Today I noticed for the first time a certain urgency to go to the bathroom, even though I haven’t drank much water or other fluids.  And why is it that I feel this intermittent pain in my joints, especially in my ankle and knees?  I also know that the body requires a certain amount of time for rest, yet lately I find myself feeling perfectly fine after just a few hours. Have you noticed similar things?

Did you know that preventive measures, diet, exercise, along with all the present medical advances can prolong your years and the quality of life? Something to ponder, huh?

It’s never too late to improve our health.  My goal is for you to get something valuable – something you can use to improve your health and wellbeing – from the next three articles as we discuss maleness, men, and our quest to not only live longer but to enjoy our older years.

Over the Hill?  Nonsense!

If you’re like a lot of men aged 50 or older, you’ve begun to think of yourself as “over the hill”.  Granted, it’s hard to ignore the graying temples, well-defined crow’s feet, creaky joints, and miscellaneous aches and pains that have appeared slowly but surely over the past decade.  And all those candles on your last birthday cake?  Yikes!!

In today’s world, 50 is anything but old.  In fact, it’s very possible you’ll live another 30+ (or even more!) years – in vibrant health – as long as you take very good care of the body you have today.  Even if you’ve taken your health for granted up until now, it’s definitely not too late to start making positive changes. 

Check-ups, Tests, and Screenings

This is a good time to take a thorough inventory of your health.  If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, you’re probably past due for a variety of check-ups, tests, and screenings (e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.).  The older you get, the more important it is to make sure you have these done as scheduled. Making these a priority will greatly increase the chance of early detection, and may also aid in the prevention of many problems altogether.  

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Let’s face it; there’s nothing good about being overweight or obese. It’s really bad for your health in so many ways, not to mention the number it does on your self-esteem.  No one is “destined” to be fat, and a spare tire around your middle is not an inevitable side effect of living past the age of 50 (or 60, or 70).  Getting down to and / or maintaining a healthy level is more crucial at this point in your life than ever – if living well into your 70s (and beyond) while keeping diabetes and other serious health issues at bay – are important to you.

The problem with losing weight is that there are easily hundreds of different “weight loss diets” – not to mention supplements and other gimmicks – being promoted daily by health gurus, celebrities, and late night infomercials.  It can be difficult to know which approach is best.  But here’s the deal:  “Diets” don’t work – at least not in the long run.  Nor do chronic cardio, counting calories, and / or a steady diet of “low-fat” or “fat-free” foods. 

Also, weight loss is not as simple as eating fewer calories than your body’s burning each day.  Hormones, nutrition, sleep, stress levels, and other factors play a much more important role than previously realized.  Lifestyle changes are almost always necessary if lasting weight loss is one of your goals. 

Balanced Hormones

Hormones are a frequent topic for women over 50, but many men give them very little – if any – thought (except, perhaps, testosterone).  Yet your hormones are extremely important as you age.  Health issues are inevitable when they’re out of balance. Low libido, excess weight, hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, depression, and type II diabetes are just a few of the problems caused – at least in large part – by hormonal imbalances. 

According to Dr. Michael Aziz, in his book The Perfect 10 Diet, key dietary changes can help restore that balance and greatly improve your physical health. Regular exercise, stress reduction, and adequate sleep are also crucial for achieving and maintaining healthy hormone levels (and successful weight loss).

Three particularly important hormones (not that any of them are unimportant) for men are testosterone (keeps libido alive and prevents muscle wasting, among other things), cortisol (the stress hormone – too much leads to increased fat, insulin problems, and loss of muscle mass), and insulin (too much can cause obesity, depression, low libido, and other problems).

Proper Digestion

Good digestion is crucial to living a long, healthy (and happy!) life.  If you’re not digesting your food properly, you’re not getting all the nutrients it contains.  Unfortunately, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, acid reflux, and a whole host of other digestive problems have become all too common in recent years.  In fact, one could almost make the case that you’re not normal if you’re 50 or older and aren’t suffering from at least one or two digestive problems on a daily basis. 

If, for example, you pop Tums like they’re candy or keep a stack of reading material in the bathroom, it’s time to make some serious changes to improve your digestive health.  Many factors, including stress, certainly have a negative impact.  However, diet typically plays the most crucial role.  Many digestive problems can be significantly reduced – if not completely healed – by making changes in your diet. 

A diet high in fiber from wheat and other grains can actually do more harm than good when it comes to digestion.  Instead, eat more fresh vegetables – particularly leafy greens – and fruit.  Not only are many fruits and vegetables high in fiber, they also contain enzymes and other nutrients that aid digestion. 

If your gut is low on good bacteria, then probiotics can help.  You can get probiotics from supplements, or by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. Be sure to choose plain, organic yogurt with “live cultures”. 

Get Plenty of Zzzzzzzzz’s

Your physical health (as well as your emotional health) is highly dependent upon getting regular, restful sleep.  Most Americans live in a chronic state of sleep deprivation.  It can be difficult juggling the demands of a career and a family, not to mention social, church, community, and / or volunteer obligations as well.  If you’ve been sacrificing your sleep to have more hours in your day, you’re shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to your health. 

When you sleep, your body is busy repairing cells and rebuilding itself.  A vital anti-aging hormone, HGH (human growth hormone) is produced by your body primarily while you sleep.  So if your sleep is lacking, then you’re going to be deficient. 

Poor sleep weakens your immune system, contributes to weight gain (and sabotages weight loss efforts), negatively impacts your physical performance, and increases your risk for a multitude of serious health conditions – including cancer. It’s vital to every aspect of your physical well-being.

Strive to get at least 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep every night, preferably on a very regular schedule (no sleeping in on the weekends!).  You’ll reap the benefits for years to come if you do this.    

The Essential Role of Exercise

Exercise plays an important role in staying physically healthy.  However, more is not necessarily better – especially as you get older.  Rather, more and more experts are recognizing the benefits of high intensity interval training – exercise that involves “all out” short bursts of movement – rather than hours of endless cardio and lengthy gym workouts.  Not only is HIIT more time-efficient (see, now you have more time for sleep!), studies have shown that you’ll get the same benefits when compared to long workouts. 

Regular exercise helps reduce stress, decreases anxiety, and benefits depression.  It will also boost your self-esteem and make you more “in-tune” with your body.

Weight-bearing exercise (such as weight lifting or bodyweight exercises) is important for keeping your bones strong and maintaining (or increasing, if needed) your lean muscle mass.  Strong bones reduce your risk for osteoporosis (and hip fractures), and lean muscle mass will help you maintain a healthy weight. The resistance elastic-like bands work just as well if weights bothers you.

Stretching is also crucial – especially as you get older.  Regular, gentle stretching is essential to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries.  Yoga is a great way to incorporate gentle stretching into your exercise routine.  Even just a few minutes a day is very beneficial for tight muscles. 

Make sure to regularly include exercise that is fun for you, such as hiking, tennis, skiing, biking, or playing basketball.  The more you enjoy it, the more likely you’ll stick with it.  And having fun is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

 I left out walking which is a great way of getting from behind the wheel of your car. Imagine an improved health by simply taking a walk with family or friends or starting a walking group.

No matter how out of shape, overweight, underweight, or unhealthy you are, there’s no time like today to start making changes to improve your health. Consider working with a coaching consultant to get you started on the right path and help you stay motivated to reach your goals. 

You only get one body in your lifetime.  It’s value?  Priceless. Treat it accordingly and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come. 

Curt Canada coaches and consults clients at Adapting2change in Washington DC.