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Before you reach 40

A happy woman. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
A happy woman. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Our bodies change as we age, but most of us do not know how to respond to these changes. To ensure that you thrive through your 40s and beyond, you need to make certain adjustments to your lifestyle to keep up with your changing body.

What Changes In Your Body As You Age?

Your metabolism: As you age, you may notice that you pick up weight more easily than before (even though you probably haven’t changed your food intake). This is thought to be due to slowing down of ones’ metabolism with age (metabolism refers to how fast your body ‘burns off ingested calories).

Your bone density: From the age of 30, we begin to get subtle reduction in our bone density (the bone slowly becomes thinner).

In most, people the effect is felt most profoundly after the age of 50. It happens in both genders, but it is more pronounced in women (especially after menopause).

Your muscle mass: Beginning in our 40s, it is thought that we begin to lose muscle mass (roughly about one per cent of muscle mass per year).

Your fat distribution: As we age, we are more prone to ‘central obesity’ where excess fat tends to be deposited in our midriff resulting in the development of a large belly. Fat is also deposited on the inside around our internal organs.

This type of fat distribution is associated with a condition known as ‘metabolic syndrome’ which consists of high blood sugar, increased belly size, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels all of which put you at risk of developing heart attack and stroke.

Changes you need to make

Stop: Opting for fast food

This is a habit almost all of us are guilty of. Fast food is readily available and often cheaper than healthy food options.

In Nairobi and all major towns in Kenya, every street has several fast food joints, but only a handful of eateries serving healthy balanced meals.

Given the busy lives most of us have, it is easier to quickly grab some fast food and get on with our work.

The rationale behind this is that, since we are going to eat a healthy meal for supper, ingesting an unhealthy snack shouldn’t matter.

Truth is, the habit of snacking on fast foods tends to have unexpected results as you age.

Fast food has large amounts of calories, fat, sugar and salt – all of which are harmful to your body as they can lead to the development of metabolic syndrome.

Stop: Binge drinking

Interestingly, the largest population of binge drinkers in Kenya are middle-aged people. We have a weekend ‘beer and nyama choma’ culture where we take in large amounts of alcohol over the weekends and then generally avoid it over the week.

All alcoholic drinks contain calories, which contribute to weight gain (popularly known as a ‘beer pot’). This central obesity is one of the risk factors for developing metabolic syndrome.

Binge drinking also tends to be more harmful to the liver than regular small volume intake.

The recommended maximum drinks per week for men is 21 units whilst for women it is 14 units. You should, however, not take in the 21 drinks in one sitting.

Stop: Skipping breakfast and ‘catching up later’
Some people struggle when it comes to eating breakfast. Sometimes, it is due to lack of appetite but often it is due to time constraints.

Most people either take a cup of tea or coffee for breakfast then have a snack for lunch (usually mandazi or donut) and only get a healthy balanced meal at supper.

This approach to eating is unhealthy for your body and has been known to be associated with food/sugar cravings and long term weight gain.

Do: Increase your fibre intake

Fibre can be found in cereal/grains, fruits and vegetables. Fibre is vital for healthy intestines (specifically the colon/large intestines) and is useful in preventing constipation.

Opt for brown grain as it is known to make you fill full for longer and this can be beneficial in preventing unwanted weight gain.

Vegetable and fruit salads are a good way to get in fibre with the added benefits of getting in vitamins and minerals which are essential for a healthy immune system.

Try and make your salads as varied and as colourful as possible. If you can, at least have one fruit salad and one raw vegetable salad a day.

Do: Increase your fluid intake

If you have good kidney and cardiac function, you should be able to take in about 2.5-3 litres of fluid daily.

Water is the ideal fluid because it does not contain any calories. However, a lot of people do not like the ‘taste’ of water.

Your fluid intake does not have to be water. It can be fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh juice, clear soup and even a cup or two of tea or coffee (that said, the caffeinated drinks should be limited).

Water can be made more flavourable by adding some lemon or orange juice drops into it.

There is a wide range of drink options like lemon grass, rooibos and rose flower which can be used as alternatives to fruit juices and sodas.

Soft drinks and alcoholic drinks should not be part of your daily quota of fluid intake. They contain too many calories.

The average 500mls of soda contains the equivalent of about 10 teaspoons of sugar and you should strive to eliminate it from your diet.

Do: Look out for ‘hidden salt’ in your diet

A lot of the salt we take in on a day to day basis is not what we add to the food when it is cooking or on the table.

Most of the salt comes from hidden sources such as processed meat (bacon, ham, sausages, hot dogs), breakfast cereals, cheese, canned/packaged soups and fast foods.

Stock cubes and pre-mixed food seasonings are also notoriously high in salt. Foods high in salt cause your body to retain water and can contribute to high blood pressure.

Do: Put out that cigarette

All the positive effects of a good diet, exercise and generally improving your lifestyle are negated by smoking.

If you continue to smoke, you are putting yourself at risk of damage to your heart, blood vessels, lungs, brain, mouth, throat, voice box and you put yourself at risk of developing almost every form of cancer.

Do: Get to know your family history

Most long-term diseases that run in families tend to appear either in childhood or in middle age.

These include diseases like diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers. If several first degree relatives have a certain medical condition, you are at increased risk to develop it.

There is, however, a positive aspect to it because if the disease is detected in the early stages, you can institute lifestyle changes that will prevent the disease from developing.

For example, if both diabetes and hypertension are detected early in the so called ‘pre-diabetic’ and ‘pre-hypertensive’ stages, you can make changes in both your diet, physical activity levels and lose excess weight all of which can prevent the diseases from developing.

Do: Change your exercise regimen

As you age, you begin to lose both muscle mass and bone density. Both can be countered by embarking on more weight training exercises.

When combined with the right diet, weight training can build both muscle mass and strengthen your bones.

You, however, need to start gradually and give your body time to adapt before you increase the intensity of your workouts.

Do: Go for a check up

If you have never gone for a full physical check-up, you need to start once you get into your forties.

Find out what your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are. Get to know what your ideal weight should be—usually your ideal weight will depend on your height.

Talk to your doctor about how you can improve on your health. If there is a particular cancer that has been found in several members of your family, inform your doctor and discuss whether or not you need to be screened for it.