The 40s can be an exciting and often exhausting stage in life with many milestones at work, and your body too understands this and responds with many physiological changes. Slight declines in strength and energy levels, graying hair, changes in skin quality, balding, hormonal changes, and variations in eyesight and hearing are all part of the deal. Metabolic shifts or other stress factors in life can lead to some psychological changes too.
The 40s are an important phase in your life, as you transition from young adulthood to middle age. It can be an exciting and often exhausting stage in life with many milestones at work, in family life, and even in the general scheme of things. The body too understands the crossroad and responds with many physiological changes.
The physical and psychological changes people experience in their 40s are often related to lifestyle, genetic, and epigenetic factors. Some of these may affect your quality of life or even have long-term health implications. This is why reflecting on your lifestyle and wellness and making the necessary adjustments are vital at this juncture. There are a number of pitfalls to watch out for.
Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, And Triglycerides
Blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides are important indicators of heart health and by the 40s a certain degree of overall degeneration takes a toll on these parameters. They also tend to destabilize because of weight issues and the middle-age spread. Studies show a direct connection between blood pressure and vascular as well as overall mortality in middle age and old age.1 2 Get your blood pressure checked each month and ask your doctor for regular lipid profile evaluations. Cut down on salt and fatty food. If you haven’t yet started exercising, now is the time to begin! Stick to a routine with a good bit of cardio workouts to keep your heart fit.
Blood glucose is a major concern during this period. A combination of stress, genetics, lifestyle choices, and environment adds to a person’s risk of developing diabetes in the 40s. According to Diabetes UK, over 1 in 5 cases of Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in people above 40.3 Type 2 diabetes also occurs mainly after 40.4 Family history, hereditary factors, epigenetics, weight issues, and lifestyle choices are major contributors. Keep a strict watch on your sugar levels with quarterly fasting blood sugar, post-prandial blood sugar, and HbA1C (glycated hemoglobin) tests. Cut down on your sugar intake and eat healthy whole grain food. Replace white rice and pasta with whole-wheat pasta or red rice. Of course, the benefits of exercising cannot be stressed enough. Go over your family history of diabetes or heart diseases so you are aware of your risks.
Age-Related Vision Problems
Age-related vision problems tend to rear their head around the 40s and if not treated can lead to degeneration of the eye.5 An annual eye test has to be part of your to-do list. Your ophthalmologist should examine the back of your retina and do a thorough check for eye pressure. Age-related presbyopia or long sight becomes more noticeable in the 40s.6 This is a normal part of aging and not considered a disease, though it will need correction with glasses. Other age-related eye conditions include cataract, macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and dry eye. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Diabetes Fact Sheet 2011, 4.2 million (around 28.5%) diabetics above the age of 40 had diabetic retinopathy, and 655,000 of these people (4.4% of diabetics) had advanced diabetic retinopathy that could result in severe vision loss.7 Eat a diet rich in lycopene (red veggies and fruits) to prevent macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other retinal disorders which may or may not be related to diabetes.8
Muscle Mass Loss
Muscle mass loss has been associated with age in many studies. As we near our 40s we tend to lose muscle mass at the rate of 3‒8% percent every decade.9 In a study by Kallman et al., grips strength was also found to start declining by the age of 40 in both genders.10 Interestingly, some recent research indicates that muscular decline can be prevented and managed with exercise. A 2011 study in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine evaluated the role of exercise in the prevention of muscle loss and strength, concluding that muscle and strength loss are not decided by age alone; the association can more likely be traced to chronic disuse that comes with aging rather than muscle aging.11 Exercise can prevent or manage the loss of muscle and bone mass and enable a greater degree of functional mobility with age. It can also help reduce chances of falls and the consequent loss of independence. Add weight-bearing exercises to your regular routine. To avoid loss of flexibility of the joints, engage in yoga or pilates. These can improve flexibility, core strength, and balance.
Digestive issues become more common with age.12 Acidity and constipation are common complaints in the 40s, and you have to put a healthy diet plan in place to beat these. Gastritis and acidity attacks can be set off easily if you tend to go without food for long, or have too much caffeine or greasy, spicy food. Get adequate fiber and roughage in the form of fresh fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains. Acidity can be prevented by eating small meals at frequent intervals. Do not consume tea or coffee on an empty stomach, be it early morning or late evening. If you can’t do without that morning cuppa, have a couple of light biscuits to go with it. Drink plenty of fresh water and cut down on the sugary drinks.
Bone health is a significant concern because we tend to lose calcium as we age.13 Women especially need to watch out as estrogen fluctuations can impact calcium and vitamin D3 levels. If you have frequent low back pain, get in touch with a physician, who may recommend a bone mineral density test (BMD scan). Get plenty of natural calcium through dairy products and natural vitamin D by soaking up the sun. Keep a proper check on your calcium and D3 levels.14 You don’t want to end up with a sudden stress fracture!
Hormone disorders like thyroid dysfunction are common in the 40s. Men and women should both watch out for signs and symptoms like weight gain/loss, hair thinning, fatigue, and irritability.15 An annual hormone profile workup is advisable. Women, be prepared for the onset of menopause and some unpleasant symptoms like hot flashes, excess perspiration, fatigue, depression, and mood swings. Many women in the 40s also tend to experience diminished sex drive due to fluctuating hormones. Hormonal fluctuations also mean women should get an annual checkup to rule out breast and cervical cancer. An annual pap smear and mammogram coupled with clinical examination are advised.
