Turning 40 feels like a milestone, and with adult life expectancy in the UK still at 81, it actually marks half that. It is undeniable that the body begins to work against us when we step in mid-life – and not just by triggering those unwelcome grunts when we make ourselves comfortable in an armchair.
The risk of cancer begins to increase as the cells become more damaged over time; in women, perimenopause can begin at this stage. In the meantime, our body composition changes – after the age of 30, we lose around 3-5 percent muscle mass per decade, unless we take weight training down into our regime or an increased cheese and wine habit remains controversial.
But many of these disadvantages of aging can be overcome or even prevented through lifestyle adjustments; Studies show that healthy habits can lower the risk of cancer by up to 40 percent. So, when you’re in your 40s, one of the best things you can do is get a health check-up.
“From the age of 40, a comprehensive health check should be an important appointment in your calendar every year,” says Dr. Ursula Levine, family doctor (integrative medicine) from Lanserhof at The Arts Club. “The earlier a change in your state of health is recognized, the more efficient the treatment can be.”
The NHS offers a free health check-up for those over 40 every five years to check for early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or dementia. But there are also plenty of tests that you can do at home …
1. Measure your waist with a piece of string
Leading diabetes scientist Dr. Roy Taylor recently said that the fact that you don’t fit the pants you wore in your 20s can be a sign that you are over-fat and at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Waist circumference is an important indicator of health as fat stored in the middle can be particularly harmful, build up around organs such as the liver and pancreas, and increase the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.
But the jeans size test is a bit rudimentary. Dr. Michael Mosley, who developed the 5: 2 diet, has another hint of good health. “We know that the waist-to-height ratio is a useful indicator of health – ideally, your waist should be no more than half your height,” he says. “But you don’t need a tape measure – just grab a piece of string that is as long as you are tall. Fold it in half and see if it fits your waist. “
If not, don’t panic, but it’s something you can work on. “Reducing your waist size to half your height will likely improve your long-term health and boost your immunity,” adds Dr. Mosley added.
2. Time to climb stairs
If you want a quick test to see how your heart is handling it, climb four flights of stairs (60 steps) and measure yourself. “If it takes you more than a minute and a half to climb four flights of stairs, your health is not optimal and it would be a good idea to see a doctor,” says Dr. Jesús Peteiro, cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain, who presented his research results at the conference of the European Society of Cardiology last year.
A recent study published in the journal Jama Network Open found that getting fit in your 40s and 50s decreases the risk of early death by about 35 percent – and especially if you protect against heart disease.
3. Check for lumps and bumps
Women of all ages – but especially over 40 – should check their breasts regularly. Dr. Zoe Williams, the GP and broadcaster, recommends doing this “ideally once a month” and says we shouldn’t just watch for lumps. “There are a lot of different signs such as irritation or pitting of the skin on the breast or flaky skin around the nipples,” she says. “If you notice unusual changes, it is important that you contact your family doctor as soon as possible.”
Breast cancer screening is offered by the NHS from the age of 50. It is not recommended beforehand because “there is not enough evidence that it would reduce deaths and that the tests also have risks,” says Sophia Lowes of Cancer Research UK.
Other warning signs that need to be investigated include unusual lumps all over your body, loss of appetite, heavy night sweats, and blood in your stool. “If you notice anything unusual, tell your doctor,” says Lowes.
4. Stand on one leg
The ability to balance on one leg is a powerful indicator of longevity and health, according to a study by the Medical Research Council that looked at 5,000 people born in 1946 throughout their lives. Those who could balance on one leg with closed eyes for more than 10 seconds and then get up and sit in a chair 37 times in 60 seconds – or 35 times for women – tended to have better life expectancy when they revisited 13 years later.
“Balance is a matter of course for us,” says Dr. Mosley. “It allows you to go through life with confidence, but unfortunately our balance deteriorates when you are over 40.” The brain uses messages from receptors in our inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints to keep us upright . When our balance is out of whack, it can be a general indication of the decline in brain health.
“Standing on one leg once a day is an easy way to improve your posture and balance. When I brush my teeth, I set myself a timer, stand on one leg and switch from one leg to the other. Every day, try to increase the number of seconds and work up to a minute if possible, ”says Dr. Mosley.
5. Measure your blood pressure and cholesterol
Nearly 40 percent of adults have high or borderline high cholesterol, according to NHS statistics, and the levels rise with age. The NHS recommends getting a test if you’re over 40 and haven’t had a test, especially if your family has high cholesterol or heart problems. High cholesterol has no symptoms, so the only way to tell it is by doing a blood test.
Blood pressure also rises with age thanks to a decrease in the elastic tissue in your arteries and may again be symptom-free. “Around 90 percent of patients have no symptoms,” says Dr. Nighat Arif, a general practitioner in Buckinghamshire. “But high blood pressure can have life-changing effects, such as causing a heart attack or stroke, damaging your kidneys, or even losing your eyesight.”
Women in particular need to be aware of the increased blood pressure; Researchers from Norway reported at the beginning of the year that even slightly elevated values from the age of 40 were a strong risk factor for a heart attack in the next 16 years.
According to a study by Cambridge University, 170,000 British people die each year from heart attacks, strokes and circulatory diseases. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure – through smoking cessation, exercise, weight loss, and reducing salt levels – can lower the risk by four-fifths.
6. Touch your toes
Spinal degeneration and back problems are more common from the age of 40, says osteopath Nadia Alibhai. In order to protect the health of your back in the long term, it is important to remain flexible.
“In an ideal world, by 40 we should be able to touch our toes as they show flexibility in your lower back, buttocks, ankles, and hamstrings. Flexibility is required for proper blood flow and muscle elasticity; Touching the toes prevents the muscles from contracting and becoming short and tight. “
A study published in the journal Heart and Circulatory Physiology found that being able to touch your toes could also mean your arteries are in good condition. Researchers found a link between low flexibility and atherosclerosis in a group of people 40 years and older.
If you can’t get that far down, you have to practice. “If you’re having trouble, start with a slow forward fold,” says Alibhai. “Stretch up and lengthen your spine before you fold forward. Keep your spine straight and if you need to bend your knees please do so. Don’t push yourself too far, the race wins slowly and steadily. “
“Right now I see so many people with back problems,” says Dr. Arif, “and they’re usually postural because they’re hunched over screens. When you know you can touch your toes, you elongate your spinal cord and sciatic nerve, and you know you have good flexibility. “
7. Do a mole check
Your GP is trained to check moles, and you can ask them to do just that. However: “From the age of 40 I would always recommend a regular (once a year) birthmark check in a specialist clinic,” says Dr. David Jack, Aesthetic Physician and Skin Care Expert. “Specialized mole clinics do that every day. So if there is something unusual that a GP may not be able to detect, it can be diagnosed quickly and treated immediately. “
Dr. Michael Mosley for Weight Loss can be found at www.thefast800.com