The oldest people in the world are clear about one thing: Avoiding aging is an impossible feat. Whether you’re a man or woman, the goal is to embrace getting older and take steps throughout your life to stay at the top of your game – both physically and mentally. Men especially have much to gain from adopting healthy habits as they age.
“We talk about menopause in women, but men experience changes, too,” explains Ali Dabaja, M.D., a urologist and men’s health expert at Henry Ford Health. “From youth all the way up to older adulthood, men undergo functional changes and changes in appearance.”
From spikes and dips in sexual function to balding and weight gain, here’s what men should watch for as they journey into their golden years:
In your teens
The teen years are a period of tremendous growth and development, both physically and mentally. Most growth happens during the teen years, but some men can continue growing and developing even into their 20s. “Different men have different growth rates, depending on their genetics and other factors,” Dr. Dabaja says. “Some kids might be alarmed if pubic hair arrives early – or late – and they may need to hear that kids go through puberty at different rates.”
What to do: If you’re a parent, talk to your kids and make sure they’re comfortable in their bodies and with the changes they’re experiencing.
In your 20s
Between college exams, work demands and an active social calendar, many men have difficulty maintaining healthy habits during their 20s. Instead of eating a healthy diet and adopting a fixed workout regimen, you may find yourself indulging in late nights, fat-laden convenience foods and too much beer. To add insult to injury, the brain doesn’t reach full maturity until the mid-20s, and that means men in this age bracket are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving.
What to do: Adopt healthy habits now, while you’re young, so you’ll carry them with you into your 70s and beyond. Take steps to prevent substance abuse, accidents and sexually transmitted diseases that could have long-lasting effects – and get the appropriate screenings from your physician. You may also want to establish a baseline for markers such as blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid disease.
In your 30s and 40s
Practicing self-care is critical during your 30s and 40s, especially when it comes to stress. It’s not uncommon for men in this age group to burn the candle at both ends in an attempt to stay on top of work and family demands. Unfortunately, that strategy can backfire. Not only do you suffer from the repercussions of too little sleep, but your body may undergo changes that make taking care of yourself even more important.
“In your 30s and 40s, your metabolism slows,” Dr. Dabaja says. “So, even if you’re eating the same amount of food, you’re likely to gain more weight.”
What to do: Commit to taking care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, get seven to nine hours of sleep and work out four to five times each week. Then get screened for diseases like diabetes, thyroid disease and cardiovascular risk factors (including cholesterol levels and blood pressure).
In your 50s and beyond
After age 50, testosterone levels begin to dip, which causes changes in the way fat is distributed. You might notice extra weight developing around your midsection, less hair on your head and more hair in your nose and ears. Estrogen and estradiol levels may rise at the same time, causing changes in breast tissue and a loss of muscle mass. You may also experience dips in sexual desire and function. When you’re aware these changes are forthcoming, it’s less alarming when they happen.
What to do: Focus on brain and heart health, and if you’re a smoker, get screened for lung cancer (and do your best to kick the habit). If you’re alarmed by the changes in sexual function, seek help from a physician. There are a variety of treatments available and you should be able to enjoy a healthy sex life well into your golden years. Then, get back to basics: Take steps to prevent falls and accidents in and around your home, get your eyes checked so you have the appropriate prescription eyeglasses and work out to maintain your strength and balance. Also, continue screening exams, including screenings for colon cancer and prostate cancer.
The bottom line: Staying well into your senior years is an act of balance. Eat a clean diet, exercise and enjoy an active social and sex life. Then, avoid activities that are known to increase your risk of developing certain diseases. Those things together can help negate many of the changes that happen with age.
Most important, don’t buy into a bunch of supplements, pills and potions.
“The only thing I recommend is a standard multivitamin for men,” Dr. Dabaja says. “Outside of that, there’s no good evidence for or against any of vitamins and supplements.”
Getting regular check-ups and establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor is also key to a healthy life. To find a doctor at Henry Ford and schedule an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Ali Dabaja is a urologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Dearborn and Sterling Heights, at Henry Ford Reproductive Medicine in Troy, and at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and West Bloomfield.