My facility is swamped with men in their late 30s whose latest ambition is to present themselves with their best-ever body on their 40th birthday…and the dream is almost non-negotiable! But as you age, your body goes through its own transformation and faces slower cell regeneration. Post-35, if you want major changes to your fitness routine and how your body should look, you need to consider your body’s genetic make-up, lifestyle, medical history, bone density and general movement patterns. Genetic predisposition to certain medical conditions plays an important role in how your body can be shaped and the kind of lifestyle modifications required.
How important is genetics?
Genetics plays an important role in mapping your life expectancy. It is not a given that you will get the same ailments as your parents or grandparents, but genetics can help you figure out if you are predisposed to a particular ailment, and to what degree you can push your body to achieve a shape you aspire to but have never really achieved. In an evaluation, if clients tick the following—parents/grandparents, high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity—I tell them that if they don’t make lifestyle modifications, they will be setting themselves up for trouble—a disease or a full-blown attack.
What you can do: To prevent the onset of such ailments, exercise frequently to keep blood sugar levels balanced, reduce intake of sugars—not only from sweet treats but also from refined grains, sweet fruits and polished cereals. I advise clients to increase protein intake to balance blood sugar levels and keep their weight in check. I also ask them to ensure that their fitness routine has a balance of cardiovascular training and strength training.
Vitamin D deficiency
I have found vitamin D deficiency to be common in women and with recent findings, in men too. Lack of vitamin D is associated with bone-related diseases. If any of your parents/grandparents had early onset of arthritis or any other bone-related problems, then be sure that your chances of an early predisposition to these cannot be ruled out.
What you can do: Keep a check on vitamin D levels and soak up the sun for at least 20 minutes a day. Take supplements if you need to. Make sure your exercise programme includes resistance training to improve bone density. Discontinue your training if you feel the slightest onset of muscle or bone ache. Avoid plyometric exercises and jumps. Include exercises to strengthen the knees, shoulder and elbow joints—make sure you include the leg extension machine to work on your quadriceps and increase the frequency of strength-training sessions.
One routine blood test that tends to be overlooked but should be done by every individual before increasing protein intake to achieve fitness targets is uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a waste product that is generated while digesting protein. High levels of protein can increase uric acid levels (which generally gets expelled through the kidney), which in turn could lead to joint problems like gout and stall your workout. If anyone in your family has high levels of uric acid, or if you are planning to increase your protein intake substantially (after the age of 35) to achieve training goals, make sure you undergo the test first.
What you can do: Increase your protein intake gradually, stay away from red meat and too much animal protein. With medication you can gradually increase your intake. A trainer must limit high-volume sets if you are not able to meet your protein requirements or you will end up too sore after every training session. Keep workout intensity medium to moderate initially and slowly work to increase it, so a lack of optimum protein requirement does not risk injury.
In other words, if you’re a man who’s approaching 40, watch your diet, see if you have a predisposition to ailments and then decide your workout plan. Not everyone in their 40s can hope to achieve the body of their dreams—aim for realistic, not impossible, goals. More than aesthetics, change your focus to achieve a functionally-fitter body. One that is free of aches and pains.
Training challenges for men post-35
Assuming you have all the above under control, should your training approach be the same as that of a 20- to 30-year-old? Ideally, not.
First, make sure you have basic blood screening tests once every year after 35, especially before the start of any new fitness programme. As you age, your body tends to lose flexibility and, given the current urban lifestyle (if you are a slave to your chair), your posture tends to get worse. Bad posture and tight hamstrings are among the main causes of lower back pain. Ensure your training programme gives equal weightage to flexibility regimes and you weight-train with the correct posture. Don’t compromise on technique in the bid to lift heavier weights.
General degeneration of the spine and other joints may hold you back from performing certain activities like running. There are other ways to get cardiovascular benefits—try brisk walking, swimming and cycling. If you do decide to run, pay more attention to knee-strengthening exercises—strength-training your quadriceps or doing modified squats.
In spite of high blood pressure, people often lift heavy weights—this is not good. Avoid this, and make sure you don’t hold your breath (the Valsalva manoeuvre, when you hold your breath in the exertion phase of the exercise), as this could lead to changes in blood pressure levels.
Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of Sumaya, a personal training studio in New Delhi.