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When your body turns against you

Posted on : 23-07-2010 | By : Cindy | In : Behaviours, Losing it - weight loss & obesity


Talk to most people over 40 and you’ll hear the same comments: “I just can’t eat, drink, run, stay up all night, read the fine print like I used to”. Youth is forgiving but after 40-something years of moving, breathing, digesting and gravity, our body starts to show signs of wear and tear. We’d expect it with any other machine. But most of us are still shocked when our body can’t keep up with what we think it should do. Some desperately grasp at supplements or surgery to retain their youth while, at the other extreme, some passively resign themselves that their bulging tummy and shrinking calves are just part of getting old. Aging happens. But how fast it happens is up to us.

Over the next few posts we’ll look at some common problems that hit the 40-something age group.

Middle age spread

Why it happens

Hormones, hereditary and lifestyle are the culprits in middle age spread. For women, the years leading up to menopause see a gradual drop in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen encourages fat to be stored around the hips and thighs but with less oestrogen fat tends to accumulate around the tummy. We transform from ‘pears’ to ‘apples’ – just like the men. The extent to which this happens depends partly on hereditary. But don’t blame your parents just yet; it may be the increased hours spent sitting in front of a screen or in the car.

What to do

Swap your stress from psychological to physical. Juggling the demands of work and family often cause mental and emotional stress. This does our health no good. A little physical stress is what we need. But don’t race out for a five kilometre run after months of inactivity – you’re likely to tear a tendon. Thirty minutes of walking, cycling or other moderate exercise most days is enough to help keep that middle age spread in check.

A number of studies have linked regular exercise to slower aging. The theory is that exercise keeps our telomeres long. Telomeres are a protective cap on chromosomes, sort of like the plastic tip on shoelaces that stop it unravelling. When a cell divides the telomeres get shorter and shorter until they become so short the cell can no longer divide. Aging is the result of cells reaching the end of their telomeres and dying. A study of around 2500 people found that those who exercised an average of 199 minutes per week (roughly the equivalent of 30 minutes a day) had longer telomeres, making them up to ten years younger at the cellular level, than those who exercised just 16 minutes a week. (Cherkas LF et al) More research is needed: it could just be that people who exercise have other healthy lifestyle habits that keep their telomeres longer

A recent report by researchers at AUT found that the worst thing for a spreading waistline is long periods of sitting. Cycle to work, take the stairs, walk to your colleague’s office rather than e-mail, buy take-out coffee and walk while you talk, enjoy the vacuuming, dusting, weeding and sweeping. It all burns kilojoules and uses muscles.

Eat a little less. It’s a simple equation: move less, eat less. There’s no need to go on a diet, just eat a little less at dinner (try using a smaller plate) and have one slice of cake or square of chocolate rather than two.

In the next post we’ll look at hot flushes, weak muscles and achy joints.

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