Gird Up for Good Health

Gird Up for Good Health

While men in their 30s and 40s need not worry much about disease, they must make healthy changes now

By Leigh Page

Generally, men in their 30s and 40s experience enormous changes in lifestyle that can impact their body and their health. It’s a time of greater accountability: getting married, having kids and landing a job with greater responsibilities. This can mean eating on the run, sleepless nights and less time for a pickup basketball game—but still no serious health problems. 

“This is a good age, because bad diseases are not that common,” says Adam Cifu, MD, internist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “But you can get into trouble because your life gets busy, and you sacrifice your health.” 

Yet, it is integral for men in their 30s and 40s to maintain a healthy lifestyle now to ward off worse problems lurking just over the hill. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels may start to rise at this age, partly due to stress and poor diet, says David Katz, MD, director and founder of the Integrative Medical Center at Griffin Hospital, and founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in Connecticut. A man in his 40s may also begin to encounter prostate problems, which involve a slower urinary stream. “The most common prostate problem in men younger than age 50 is inflammation, called prostatitis,” says Katz.

It’s easy to surrender to all these changes, says Katz, who has written 12 books on health. “We more or less expect guys in our culture to loosen their belt every year, get a potbelly and start having heart disease in their 40s and 50s,” he says. 

But a man in his 30s or 40s has the power to fight these changes. He can alter his diet, exercise and reduce stress as much as possible. By taking proactive steps early on, Katz says, you can pave the way for a healthier life in your 50s, 60s and 70s. He points to a 2012 report in The Lancet showing that lack of physical activity is one of the top causes of premature death.

It’s a good time to evaluate your lifestyle. “You should think about how you live and make a plan to stay healthy,” says Cifu, coauthor of a medical school textbook, Symptom to Diagnosis

Men this age need to start facing up to physical changes. So, for instance, if they are going bald, they should wear a hat in the sun to decrease their chance of getting skin cancer later on, Cifu says.

There may also be a lack of energy. “You may experience a gradual decrease in testosterone, which lowers your energy level,” says George T. Chiampas, DO, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the medical director of the Chicago Marathon. “But more likely, lack of energy at this age is based on an external factor, such as not sleeping well, not eating as well or becoming sedentary. When you’re sedentary, your muscles begin to atrophy.”

A potbelly may begin to form. “There are not a lot of changes in metabolism at this age, but you can easily gain weight due to less activity,” Chiampas says. At the office, men may drink high-calorie soft drinks all day long and engage in binge eating when they need to stay at work late. “And once you put on the weight, it will be harder to get it off,” he says. He suggests that each person understands his own metabolism and should be sure to replace only the fuel that was burned off during the day, rather than adding more fuel.

A man in this age group has a slightly higher chance of getting testicular cancer but, Katz notes, there is negligible risk of getting other cancers or major diseases. 

“There is no value in worrying about diseases at this age,” Katz says. Instead, “you should use your lifestyle as medicine to defend against cardiac risk factors, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and, many years later, everything else—including cancer, dementia and arthritis.”

The chance of declining into poor health is “a slippery slope,” Chiampas says. “If you don’t attempt to change your lifestyle when you’re younger, it’s going to get harder and harder. You can put on 15 or 20 pounds, and the hill starts to become a mountain.

“You’ve got to think in terms of making some long-term changes,” the Chicago Marathon medical director adds. “Rather than see it as a sprint, see it as a steady jog over a long period of time.” 

Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2014 print edition