The simple midlife health tweaks that can change your life



Adopting a healthier lifestyle as we get older is not something we can afford to ignore. Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2020 found that having healthy habits in midlife can give us up to 10 extra years of disease-free life, what’s known as our healthspan.

But, instead of making grand plans to get fit and healthy and lose weight before eventually abandoning them, psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll advises a gentler approach: “Make it as easy as possible for yourself. Think about what is optimal for you and what you can realistically commit to. To really maintain behavior change your goals need to be specific, measurable, and fit into your daily life.”

According to Michal Mor, Co-Founder and Head of Science for Product at Lumen, “our metabolism tends to change as we age, yet we can manage this just by adapting our nutrition and lifestyle. It might sound trivial but it breaks down to understanding how our body uses food for energy.”

Mor goes on to say that it’s important to be strategic about both what you eat and when – so your body can process your food optimally.

“Building muscle is also a key component for maintaining metabolic health. Strength training is so important because we tend to lose muscle with age. The more muscle you have, the more efficient your metabolism will be because muscle mass is key to making your metabolism work for you,” adds Mor.

Going low-carb is also another way to gradually train your metabolism to process foods more efficiently. This type of diet helps increase fat adaptivity especially when you are first training your metabolism.”

With this in mind, here are nine effective and practical midlife health habits that should stick and are proven to deliver results.

How to kickstart health habits

1. Do mini fasts for better results

You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard of intermittent fasting. It’s been top of the diet pops since it first entered the mainstream in 2012 and there have been many different manifestations of it since. But let’s face it, most of us can’t commit to such a regimented dietary timetable long term.

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What’s emerging now is that even a relatively small fasting window delivers substantial health benefits, such as reducing oxidative damage and inflammation in the body which contribute to aging and play a role in the development of a range of health conditions. So why not try a midweek mini-fast? From Monday to Friday adopt the 14:10 approach where you only eat within a ten-hour window, say 10am to 8pm and fast for the other 14 hours.

2. Stack your habits

Dr Arroll advises “habit-stacking”, where you anchor a new habit onto an existing one, making it easier to integrate into your daily routine. If you are giving the midweek mini fast a go then try stacking another new habit on top – keeping red meat and alcohol for the weekend.

Reducing our red meat intake is one of the best things we can do for our heart health and the planet, and excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of dementia. This is a simple rule that you can apply right away, and think how much more you’ll enjoy that Sunday roast and a glass of red.

3. Don’t restrict. Add.

Most diets operate on the basis of restriction which focuses the mind on what you are not allowed to eat. Reverse this mindset by thinking about what to include in your meals to make sure they are nutritionally balanced and satisfying.

Multiple studies have shown that eating a balanced diet comprising complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains, beans), lean protein (chicken, fish, tofu, lentils, yogurt) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, cheese, eggs, nuts) positively influences health and helps prevent common illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Weekly menu planning is one of the best ways to ensure your meals are balanced and it doesn’t have to be complex. Often just adding a tin of lentils or beans to your favorite recipes can make all the difference.

4. Beware of so-called ‘health products’

At this time of year, we might be tempted by all those “health” products that line the supermarket shelves. But buyer beware, just because something claims to be healthy doesn’t mean it actually is. Eschew the gimmicks and resolve to buy simple, good quality, minimally processed food.

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The consumption of UPFs (ultra-processed foods) has been associated with an increased risk of cancer so check the labels of everything you buy regularly and switch to healthier alternatives if necessary. A good rule of thumb is not to buy anything containing more than five ingredients, especially if they are things you can’t pronounce, and look out for added sugars. For more information click here.

5. Make a plan to remember to take your supplements

Ideally, we would get everything we need from our food, but one crucial micronutrient, vitamin D, is primarily derived from exposure to sunlight. With sunshine in short supply in the winter months, a vitamin D supplement is advisable. Also, if you don’t eat much oily fish, it’s worth considering a good-quality omega-3 supplement, essential for heart and brain health. But stocking up on supplements is only half the story – you need to remember to take them. Think about your morning routine and where it would be best to keep them, perhaps in the same cupboard as the tea and coffee so you are prompted when you make your morning brew, or set an alarm on your phone.

6. Wake up with water

This is a quick win if you stack it with taking your supplements. Have a large glass of water in the morning to give your body a hydration boost. Researchers from the University of Ottawa found that as people age they need to drink more water to compensate for changes in their body temperature regulation. Dehydration can cause a number of ailments, including muscle pain and fatigue, so if you struggle to drink enough water to get on the front foot early in the day.

7. Ditch the lattes for a simple coffee with milk

If coffee is your midlife petrol you’ll be happy to know that a study by the European Society of Cardiology concluded that drinking up to three cups of coffee per day is associated with a lower risk of stroke and fatal heart disease. The downside comes if you are partial to the milky varieties which can pack a hefty calorie punch. Try and make the switch to black coffee or, if that’s a bridge too far, just add a splash of milk. This could add up to a whopping 1400 calorie saving over the week if you average two coffees a day.

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8. Speed ​​up your steps

The benefits of walking are well documented and getting our daily 10,000 steps has become almost a national obsession. But walking for an hour and a half every day is a tall order and for most of us an unrealistic goal. Better to commit to a 20-minute vigorous stride. You’ll get much more bang for your buck by walking briskly and engaging your glute and leg muscles. Do this by increasing your pace, extending your step, and pumping your arms as you go along. Studies have shown that the speed at which we walk is a signifier of our subjective age (the age we feel, not the age we are), so picking up the pace might just make you feel younger too.

9. Ban screens from your bedroom

If you are determined to sort out your sleep the most effective change you can make is to banish screens from the bedroom, particularly the phone. Start today and it will be the most life-enhancing thing you do all year. Decide on a screen curfew (at least one hour before you head to bed) and set an alarm on your phone. When the alarm goes, plug your phone in to charge overnight elsewhere in the house and leave it there until morning. You might have to buy yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock if you’ve been using this feature on your phone, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Of course, you won’t be able to implement all these new habits at once. Dr Arroll says: “Be specific in your goals. Pick three or four things that are realistic for you and commit to them.” It takes on average 66 days for new habits to become automatic, so give it until the end of March and you might just find they’ve stuck.

This article is kept updated with the latest information.


www.telegraph.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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