Want look and feel young into your 40s and beyond? Now's the time to hit the refresh button.
"When you're in your 20s and 30s, you have forever"—or so you think, explained Heather Provino, CEO of the workplace wellness company Provant Health Solutions Inc., in East Greenwich, R.I.
But health and lifestyle errors can sneak up on you in midlife and, next thing you know, a routine checkup finds your blood pressure's up or your blood sugar's out of whack.
"If you're not using 40 as that check-in point and that turnout time, those issues will start compounding," leading to chronic conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, Provino, an exercise physiologist and sports psychologist, said.
Here are some common mishaps and tips to get you back on track.
Being addicted to your mobile phone
Are digital devices making us sick? A 2011 Harvard review links prolonged television viewing with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. More recently, researchers at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston found that blue light—the kind emitted by tablets, cell phone, e-readers and other devices—disrupts the body's natural circadian rhythms, making it harder to get a good night's rest.
"We're creating a generation of sedentary behavior that wasn't natural, say, even 20 years ago," Provino cautioned.
Tip: Take a 10-minute standing break every hour that you're using your screens.
Not making sleep a priority
Like your cell phone, your body and brain need time to reboot and recharge. Adults 18 to 64 require about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Skimping on shuteye does a number to your health, including raising your risk of hypertension, stroke, and obesity. It may also be a factor in depression, and there's evidence that being sleep deprived promotes biological aging, making you look older than you are.
Tip: Create a relaxing bedtime ritual—no cell phones in bed, please—with these 7 tips for your best sleep ever.
Daytime fasting may seem like the perfect dieting hack. Wrong: You're more likely to overeat or splurge on junk food later in the day. Over time, missing meals can muck with your metabolism, setting you up for type 2 diabetes. Nearly two-thirds of adults with diabetes get diagnosed between ages 40 and 64.
Tip: Katharine Taber, MD, a board-certified gynecologist and director of the Women's Wellness Center at LifeBridge Health, based in Baltimore, urges patients to kick off the day with a healthy breakfast.
"A, it helps with weight loss; B it gives you more energy and concentration throughout the day," she said.
Ignoring health warning signs
A wincing pain? A peculiar discharge? When your body offers clues that something's amiss, pay attention. Identifying health problems as early as possible often makes them more treatable.
"The number of women who won't tell you they found a breast lump is astounding," Taber said.
"They just want to know if you (the OB/GYN) feel it." Many patients are afraid, embarrassed, or think they may be wrong, she explained.
Tip: Prepare a list of questions and concerns to share with your doctor before your visit.
Eating too much sodium
Sodium has a stealthy way of holing up in people's diets even when they're not tipping the saltshaker. It's in bread, processed meats, soup, cheese, sauces and dressings, among other staples. Most people consume more sodium than their bodies require. The daily recommended max is about half a teaspoon. Too much of it can cause hypertension, a major cause of heart attack and stroke.
Tip: Read packaged food labels carefully and stay under 2,300 mg a day (1,500 if you have high blood pressure).
Being dehydrated all the time
Water nourishes every cell and organ in your body, including your skin. It's even more important to stay properly hydrated as you age because older adults may lose some of their sense of thirst. Indulging in a morning cup of joe or afternoon soda-pop counts toward your daily water intake, but straight-up water is better because it's caffeine- and sugar-free.
Tip: If you pee is dark yellow, it may be a sign that you need to boost your H2O intake. (It should be clear or light yellow).
Skipping the weight room
A well-rounded exercise regimen wouldn't be complete without strength training. It can help you tone muscle, boost metabolism, and build strong bones. Research shows it improves flexibility, balance, and aerobic capacity, too. These fitness benefits become even more crucial as we age. Roughly half of all women 50 and older suffer hip, wrist, or spine fractures in their lifetime, but bone-building strength exercises can lower the risk of brittle-bone disease.
Tip: Incorporate free weights, weight machines, elastic bands, or resistance training using your own body weight (think push-ups and squats) into your fitness routine.
Not having sex
With young children and work obligations, sex often gets pushed aside in your 30s. But as the kids get older, sex should move back up your priority list, Taber noted. Maintaining a healthy sex life, even as you enter middle age, is an important part of intimacy.
"It's harder to reinstitute a healthy sex life once you're neglected it," she said.
Tip: Talk to your doctor if sexual intercourse is uncomfortable—there are treatments available, adds Dr. Larkin.
Eating too much processed food
Grabbing a bag of chips before hitting the gym is not the optimal way to fuel your body. Over time, all that sugar, fat, and sodium—the secret to making processed foods tasty—can do a number on your waistline and your health. Replacing a diet packed with microwave meals, snacks, and processed meats with whole grains, fresh produce, and lean meats is the way to go.
"It's very convenient to go through a drive-through, but it's also pretty convenient to boil some water and put it in some oatmeal," Richard reasoned.
Skipping recommended vaccines
Kids aren't the only ones who need their shots. A half-dozen or so immunizations and boosters—including vaccines that protect against influenza and chicken pox—are recommended for adults. Many others may be appropriate depending on a person's risk factors and vaccine history. About 50,000 adults die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Tip: Getting vaccinated protects yourself and reduces your risk of getting sick and spreading the disease to others.