed muscle loss. Medical Heart disease is the leading killer of men in their forties. Don't waste time with a basic cholesterol screen, but ask for a Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) – an advanced screening that measures 22 markers of heart disease and provides more clues to heart health (it doesn't cost more and most insurance policies cover it). Also, ask for a comprehensive metabolic panel, which can show early warning signs of kidney and liver problems. And it's time for a prostate exam. Opt for a manual rather than a PSA test, which research shows provides little diagnostic value.
Vitamin D Experts advise older men to take 2,000 IUs of vitamin D daily, since studies suggest low levels contribute to cardiovascular disease.
You're losing muscle, so it's more important than ever to have good exercise nutrition. Eat a balanced meal with lean protein and whole grains two to three hours before you exercise. If you work out in the morning, wake up early to eat something light like a banana an hour before. Don't snack while you train – you don't need extra calories – and always eat or drink something with protein and carbs immediately afterward, like chocolate milk or a fruit smoothie with protein powder. Also, prioritize eating protein at meals. "As you lose testosterone, it's important to boost your protein to keep lean muscle mass up," says Teitelbaum.
Forty-seven percent of baby boomers are stressed – and that's reason to worry, experts say, since 90 percent of all disease is caused or complicated by stress. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is deep breathing, which helps block stress hormones. Try counting breaths: Sit with good posture, close your eyes, and try to count 10 complete breaths. If you lose count – which is normal – start over again.
At least once a week, after a short warm-up, dedicate a portion of your workout to Tabata Intervals – 20-second bursts at 100 percent effort, followed by 10 seconds of complete rest. Do them on the treadmill, track, road, stationary bike, or rowing machine. Repeat the cycle eight times. As your fitness increases, take a two-minute rest after eight intervals before doing another eight.
In your 50s
Age-related decline doesn't accelerate now – it continues at the same slow pace it did in your thirties and forties. But since the decline has been going on longer, wrinkles and love handles start to show, and prostate and colon cancers are more likely to strike. Three strategies can help you stay healthy: Treat rest and recovery as critical aspects, not afterthoughts; fight inflammation with nutrition; and look for early indicators of diabetes.
Injuries become more common in your fifties. We've all heard about the out-of-shape guy who jumps into a pickup basketball game only to blow out his Achilles tendon in five minutes. After surgery and a year of inactivity, he's overweight and even more out of shape. This can also happen to guys who exercise regularly. Most sports like running and lifting train big muscles, neglecting small stabilizers that protect joints and tendons. This becomes dangerous in your fifties, when connective tissue loses elasticity. It's time to bear down on what Verstegen calls "prehab" – muscle-specific exercises that strengthen injury-prone areas. "This not only protects you from pain," he says. "It also provides a foundation on which you can keep making strength gains into your golden years."
Researchers finger inflammation as the root cause of chronic disease. We're not talking about the surface inflammation you get when injured but the more insidious kind – systemic inflammation that affects your entire body on an internal level, caused by stress, lack of exercise, and most of all, a bad diet. Eating too much sugar, for example, can raise inflammation and lead to heart disease. "Sugar is one of the major causes of heart attacks," says Teitelbaum, adding that the average person eats his weight annually in sugar that's added to food. And by 50, chronic disease is no longer a distant possibility but something that could knock on your door any day.
The best way to fight inflammation is to eat anti-inflammatory foods like walnuts, avocados, olive oil, fruits, leafy-green vegetables, and oily fish. Medical Go for regular prostate exams, schedule a colonoscopy if you haven't already, and get annual checkups for blood pressure, cholesterol, C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), and blood glucose. If a good diet and enough exercise haven't brought down high blood pressure or cholesterol, talk to your doctor about meds. Supplements DHEA Take 25 to 50 mg daily of this natural hormone to improve testosterone and metabolic function. CoQ10 Research on the risks and benefits of statins, taken for high cholesterol, is mixed. But if you have to take them, counter possible negative effects to exercise recovery by supplementing with 100 to 300 mg CoQ10.
Sex drive declines with age, but a recent survey found that men are more sexually satisfied in their fifties than in their thirties. Researchers credit this to the fact that older men begin to enjoy intimacy to a greater extent, in addition to continuing to enjoy sexual pleasure. If your libido is slowing, scale back on alcohol and get more sleep. "Cutting back on sugar will also help keep the plumbing to your groin healthy," says Teitelbaum. Sleep Sleep quality and duration tend to decline naturally as you age. Get more sleep by avoiding stimulation from flickering lights, such as those from televisions, smartphones, and computers, for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Alternate upper- and lower-body prehab days. Each workout should take 15 minutes. Do one or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each of the following:
LOWER-BODY PREHAB DAY
External hip rotation Place a resistance band just above knees, and stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hips back. Keeping chest up and feet flat, move knees in and out. Bent-knee lateral walking Place a resistance band just above the knees, and stand in a quarter-squat, feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping chest up, back flat, knees apart, and toes forward, step laterally to one side with one foot, and then step the same distance to the same side with the other foot. Repeat to the other side.
