Mid-Life Crisis? You’ve Got it Beat!
Mid-life crisis got you feeling apprehensive or a bit down? Struggling with uncertainty about the direction your health is going? Let’s take stock!
It’s mid-year and chances are any New Year’s resolutions you may have made were shelved long ago. That’s okay, it happens to the best of us. But you’re probably still looking for the right combination of healthy choices and moves that will help you maintain a high quality of life over the next few decades—right?
There’s no time like the present to make those moves.
What improvements can you make to your lifestyle right now to restore, maintain, and improve your vitality, health, and mood? Sound like a tall order? It could be, but it also can be the greatest opportunity and gift you give to yourself and your loved ones.
Let’s face it: getting older can really be a bummer, but it doesn’t have to be. Change your perspective and you change the outcome. If you are willing to make a few healthy alterations in your daily life, you could get to spend more quality time with your partner or spouse, your children and grandchildren, and your friends, and pursue goals you have set in your life—or reach for new dreams you have yet to realize.
Let’s start with diet
When it comes to diet and food options, you can choose from scores of diets and dietary plans, books, and recipes. However, the ones that make the most sense scientifically may not be sexy (although they can improve your performance in the bedroom), but they work. They include the Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), both of which have been shown to help protect against the number one killer of men and women—heart disease—as well as support brain health and also throw in benefits for bone and digestive health as well.
The foundation of a healthy diet is simple: focus on whole, natural foods (i.e., free of artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, sugars, hormones, pesticides, and steroids), which provide a balance of macronutrients (protein, healthy fats, carbs), and are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and enzymes. This gives you a wealth of foods from which to choose—just keep them whole and natural.
- Feast on fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, beans, legumes, and teas.
- Moderate your intake of fish, poultry, meat, and dairy.
- Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, sesame oil, and coconut oil.
- Avoid added sugars, alcohol, and too much salt—switch to herbs and spices instead.
- Drink plenty of pure water.
Lose extra pounds
Have you added a few extra pounds in recent years? Time to let them go and welcome in added vitality, less stress on your joints, and a significantly reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. If you lose 5 to 10 percent of your current weight, you can appreciate these impressive health benefits.
For example, the Diabetes Prevention Program found that individuals who lost 7 percent of their body weight and exercised about one-half hour daily reduced their risk of diabetes by nearly 60 percent. Did you know that every step you take places up to six times your weight in pressure on your feet and knees. So if you weigh 200 pounds, that’s up to 1,200 pounds of pressure on your joints. Ouch!
So what’s the secret to weight loss? No secret…just patience, dedication, and motivation. Some simple weight loss tips:
- Skip the fad diets and choose an eating program that you can live with. After all, you don’t want to be miserable while losing weight, right? The Mediterranean diet, DASH, and various plant-based diets provide lots of variety and nutrition and can be easy to follow.
- Chew! Too many people forget to thoroughly chew their food. This will force you to eat more slowly, feel satisfied in a healthy way, and allow you to better digest your food.
- Increase your physical activity, and be sure to include things that you enjoy. Consider team sports, exercising with a friend, taking up a new activity, joining a gym, or forming an exercise group at work or in your neighborhood.
- Make food substitutions. Crunchy veggies are better than chips for dipping. Water with lemon beats soda. Cauliflower rice is a better choice than regular rice. Frozen bananas or berries are much lower in calories than ice cream. There are scores of substitutions you can make to reduce calories.
- Inadequate sleep contributes to weight gain. Be sure to get your 7 to 9 hours of Zzzzs every night.
If you don’t smoke, you’re ahead of the game! But if you do, it’s time to escape the clutches of this lethal habit. Don’t think just because you’ve been smoking for decades, you can’t experience some significant benefits once you snuff that final cigarette. Within one week of stopping, blood circulation improves. That’s good news on the bedroom front, since a strong erection depends on a good blood supply. Current smokers are nearly three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than non smokers and former smokers.
After 30 days, your lungs will function more efficiently. You ay cough up mucus, but that means you are clearing out your lungs and reducing the risk of infection. By your one year anniversary of quitting, your risk of heart disease will be half of someone who still smokes. It takes about ten times longer to reduce your risk of lung disease by half that of a smoker. If you are keen on maintaining your vision, then quit smoking, because this habit increases the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
To help you kick the habit, devise a plan:
- Identify a quit date. Choose a time when the stress level in your life is not running high, or you could set yourself up for failure.
