You might be tempted to surrender to the ‘inevitable’ creep of middle-aged spread when you hit your mid-forties. But, if you thought you could switch aerobics for Aeros with no impact on anything bar your waistline, you’d be wrong. According to new research, maintaining or adopting a healthy lifestyle – and, in particular, staying trim – between the ages of 45 and 55 could be the key to a longer, healthier life.
Researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern University who tracked 40,000 people over a number of years have discovered that maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure and remaining free of diabetes between the ages of 45 and 55 reduces the risk of heart failure in later life by 86%. Women who met all three criteria at both time points lived, on average, 14.9 more years without being diagnosed with heart failure. For men, the figure was 10.6 years. Heart failure is a debilitating condition which often develops after a heart attack. It’s the leading cause of hospitalisation in over-65s, and 550,000 people in the UK are currently living with the condition. An unhealthy BMI is thought to be the root cause of many cases of both hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, so staying trim really is key.
But the effects of regular exercise could reach further. A separate study by researchers at the University of Melbourne tracked the cognitive performance of 387 women aged 45-55 for 20 years, discovering that regular exercise, normal blood pressure and high good cholesterol levels appeared to help guard against age-related memory loss. Regular exercise was the most important factor, with effects appearing to be cumulative: “We expected it was the healthy habits later in life that would make a difference but we were surprised to find that the effect of exercise was cumulative. Every one of those years mattered,” Associate Professor Szoeke, the study’s lead author, explained. “That said, even once you’re 50, you can make up for lost time. There is no doubt that intervention is better late than never.”
So what can you do to make this your healthiest decade yet? Follow these tips to slim down, slash blood pressure and cut your risk of diabetes…
1. Exercise regularly.
Everything from walking the dog to mountain climbing counts. As well as possibly safeguarding against memory loss and helping you stay in shape, regular exercise decreases blood pressure and cuts your risk of diabetes by almost two-thirds. The British Heart Foundation recommends engaging in at least 150 minutes of activity a week, spread across sessions of at least 10 minutes.
2. Eat well.
Watch portion size, increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and low fat dairy and cut back on trans fat, sugar, salt and meat (especially processed varieties). Vegetarians are a third less likely to suffer from stroke, diabetes or heart disease. Include foods which raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, such as olive oil, beans and pulses, oily fish, nuts, soy and avocado.
3. Drink moderately.
Drinking up to 1 glass of wine a day can boost good cholesterol and decrease blood pressure by 2-4 mm Hg, but larger quantities may be harmful.
4. Reduce your stress levels.
Chronic stress raises blood pressure which, in turn, can increase your risk of diabetes. Discover our favourite science-backed ways to de-stress.
5. Slim down.
Maintaining a healthy BMI is one of the most important things you can do for your long-term health. Exercise regularly, eat well and drink moderately and the pounds may well begin to fall off by themselves but, if you could still do with a little help, read our experts’ top tips.