Most of us start a financial pension at 30 (well, hopefully), but what should you ‘invest’ in now to make sure your health balance stays in the red? These tried and-tested changes for how to be healthy will bank you valuable resources – whatever your age.
IN YOUR 20S
In your 20s, your pituitary glands are firing on all cylinders, namely with human growth hormone, meaning it’s easier to tone up now than at any other point in your life. Cash in on this by lifting as heavy weights as you can – you’ll bank muscle memory for your 30s and 40s. “Choose a load you can do no more than six reps with, then do five sets,” says sports scientist and personal trainer Luke Worthington, who advises focusing on the frequency of your workouts rather than the loads you lift. “In your 20s, you’re set up perfectly for recovery, so four strength training sessions plus two cardio ones per week is totally achievable.” You heard the man.
Now is not the time to ditch the dairy. Peak bone mass is reached between the ages of 25-30 so you should capitalise on your calcium. If you don’t want to get your 1,000mg RDA all from milk (1 glass of the white stuff has 300mg calcium in it) this diet will get you your RDA: porridge made with one glass of milk for breakfast, a salad with two cups of spinach at lunch, followed by salmon with three cups of cooked greens (broccoli and kale). Easy.
Lipid profile: Cholesterol might seem like an old-person concern, but getting a lipids profile done at 25 (then every five years after that) guards against heart problems in later life. Ask your GP for a full screen (looking at the four types of fat in your blood) not just your total cholesterol number. See below for your target levels.
Biomechanic test: Your exoskeleton reaches full maturity by your mid-20s, so now is the time to check out how your body is aligned. “You might not be aware if you’re knock-kneed or have a misaligned hip,” says biomechanical expert Serena Stubbs, from Isokinetics Physiotherapy. “But by your 30s and 40s, if not looked at, they can cause problems further down the line.” Biomechanics test, from £200, isokinetic.com.
IN YOUR 30S
Your human growth hormones take a bit of a nosedive in this decade. Translation: it’s harder for you to build and maintain muscle mass. “Foam rolling coupled with dynamic warm-ups are important now,” says Worthington. “Scheduling in de-load weeks every four to six weeks (reducing the weight you lift during your workouts, but without stopping training) and having recovery goals in addition to your training goals (such as drinking four litres of water a day or getting seven hours’ sleep per night) are crucial. Your body just isn’t bulletproof like it was in our 20s.”
We have two words to tell you: arthritis and osteoporosis. Not sexy we know, but your 30s is the time when the most damage is done to your bones. Fortunately, high-quality omega-3s will help to prevent them. You should be aiming for three 150g servings a week of salmon or mackerel to provide your 500mg RDA, or try one Tom Oliver Nutrition Omega 3 MOPL Herring Caviar capsule (£39.99, tomolivernutrition.com).
Smear: Your cervical cancer risk is highest between the ages of 30 and 34, so a few moments of discomfort during a smear test will earn you extra credit in the bank. Wunderlist, a free app, reminds you when to book your next appointment (wunderlist.com).
Thyroid test: The minute that 35th birthday candle is blown out, it’s time to test your thyroid function. A blood test for TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone – screens for an underactive or overactive thyroid. These conditions can cause weight gain and loss, mood swings, anxiety and bad skin. Arrange a private test at spirehealthcare.com.
Vitamin D test: As you get older, your risk of vitamin D deficiency increases – linked to heart disease, asthma and cancer as well as poor bone health. Ask your GP to take a look.
IN YOUR 40S
The bad news: after 35 we lose about 1% of muscle mass every year. The good news is strength training helps you hold on to the lean tissue you have. “Lower reps with higher loads helps guard against osteoporosis,” says Worthington. “Try weights twice a week, a brisk walk twice a week and soft tissue work (foam rolling, yoga, Pilates) every day.”
The energy you burn doing, well, nothing, decreases by 7% every decade after 30, so cut out refined carbs and switch to low-GI foods rich in soluble fibre, which help to lower bad cholesterol. Switching from toast to porridge at breakfast could cut cholesterol by 10%. Women under 50 need 25g fibre a day to help with everything from digestion to heart health – 28g flaxseed has 8g fibre, add to smoothies, salads and stews.
It’s a bit early to mention the M word (menopause, not Manilow, but we’d rather no one mentioned him either), but your ovaries’ last hurrah – the perimenopause – starts five to 10 years before. As the average age of menopause is 52, that means you experience symptoms soon after the big 4-0. “Some women stop producing the progesterone needed to mop up excess oestrogen,” explains hormone expert Dr Jan Toledano. This can cause mood swings and poor sleep. Before your period, cut out caffeine and alcohol to reduce symptoms. Progesterone cream (see your GP) and vitamin C can boost levels.
Health check: This little-known GP test has been free for the over-40s since 2009. Blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI are checked against stroke and heart disease risk. If you’re not offered it, demand it.
Eye exam: Have an eye exam every five to 10 years in your 20s and 30s, but between 40 and 65 that changes to every four. Book an appointment with an optometrist who can check for glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. Book a retinal screening at David Clulow, free with glasses.
Diabetes test: Your type-2 diabetes risk increases with age, especially once you hit 40. After the age of 45, get a test every three years. If you’re overweight, it’s every other year. Put it in the diary.