Each decade brings with it different changes and challenges you'll need to address to stay in tip-top condition as you age. Check out each of the decades to find out what you should be doing to keep the effects of ageing to a minimum.
STAY HEALTHY THROUGH YOUR 20s
This is the most forgiving decade as far as getting away with bad health habits is concerned. But although you might feel able to get away with late nights, smoking and drinking and still get up for work the next day, your 20s is an ideal time to lay down healthier habits that will set you in good stead for later on in life.
One of the best habits to develop and maintain is weight-bearing exercise. This can improve your bone density during your 20s, but later it will only be possible to preserve the bone you've already got. Anything that requires you to bear your own weight, including jumping, running, dancing and skipping, counts.
And don't use period pain as an excuse. Research suggests intense training can ease period pain more effectively than prolonged, gentler exercise. However, if you suffer more from PMS than period pain, research by Duke University suggests aerobic exercise is more effective at decreasing symptoms than intense exercise such as strength training.
How can I maintain my health? Although you may not want to spend hours in the gym, fitting more activity into your daily routine is a good compromise in terms of getting cardiovascular exercise. Variety is the key to not getting bored, so keep your eye out for new fitness trends. Stay aerobically active for life and your heart could be in equally good shape at 60 as it is in your 20s. A study at Liverpool's John Moores University found veteran athletes who had all exercised regularly for about 30 years had a cardiac performance that was the same, if not greater, than inactive 20-year-olds.
Vices such as smoking and drinking excessively can deplete your body of vitamins and minerals. Heavy drinking and smoking increase the need for the B vitamins and vitamin C, and may affect zinc absorption levels. These needs can be satisfied by eating meat, shellfish, dairy products and wholegrains. Drinking also increases the need for folate, which occurs in yeast extract, beans and pulses, breakfast cereals, liver, and wheatgerm, and magnesium (in wholegrains, nuts and seeds). Smokers may want to up their intake of vitamin E (in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts and seeds), as well as stock up on watercress and broccoli, which are high in phenethyl isothiocyanate - a phytochemical that has been shown to reduce the risk of tobacco-induced lung cancer.
STAY HEALTHY THROUGH YOUR 30s
Although you might cruise through your early 30s unscathed by the ravages of time, you could be in for a rude awakening when you reach the middle of your fourth decade, as this is the time when the double whammy of declining metabolism and depleted muscle mass add up to cause excess flab. Between the ages of 30 and 80, 15 per cent of muscle mass is lost, and with it go strength and tone.
According to research, however, these changes may not be age-related at all, but may simply be due to declining levels of activity. Certainly, being more active will have positive benefits. For example, a study at Arizona State University found that women who were aged 35 and over who were active had significantly greater resting metabolisms than their inactive peers.
Another wise course of action is to build a strong core. Strong abdominal and lower back muscles will enable you to maintain good posture during pregnancy, reducing the risk of lower back pain or problems.
How can I maintain my health?
The real magic bullet for preserving body shape and fighting excess flab is resistance training. A study by resistance training expert Wayne Westcott found that 12 weeks of regular resistance training can result in a loss of 1.82kg of body fat and a gain of 1.36kg of lean muscle tissue. So, if you are fit enough, swap your long, unchallenging workouts for short, sharp high intensity ones, such as interval training or circuits. A recent study in sports medicine found this worked best in stimulating the release of growth hormone, which regulates body fat storage. Plus it's a great time-saver, too. For core strength, get a Swiss ball for easy-to-fit-in home workouts, or try a pilates class.
STAY HEALTHY THROUGH YOUR 40s
Ever find yourself going "Ooph" as you get out of a chair? Declining mobility, joint stiffness and reduced flexibility are all telltale signs of non-active ageing - as is a wardrobe of clothing that just seems to get mysteriously tighter.
The thing is, we tend to become less active as we age without really noticing.
Do you drive where you used to walk? Sit at a desk for long hours when you used to be constantly on the run? Do you eat out more, go clubbing less and always get a taxi home?
Although our lives may be at their most hectic, it doesn't necessarily mean we are being active.
How can I maintain my health?
Now is the time to inject calorie-blasting activity back into your life. And it doesn't have to be at the gym. In fact, a study at the University of Maastricht found that people who were sedentary most of the day but went to the gym regularly burned fewer calories than people who were generally more active in their daily lives but didn't do any structured workouts. Think of every task you have to do - from unloading the washing machine and travelling to work, to shopping and DIY - as an opportunity to use your body. Research from the University of Arkansas revealed the amount of energy spent on daily activities accounted for 75 per cent of the variability in body fat levels among subjects - meaning the more active they were, the less body fat they had. Activities such as tai chi, yoga and pilates can do wonders to restore a good range of motion and suppleness.
STAY FIT AND HEALTHY THROUGH YOUR 50s
The average woman reaches menopause at 52 years old, but the changes associated with the menopause can begin earlier. During this "peri-menopause" stage, levels of the female hormones are depleting, influencing everything from mood to fat distribution, and causing unwelcome affects such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness.
Symptoms vary widely from woman to woman, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that regular aerobic exercise can soften the experience of the menopause. After menopause, the two big players in terms of exercise for health are bone density and heart health, as the sudden depletion of oestrogen causes problems in both of these areas.
Balancing skills also begin to wobble in our 50s, putting us at risk of falls in later life, and of becoming less active due to a fear of falling. But a study at the University of Connecticut found balance can be markedly improved by a number of different exercise techniques, including working with a balance board, doing simple balancing poses, and doing resistance training and/or tai chi. In the study, balance had improved by 25 to 50 per cent by the end of a three-month training period.
How can I maintain my health?
Walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics and running are great for preventing peri-menopausal symptoms, including weight gain and low mood. They will also help you maintain a healthy cardiovascular system beyond the menopause.
To keep your bones healthy in your 50s, you'll also need to do weight-bearing exercise. One effective solution is to do strength training which, as well as keeping your bones healthy, will keep you toned and use all of your body's major muscles and joints, so that you maintain optimal mobility.
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