For many of us, ageing is something we’d rather ignore. We dutifully pay our pension contributions and slick on age-defying moisturiser, but beyond that, it’s easy to forget about the years advancing. But improvements in living standards and healthcare mean that life expectancy is increasing steadily: it’s estimated that by 2032, the average woman will live until over 86. Our lifestyle now can have a big impact on our physical and mental health in our later years, so what steps can you take to protect yourself against the future?
Your 30s is the perfect time to start ageproofing yourself. “You should still be at a good fitness level, but your metabolic rate is likely to be slowing, leading to weight gain,” says personal trainer Emily Collins (emfitness.co.uk).
“Now is the time to add some resistance exercises to your regime, targeting all the big muscle groups.” Circuit sessions and high intensity interval training (HIIT) like running, skipping or cycling will all improve your cardiovascular fitness and rev up your metabolism.
Although the menopause is some years off, your hormone levels are changing. “You may get more premenstrual symptoms, like mood swings, breast tenderness and food cravings,” explains women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of The Natural Health Bible for Women (£16.99, marilynglenville.com). “To eliminate PMS, it’s important to balance your blood-sugar by cutting out refined sugar and refined carbohydrates, and eating six small meals a day, including three healthy snacks, to keep your energy levels stable.”
Work stress and family pressures weigh heavily on many women at this life stage, so if you’re prone to low mood, take time to work out what makes you feel better. Exercise, cutting back on alcohol, social contact and a good sleep routine can all help to lift your spirits and keep your brain in better shape: research shows that people who suffer from depression are more likely to develop dementia.
If you’re permanently attached to your MP3 player while commuting or working out, you could be unwittingly damaging your hearing. “Many people are showing signs of hearing loss 10 years earlier than would be expected, due to long-term noise exposure,” explains Dr Lorraine Gailey, chief executive of Hearing Link (hearinglink.org). “If you listen to music to drown out background noise, invest in some good quality noise-cancelling earphones, so you don’t have to turn it up so loud.”
This decade can also be a crunch time for your skin. “The earliest signs of ageing are usually seen around the eyes, where the skin is thin,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting (drsambunting.com). “I recommended always having sunglasses to hand, applying proper sunscreen daily, and keeping the area bright by using a vitamin C serum under your moisturiser.” Consultant ophthalmic surgeon from Clinica London, Jane Olver advises that we use tretinoin cream or gel as a means of prevention to ageing skin as it helps to build collagen and increase the structural strength of skin.
If life begins at 40, this is the ideal time to shake up your lifestyle, giving your future health and wellbeing a boost. Everyone over 40 is entitled to an NHS heart health assessment, which can be arranged through your doctor’s surgery.
Based on your results, your GP or practice nurse will give you tailored advice on looking after your heart. You should also have regular cholesterol and blood pressure checks, as high cholesterol and hypertension are risk factors in developing age-related dementia.
Exercise may feel a little tougher now you’re in your 40s, but keeping up the momentum is crucial. “If your body is out of action for a while, it will take longer to get back into condition,” explains Emily. “Your training regime should take on a new shape to be kinder to your joints and muscles. Low impact resistance training is good for improving bone density, increasing muscle strength and improving metabolism, while Pilates will build core strength and body tone.”
As well as maintaining your physical condition, exercise will help to keep your weight stable without extreme calorie-counting measures, and, in turn, keep you looking younger. “Yo-yo dieting is very ageing, as the fat compartments in the face, which give us a youthful appearance, deflate when you crash diet,” says Dr Bunting. “Thin, sparse brows will also age you, so cultivate a lusher brow line.” We love Kevyn Aucoin’s Precision Brow Pencil (£21, Space NK Apothecary) for faking fuller brows.
Sleep often becomes a problem in our 40s, thanks to hormonal changes. “A good night’s sleep is essential for weight management, hormone balance and general health,” says Dr Glenville. “Calcium and magnesium are often described as nature’s tranquilisers, so boost your intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. You should also try to get at least 30 minutes’ outdoor exercise each day: natural daylight and activity can improve sleep patterns by 50 percent.”
Your 50s and beyond
The ChiroMoves DVD is available from Amazon, £10. Most women go through the menopause in their 50s, and this increases your risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
“As well as giving up smoking and avoiding passive smoking, it’s important to keep your alcohol intake below 10 units a week, as alcohol depletes bone-building nutrients,” explains Dr Glenville. “Increase your calcium consumption by eating dairy produce, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, beans and dried fruit; you can also take it in supplement form, combined with magnesium and vitamin D, which helps aid absorption.”
If you’re already following a good anti-ageing skincare regime, don’t forget that it’s not only your face that gives your age away. “Many women take immense care with their face and don’t realise that their neck also needs protection and fortification with broadspectrum sun protection and a rich, hydrating moisturiser,” says Dr Bunting. “Your hands also take a lot of harsh treatment through sun exposure and frequent washing. I recommend using a moisturising sunscreen instead of hand cream, and applying it throughout the day – there’s nothing better for age spots.”
You’re probably well aware of the importance of eye and dental checks, but you should also make sure your hearing is checked regularly. “An audiologist can identify and advise on early hearing loss even before you realise there’s a problem, and the earlier you take action, the better you will hear for the rest of your life,” says Dr Gailey.
And don’t be tempted to use hitting 50 as an excuse to stop exercising: keeping it up has many benefits, including building bone density, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and maintaining heart health. It also makes it easier to maintain a stable weight, which reduces your risk of diabetes. Why not team up with your friends to join a fitness class or go for a run? Research shows that the combination of social contact and exercise can help you maintain brain vitality, so you’ll be helping yourself to stay young both physically and mentally.