Male menopause occurs between the ages of 40‒55. This is accompanied by changes in hormone levels (testosterone) which can impact sex drive, reduce sexual potency, create problems with erection and ejaculation, decrease fertility and create urinary problems such as incontinence.16 Making healthy lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet with a good measure of physical workouts, can help. Physical exercise can also improve mood swings and irritability caused by low testosterone levels. There is the option of hormone replacement therapy for low testosterone levels. Men should also be aware of the risks of enlarged prostates (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) and prostate cancers. BPH usually appears after the age of 40 and is more commonly found in older men.17 If left untreated it can cause problems. See a urologist who will determine if you need testing. Annual testing is usually recommended.
Pregnancy in the 40s is usually classified as high-risk and associated with gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and high blood pressure.18 Make sure your gynecologist is posted on your progress regularly and report anything unusual. A double test is usually recommended to rule out fetal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome and other developmental disorders.
Depression And Midlife Crisis Patterns
Depression and midlife crisis patterns are most commonly observed in the 40s. In one study, researchers analyzed data on people from 80 countries and found that depression peaked during the 40s.19 The peak depression age for women is around 44 years in the UK and 40 years in the US. Men usually start experiencing depression around the age of 50. Researchers are not able to categorically explain the causes and attribute it to a midlife crisis where people are grappling with personal and social identities, relationship issues, and career, marriage and family upheavals.
Memory-related changes are often first observed in the early 40s.20 Normal effects of aging on the brain include a decline in memory and cognitive processing. It may be in the 40s that people first notice their inability to remember complex lists, names, or telephone numbers ‒ all attributable to a shrinking cortex. The American Psychological Association explains this in terms of lower blood flow, which is normal for an aging brain. Psychologists advice memory-skill training and general acceptance of age-related cognitive decline. A healthy lifestyle helps to support brain health. Aerobic exercise has been observed to improve cognition as it increases the blood flow and hence oxygen supply to the brain.21
While the 40s may bring with it a range of physiological and psychological upheavals, paying attention to the changes and making positive lifestyle choices can keep many health issues at bay. Stay attuned to your body and learn to pick up early warnings. Make the 40s work for you!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Prospective Studies Collaboration. “Blood cholesterol and vascular mortality by age, sex, and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of individual data from 61 prospective studies with 55 000 vascular deaths.” The Lancet 370, no. 9602 (2007): 1829-1839.|
|2.||↑||Prospective Studies Collaboration. “Age-specific relevance of usual blood pressure to vascular mortality: a meta-analysis of individual data for one million adults in 61 prospective studies.” The Lancet 360, no. 9349 (2002): 1903-1913.|
|3.||↑||1 in 5 cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosed in the over-40s, Diabetes.|
|4.||↑||Type 2 diabetes – Causes, NHS.|
|5.||↑||Age-Related Eye Diseases, National Eye Institute.|
|7.||↑||Fast Facts on Diabetes, California Academy of Family Physicians.|
|8.||↑||Areas of Age-Related Change, National Institute of Health.|
|9.||↑||English, Kirk L., and Douglas Paddon-Jones. “Protecting muscle mass and function in older adults during bed rest.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care 13, no. 1 (2010): 34.|
|10.||↑||Kallman, Douglas A., Chris C. Plato, and Jordan D. Tobin. “The role of muscle loss in the age-related decline of grip strength: cross-sectional and longitudinal perspectives.” Journal of gerontology 45, no. 3 (1990): M82-M88.|
|11.||↑||Wroblewski, Andrew P., Francesca Amati, Mark A. Smiley, Bret Goodpaster, and Vonda Wright. “Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes.” The Physician and sportsmedicine 39, no. 3 (2011): 172-178.|
|12.||↑||Grassi, M., L. Petraccia, G. Mennuni, M. Fontana, A. Scarno, S. Sabetta, and A. Fraioli. “Changes, functional disorders, and diseases in the gastrointestinal tract of elderly.” Nutr Hosp 26, no. 4 (2011): 659-668.|
|13.||↑||Areas of Age-Related Change, National Institutes of Health.|
|14.||↑||Mid-life – 40s, University of Utah Health Care.|
|15.||↑||Davidson, Julian M., Jeanette J. Chen, Larry Crapo, Gary D. Gray, Walter J. Greenleaf, and Joseph A. Catania. “Hormonal Changes and Sexual Function in Aging Men*.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 57, no. 1 (1983): 71-77.|
|16.||↑||The ‘male menopause.’ NHS.|
|17.||↑||Prostrate Enlargement, A Guide to Urinary Symptoms in Men, Andrology Australia.|
|18.||↑||Yasin, S. Y., and S. N. Beydoun. “Pregnancy outcome at greater than or equal to 20 weeks’ gestation in women in their 40s. A case-control study.” The Journal of reproductive medicine 33, no. 2 (1988): 209-213.|
|19.||↑||Blanchflower, David G., and Andrew J. Oswald. “Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?.” Social science & medicine 66, no. 8 (2008): 1733-1749.|
|20, 21.||↑||Memory Changes in Older Adults, American Psychological Association.|