Very soon, I’ll stand up in front of the graduating class of my former high school and give the commencement speech. I’ll focus on the usual “work hard” and “follow your dream” themes, but, in reality, I just want to shout out to all those 17-year-olds — “have that ice cream cone, you’ll still fit into your skinny jeans tomorrow! ” Or “it’s OK to skip a workout, your muscle mass will help you bounce back!”
At 41, these are the things that I notice the most. My body does not bounce back as easily as it once did and I have to work a lot harder to manage my weight. Genetics play a role in the aging process, but our lifestyle choices can help dictate how well our genes treat us as we get older. After turning 40, these are six of the top lifestyle habits to focus on.
1. Fight the dreaded spread
Fat in the mid-section is metabolically active and we gain more of it as we age. That’s not a good thing. As opposed to the fat we gain in our thighs and rear, abdominal fat can lead to several chronic conditions.
A 2014 study found that the type of fat we consume might make all the difference. Participants in the study were asked to eat 750 extra calories every day for seven weeks. Those having excess calories from saturated fats had activated cells that promoted fat storage in the belly and increased insulin resistance. However, individuals who had a high consumption of polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, gained less abdominal fat and were more likely to increase muscle mass instead.
Multiple studies have demonstrated this connection between saturated fat intake and belly fat, especially when it is coupled with reduced levels of estrogen.
2. Get your biceps back
Jump off the treadmill, if want to lose weight. If you change nothing about your exercise routine now, it's almost a guarantee you will find the pounds creeping up. This all boils down to a loss of muscle mass — a condition called sarcopenia that begins at 40.
In fact, up to 40 percent of muscle mass is lost between the ages of 40 and 80. This alone is the kiss of death to your metabolism. Muscle weighs more than fat making it a metabolically superior calorie burner.
So, the more we lose, the more we gain.
Additionally, attempts to lose weight on low-calorie diets can lead to even more lost muscle. Studies have found that regular resistance or strength training may be a better alternative than your daily runs to preserve and gain muscle — even when coupled with a low-calorie diet. Aerobic exercise is still important, just don’t make it your only form of activity.
3. Fall in love with plants
A study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that healthy behaviors, like eating fruits and vegetables daily, significantly improved the odds of successful aging. Plants provide a protective measure against oxidative stress and free radical formation — two things that go hand-in-hand and increase with age.
Oxidative stress occurs when the balance between free radicals in the body and our ability to fight against them is uneven, with free radicals prevailing. Free radicals can cause disease and there is an association with an increased risk of formation of free radicals as we age. That's why after a certain age, building up our defenses (through having lots of antioxidants in plants) can help reduce this imbalance and stack the cards in our defense system instead.
4. Find your own "om"
The more years we live, the higher our risk of developing a disease, especially heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. All of these conditions are tied, in some way, to inflammation. A 2017 study from Georgetown showed that mindfulness meditation had a significant impact on reducing stress hormones and inflammatory proteins and a 2014 study found that just 25 minutes of meditation a day could alleviate stress levels.
If you don't have 25 minutes to spare each day, a 5-minute meditation helps. Or 1-minute meditations can calm your mind. It's that easy.
5. Think about your magnesium
Even individuals with relatively healthy diets can be deficient in magnesium. Adequate magnesium is important to protect our bones. In addition to promoting bone health, magnesium plays a role in protecting our brain, heart and nervous system. It’s also associated with keeping energy levels up and bathroom habits regular.
Women between ages 31-50 need 320 milligrams daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pay special attention to getting plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet. Examples include:
- Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, swiss chard and collard greens
- Beans and legumes
6. Be less happy about happy hour
The American Heart Association found that heavy drinking in middle age — defined as more than two drinks daily — increased the risk of heart attack and stroke more than traditional risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, is the author of "Skinny Liver". Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more tips on how to lose weight, sign up for our Start TODAY newsletter.