- Establish support. Having a partner, spouse, or friend who can support and encourage you is important. You also could attend a smoking cessation group, listen to stop smoking talks online, or use nicotine patches or similar products.
- Know your motivations. It helps to write down why you want to quit. Keep that list handy so you can refer to it when you feel tempted to smoke.
- Find healthy habits. Smoking is a habit as well as an addiction, so you should replace the unhealthy habit with a healthy one. For some it’s going to the gym, joining a sports team, taking up biking or jogging, or adopting a new hobby.
Want to live longer? Adopt the “E” word. Men older than 50 who participated in regular moderate exercise can live about a year longer than their peers who are sedentary, according to the Framingham Heart Study. Kick up the activity to high and you can extend it to about four years. Physical activity improves heart and blood vessel health, enhances brain and cognitive function, helps control blood sugar levels, aids weight loss, improves mood, betters bone strength, and helps sleep.
The exercise formula is BASS: balance, aerobic, strength, stretch. Include activities that promote all of these elements and you will enhance your total health.
- Balance, incorporate yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or simply practice heel-toe walking.
- Aerobic activities include walking and jogging, swimming, spinning, jumping rope, and rowing.
- Strength exercises include lifting weights, using your own body weight, and boxing.
- Stretching is an activity you should do daily, both before and after exercise, as well as various times during the day. Stretching allows you to stay limber, retain range of motion, and avoid injury.
Keep your eyes on cholesterol
About 14 percent of Americans have cholesterol levels greater than 240 mg/dL, and many more have levels above 200 mg/dL, which is the cutoff point considered to be desirable, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program. If you lower your total cholesterol by 10 percent, you also reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 15 percent. Many men can reduce cholesterol simply by instituting dietary changes, such as avoiding both saturated and trans fats, eating whole grains, and including more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets are healthy plans, as are plant-based models.
Need a few more tips on how to lower cholesterol?
- Drop excess pounds
- Increase physical activity
- Avoid processed foods
- Consider taking medication. This should be a last resort if lifestyle changes don’t reduce your cholesterol levels to a healthy level
Maintain a healthy blood pressure
If you’d like to stick around for many years to come, keep a watchful eye on your blood pressure. It pays to have a home monitoring device, which are available in drug stores and other retail outlets everywhere. Your healthcare provider will tell you which systolic and diastolic numbers are best for you. Know, however, that experts are not in agreement as to the ideal blood pressure. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend a goal of 130/80 mmHg, which replaced a former recommendation of 140/90 mmHg. However, some other health professionals call for 120/80 mmHg or lower as the goal.
Why focus on blood pressure? When you reduce high blood pressure, you also decrease your risk of stroke by 35 to 40 percent, the incidence of heart failure by more than 50 percent, and the chances of heart attack by 20 to 25 percent.
Ideally you can reduce your blood pressure by making some lifestyle modifications and thus avoid medications altogether. How?
- Reduce you intake of salt. Check labels on food products, especially processed foods, which can be very high in sodium (salt). Switch to using herbs and spices instead of salt
- Eat more foods high in potassium. This mineral helps lower blood pressure. Popular choices are avocadoes, bananas, black beans, coconut water, spinach, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelon, and white beans.
- Practice stress management techniques. That could mean exercise, tai chi, listening to music, dance, meditation, deep breathing, visualization, progressive relaxation, or other methods
- Drug treatment should be your last resort if lifestyle efforts are not reducing your blood pressure adequately. Discuss the possibilities with your healthcare provider.
The “fight or flight” response of our ancestors kicked in when they had to escape man-eating animals and other life-threatening situations. They experienced a rush of hormones and chemicals throughout their body, faster heart rate and breathing, a rise in blood pressure, and a burst of energy in the form of glucose in their blood stream. Today we experience the same physical responses to stress, but our stress is more likely to involve rush hour traffic, balancing monthly bills, coping with job crises, and struggling with healthcare costs.
The vast majority of our stress is not life-threatening, yet the body doesn’t discriminate. So when stress is chronic or unresolved, the body keeps the high blood pressure, the high sugar levels, the elevated heart rate, and even greater mental stress. All of these factors contribute to poor overall health as well as a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, depression, headaches, obesity, and more.