UPPER-BODY PREHAB DAY
Bent-over Ys Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your side. Hinge forward 45 degrees, with back flat and chest up. Hold shoulder blades back and down. With thumbs pointed up, raise arms overhead to form a Y. Return to start position, and repeat. Bent-over Ts Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms down and straight, nd palms forward. Hinge forward at the waist with hips back, back flat, and knees slightly bent. Pinch and hold shoulder blades back and down. Raise your upper arms until they form a T with the lower body; rotate upper arms until forearms are parallel to the floor. Return to start position, and repeat.
In your 60s
"People who defy age don't smoke, are active, aren't fat, and drink alcohol in moderation," says Dr. Michael Joyner, an exercise specialist at the Mayo Clinic. But just as important at this age, he says, is that people remain socially connected and active. If you retire, take up hobbies or volunteer work; if you don't, focus on the parts of your job you do enjoy and eliminate those that you don't. "If you really look at the population data," Joyner says, "it's the people who put that whole picture together who live a healthy life until they're 90."
Your main focus now should be to continue to work out and to recover from workouts. In addition to some cardio and three weight workouts per week, devote at least one day to rejuvenation activities that can help your body recover, like yoga, Pilates, massage, and using a foam roller. Devote another day entirely to prehab exercises, as outlined for your fifties. In your fifties, you begin to lose muscle more quickly than you can gain it. This can amount to a serious strength loss by 60, but fortunately, the effect is reversible. Researchers found that 18 to 20 weeks of resistance training can add nearly 2.5 pounds of muscle on older adults. A University of New Mexico study found that free-weight exercises performed while standing produce nearly twice the lean body mass as seated, machine-based exercises among older men. Doing free-weight exercises, whether standing or seated, will work a maximum number of muscles in a holistic, integrated way to build functional strength. But proper technique and low weights are critical to avoid injury. The best free-weight lifts are the bench press, squat, and dead lift. Think of each as a basic movement: A squat is like bending down to reach the ground and standing up again; a bench press is like pushing a stalled car or a door closed; and a dead lift is like raising a small child off the ground. Start slow and light, using dumbbells before progressing to a barbell. Include chin-ups and push-ups for complete upper-body strength.
Low testosterone afflicts about 5 million American men, including 10 percent of guys in their fifties and about 30 percent of those in their sixties. Symptoms include fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, sleep problems, malaise, and low sex drive. If you suffer from any of these, ask your doctor about supplemental testosterone. He won't prescribe a supplement without a diagnosis of clinically low levels, but since there is no medical criteria for this, even conservative urologists will make a prognosis based on a broad range of indicators.
REM sleep is critical to mental regeneration and memory consolidation. The phase is back-loaded, meaning it happens mostly in the last four hours. If you wake up in the wee hours and can't get back to sleep, you'll miss your REM and likely spend the rest of the day groggy. To avoid this, cut back on alcohol, which causes blood-sugar fluctuations that can wake you up, keep you alert, and cause more frequent bathroom trips.
Old-School Weight Training
Aim to complete three strength-focused workouts per week, as follows:
- Warm-up. Perform unweighted "air" squats and standing dumbbell presses. To do a standing dumbbell press, hold a light dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, and press both simultaneously straight up overhead.
- Do squats. Perform three sets of five repetitions each with a weight that allows you to complete all sets and reps. Start by holding a dumbbell at shoulder height in each hand, held, instead of a barbell, so you can add weight in small increments and learn proper form (the weight of the dumbbell will move naturally in a straight up-and-down path – essential to good squatting technique). Add 2.5 to five pounds each week if you're comfortable and can maintain proper form.
- Bench press. Follow the same protocol for squats, with three sets of five reps each. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand to develop shoulder mobility before progressing to a barbell. Add one to two pounds each week if you're comfortable and can maintain proper form.
- Warm-up. Do a 15-minute cardio workout that elevates your heart rate.
- Complete a chin-up ladder. Chin-up ladders let you accumulate volume and build muscle quickly, even if you can do only one or two at a time, since reps can be repeated frequently when using just your body weight. After two months of ladders, you should be able to do significantly more reps. To do a chin-up ladder, complete one chin-up (like a pull-up but with palms facing toward you), then rest for one minute. Do two chin-ups, then rest for one minute. Lead each rep with your chest, keeping shoulders back, and continue until you can't do any more. Take a short rest, and start again.
- Warm-up. Do push-ups until your heart rate is elevated and your muscles are warm.
- Dead lift. Do one set of five repetitions of dead lifts at a weight that allows you to complete all five reps. Start with a dumbbell or light kettlebell in each hand, instead of a barbell. Add 2.5 to five pounds each week, if you're comfortable and can maintain proper form.
- Complete a push-up ladder. To do the ladder, follow the same protocol as the chin-up ladder described in Day Two.