Marty Munson, Health Director, Men’s Health
1. To Age-Proof Your Brain, Start Now
No matter where you are in age, “now” is the time to make a move to keep your brain healthier for life. Your brain is able to constantly change by making new connections between neurons, and those new pathways are important to learning and memory. “New connections require mental effort to establish and change,” says Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and researcher at UCLA. “The late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—the primary developer of the concept of ‘flow’—once wrote that it is important to surprise yourself, and surprise someone else every day.” New thinking among scientists is that novelty is important: Doing crossword puzzles makes you better at crossword puzzles but may not translate into the kind of optimal brain performance you want in a day. Instead, Bilder says, “break routines, overcome established habits and do things that require your brain to work.”
2. Lift, Jump, Repeat
After age 30, guys begin to lose as much as three to five percent of their muscle mass per decade unless they do something to prevent that. In other words, strength train. It’s not just about being cut. “Building muscle—and preserving the muscle you have—becomes increasingly critical as you age, as it burns calories and drives your entire ability to move,” explains Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS. “It gets harder to build that muscle as you age, so the younger you can start, the better.” Everyone should aim to train all of their major muscle groups at least twice a week. “After age 45, you’ll want to tweak your training tactics, too, aiming to do explosive exercises,” Samuel says. “Power—our muscles’ ability to produce force quickly—is the first of our strength qualities to diminish with age. Offset that by doing at least three sets of kettlebell swings or box jumps—or even jumping rope—at least twice a week.”
3. Do a Perspective Audit
Check how you talk to yourself about aging. Research by Becca Levy, Ph.D., Yale psychology professor and author of Breaking the Age Code found that people with the most positive perceptions of aging—that it’s something vital to enjoy, and associated with words like “wise” and “alert”—lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those with more negative beliefs (“confused,” “useless,” “decrepit”). And that’s after factoring in the influence of gender, race, socioeconomic status, age, loneliness, and health. Even though kids as young as 3 have started to take in age stereotypes, your beliefs are changeable, Levy says. One way to start is by fact-checking them. At work, for instance, it’s time to retire the “dinosaur” bias. Levy explains that research has found that intergenerational teams are the ones that tend to be the most innovative and productive.
4. Leave Sleep Macho Behind
Used to be you weren’t being productive unless you were so busy you didn’t have time for sleep, or so tough you didn’t need many Zs. Now it’s clear—and finally becoming accepted—that having enough sleep gets you much farther ahead—and keeps you healthier in the process, reducing your risk for diabetes, extra weight, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and depression. But if sleep is still lingering on the bottom of the priority list and you’re getting less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours, now is the time to give it some respect. “By age 45, men are facing many hard health realities,” says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., a sleep specialist at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia and host of the Sleep Unplugged podcast. “Youth is a great equalizer for bad health habits.” Just because you’ve been able to skimp on sleep and get by doesn’t mean you should or will continue to be able to do that.
“To get the most out of our bodies, health habits have to be paired with quality rest,” he says. “One strategy is to stop focusing on the ‘ideal’ and work instead to simply ‘improve.’” You might also want to raise the thermostat a little bit. New research from Harvard Medical School and the Marcus Institute for Aging research found that older adults tended to sleep better when their rooms were 68 to 77 degrees; that’s up from the commonly recommended 65 to 68. Higher wasn’t better; sleep efficiency dropped when rooms were hotter than 77.
5. Know How Healthy Your Heart Really Is
Even if you’re doing all the right things for your heart—working out, eating well, managing stress, and not smoking—you can’t just assume that it’s fine, especially since the risk of a heart attack goes up with age. It’s essential to know your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers. But to take your heart knowledge pro, calculate your 10-year risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Use this ASCVD Risk Estimator from the American College of Cardiology. If it’s less than five percent, keep doing what you’re doing. If it’s higher than that, strategize with your doctor on which heart-healthy moves to make first, including whether you might need meds.