Vail health: Focus on your 40s
In a decade where children begin to leave the nest, careers move toward a peak and travels are checked off bucket lists, the 40s are hardly for the faint of heart.
“At this time, people are looking back and asking: “Have I done meaningful things in my life?” said Dr. Drew Werner, a family practitioner in Eagle. “It’s about reflecting on where you are in your life and in what direction you want to move for the future.”
Call it a “mid-life crisis” if you want, but Werner said it is simply a time when personal, career and family changes mark a large shift in people’s lives.
“This is half-way through a lot of people’s work lives,” said Werner. “So often people evaluate their careers and may want a change.”
He also said people at this age often need to come to terms with changing relationships with their children, as well as their parents.
“This is a time when people shift from being a parent to a peer,” Werner said. “And as they move away from being caregivers to their children, they recognize that they may need to help care for their parents.”
Werner said that during these life-shifts, it is common for people to neglect their health by not eating, exercising or sleeping right.
“People at this age should focus on recommitting to a healthy lifestyle,” Werner said. “If you are not eating well, exercising well and sleeping well, your health is not optimized.”
Katie Mazzia is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at the Vail Valley Medical Center. Mazzia said nutrition should be a top-priority, even during mid-life shifts.
“Life can become complicated in your 40s, and sometimes people lose sight of good nutrition,” Mazzia said.
She said that proper nutrition can help prevent certain health conditions, including a slowing metabolism, aging brain cells, shrinking bone and muscles mass, and cancer.
Mazzia said people in their 40s require about 100 calories less per day, which can tack on an average of 10 pounds per year if you don’t cut back on calories or increase exercise. She said metabolism is also affected by amounts of sleep, stress, genetics and thyroid function.
To regulate metabolism, Mazzia recommends maintaining a healthy weight and a BMI (body mass index) of less that 25, getting regular exercise and eating only if you are hungry.
“Keep calories in check by eating between 100 to 150 calorie snacks, such as two cups of raw veggies, one piece of fruit or a fourth of a cup of raw nuts,” Mazzia said.
Don’t forget to eat foods that fuel your brain as well as your body.
“We lose brain cells as we age and start to forget a little more than when we were younger,” Mazzia said. “Research shows that a plant-based diet and one high in omega-3 fatty acids may improve the way our brain communicates by decreasing inflammation and delivering maximum antioxidants.”
Mazzia recommends eating a lot of dark berries, like blueberries, which she said have been linked to improved memory.
“Muscle mass declines as we age, and women lose twice as much as men,” Mazzia said. “Decreased muscle mass can increase fatigue, weakness and strength.”
Mazzia said that osteoporosis becomes a problem for aging women’s bones, and prevention should begin by the time you hit 40.
She recommends eating lean, high quality protein at every meal to preserve muscle mass, as well as weight and resistance training three times a week. Mazzia said to consume a calcium rich diet and to get the recommended 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for people between the ages of 19 and 50.
The Institute of Medicine recently increased recommendations for daily vitamin D intake for bone health, which is now 600 international units for most adults.
Mazzia said some studies suggest certain cancer risks are lowered for those who have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. She said this includes cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.
She recommends eating about two to two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (combined) every day.
Dr. Mindy Cooper, an internal medicine doctor at Colorado Mountain Medical, said it’s important in your 40s to spend time with your doctor going over your family medical history.
“We would start screening more aggressively for colon or breast cancer based on your family history,” Cooper said.
She said that the 10-year rule is often used, so if your mother or father was diagnosed with cancer at age 50, you should be getting screenings at age 40.
Werner although 40 year olds should focus on committing to exercise, they need to respect the fact that their bodies are not 25 anymore.
“As people start to hit their 40s, there should be a recognition that they are in fact aging,” Werner said. “Limitations don’t mean that we can’t do what we want to do, but we have to be smart about doing it.”
Werner said that at this age it’s even more important to condition and stretch for athletic endeavors.
“There’s a point where you recognize that you can no longer keep up with your son on a mountain bike trail, but you can certainly still ride that trail,” Werner said.