How do you manage stress? It’s important to incorporate easy, enjoyable ways to cope with stress in your daily life. Here are a few suggestions:
- Meditation of visualization
- Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and similar practices
- Deep breathing exercises
- Enjoyable exercise, such as basketball or touch football with friends, dancing, jogging, swimming, hiking, canoeing, tennis, handball
- Laughter (funny videos, movies, laughter yoga)
- Sleep/naps (not as an escape, but if you are overtired, a nap can reduce stress levels)
- Change your perspective. Often it is how we look at things or situations that determines our stress level and thus our response to it. Ask yourself: how important is this situation? Is it truly worthy getting upset over? What can I learn from this situation? Can I get help with this situation?
Imbibe moderately or not at all
Alcohol can be part of socializing, kicking back, and celebrating with family and friends, and it also has some positive health benefits. At the same time, however, alcohol consumption can have a significant negative impact on the body.
Moderation is the key. For men, a moderate amount of alcohol is two drinks daily, which translates into two 12-ounce glasses of beer, two 5-ounce glasses of wine, or two 1.5 ounce shots of liquor.
Consuming more than two drinks daily can increase the risk of hypertension, stroke, arrhythmia, and sudden death. Having up to one drink daily can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, but heavy drinking increases the risk to 22 percent when compared with nondrinkers. Drinking alcohol at any level increases the risk of hemorrhagic stroke by two to four times.
Want to reduce or eliminate your alcohol consumption? Here are a few things to watch for:
- Looks can be deceiving. A wine goblet can make 5 ounces look like next to nothing and so you can be tempted to fill the glass. The amount of liquor in a mixed drink glass may be more than you bargained for. Pay attention to how much alcohol you are actually consuming.
- Don’t drink alone. People tend to drink more when they are alone. However, don’t drink with individuals who may keep encouraging you to keep up with them!
- Take a break. If your habit is to drink every day or nearly every day, take a day or two off every week.
- Get help. If you find it difficult to reduce or quit drinking, talk to a professional about your drinking habits.
Get enough Zzzzzs
Are you getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night? That’s the amount recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. If you lack sufficient sleep, your mind and body will rebel in various ways. For example:
- Weight gain. One reason for this response to sleep deprivation is that it interferes with the hormones that regulate appetite. Another reason may be that you may tend to eat more sugary or high-fat foods when you’re tired so you’ll stay awake.
- Diabetes risk. Studies show that people who sleep less than five hours a night have a threefold greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who sleep six hours or longer.
- Heart disease risk. Short-term sleep deprivation is associated with risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides, while long-term lack of sleep may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Mental impact. Feeling foggy? You probably know that sleep deprivation can make it difficult to concentrate or remember things, but did you know it also makes you more likely to experience depression and anxiety? A recent review shows that sleep deprivation/insomnia is closely related to depression.
If you’d like to get more shut eye, check out these secrets to better sleep.
Don’t skip health screenings
When was the last time you saw a healthcare professional for a health screening or physical? According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 55 percent of men questioned had not visited their doctor for a physical exam in the previous year. Yet 40 percent of them had high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or some other chronic condition.
Nearly 30 percent of men said they “wait as long as possible” before they would go to a doctor if they were experiencing pain or feeling sick. Many men delay or completely avoid a number of health screenings that are strongly recommended on an as-needed basis, yearly, or less often. To see a list of those screenings and when they are recommended, click here and see page 30.
Make a mental note of how many of the screenings you have done and which ones you plan to do. How did you do? If you have any questions about these tests, discuss them with your healthcare provider.
The mid-life crisis is real only if you allow it to be. Congratulate yourself for making it this far. Then take control of the rest of your life and resolve to live it to the fullest and to be the healthiest and most energetic you can be. You owe it to yourself, your family, friends, and to the difference you can make in the world.
American College of Cardiology. New ACC/AHA high blood pressure guidelines lower definition of hypertension. 2017 Nov 13
Harvard Medical School. A guide to men’s health fifty and forward.
Riemann D et al. Sleep, insomnia, and depression. Neuropsychopharmacology 2019 May 9