Our bodies have changing needs as we age, so we asked some of the UAE’s top health, nutrition and fitness experts for their advice on growing older gracefully.
According to the World Health Organisation, global life expectancy is now at more than 70 years old but with only 63 of them projected as being in good health. So what can we do to extend and improve the quality of those years? It all begins with establishing good health habits in our youth – and continuing them.
“Regardless of how old you are, some basic pillars remain as valid as ever: eat well, exercise enough and do not smoke,” says Dr Javier Magnago, specialist registrar at Dubai Hospital. “The last one is more relevant for women, as some studies have shown that female smokers were 25 per cent more likely than male smokers to develop coronary heart disease.”
So how do our bodies and our health change over the years? The UAE’s top trainers and nutritionists share their tips with EW for staying in top shape, whatever your age.
In your 20s
What to eat: “These are the years when you reach peak bone mass,” says Sinead Scott, clinical nutritionist in Jumeirah’s Talise Fitness centre. “In this decade, aim for adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D daily through diet and supplements. This is the decade to learn to cook.”
Emma Sawko, co-founder of Wild and The Moon, agrees: “When you don’t come home to a cooked meal every day, it’s easy to eat packaged food or order a takeaway. But eating healthily doesn’t have to be complicated. Throw a banana, a handful of greens, a few nuts and seeds and a little superfood in a blender for a delicious morning smoothie. Pack a salad for lunch, tossing a few greens, a can of tuna and a can of beans or chickpeas and drizzle with good olive oil. Steam veggies and fish at night.”
How to train: “This is the decade we build a platform for our body to grow old with,” says Christina Guastella, co-founder of NRG Fitness. “We are young and full of energy so various activities and sports will come into play. This decade our bone mass will reach its peak so weight training is essential to keep our foundation strong and our muscle gain up so that by the time we reach our 50s, we are preventing osteoporosis from setting in.”
What to check: “In our 20s we tend to forget abut vaccinations but ladies up to the age of 26 should consider HPV vaccination, produced to prevent cervical cancer,” says Dr Magnago. “This is also the age to start having a pap [cervical] smear every three years, a test taken by a gynaecologist, designed for early detection of cervical cancer.”
In your 30s
What to eat: “Take some time in this decade to understand the best diet for you and adapt to that eating pattern,” says Scott. “Changes in your digestive health are signs that you might not be getting the nutrients you need or are not breaking foods down very well.”
As many women become mothers during their 30s, eating for pregnancy is of utmost importance. “While a good diet goes a long way in meeting increased demands during pregnancy, a woman’s pre-conception nutritional status is also important,” says Ishi Khosla, a nutritionist for the app Weightmonitor. “A well-nourished woman can reduce the risk for maternal and foetal complications.
“Increased caloric requirements should be met through high nutrient and high fibre foods like whole grains, nuts, dry fruits, eggs, fatty fish, skimmed milk and vegetables. Protein requirements also marginally increase and there is an elevated need for some vitamins and minerals, the most important being iron, calcium, folic acid, zinc and some B vitamins.”
How to train: “As we age it gets harder to gain muscle and lose weight as our metabolism slows down,” says Guastella. “In this decade we are still in our prime, able to make changes to our body and maintain a good shape, which will help us stay fit and healthy as we reach our 40s and beyond.
“Throughout this decade a lot of women will go through pre and postnatal stages. Many women fear working out during their pregnancy but studies suggest it is not harmful as long as the exercise is done safely at a moderate level and with prior consent from the doctor.”
What to check: “Blood pressure often starts to creep up in your 30s so get it checked regularly and start practicing yoga and meditation,” says Scott. Dr Magnago advises getting a full picture of your health: “It’s not a bad idea to visit your doctor to do a health check-up that includes cardiovascular risk factor assessment, vitamin deficiency screening and other tests that might vary according to your family history or your genetic background.
“It is important to consider that any tests I mention are general recommendations and your doctor might advise you to do them on a more regular basis or might include others not mentioned here, according to your particular situation.”
In your 40s
What to eat: “In your 40s your metabolism is slowing down so calorie intake should too,” says Scott. “Portion control is critical. Women after 40 generally cannot tolerate sugar as we become more insulin-resistant, storing fat quickly. Remember that processed foods, alcohol in any form and carbohydrates add to your total sugar intake.”
How to train: Due to loss of muscle mass and more pressure on the joints during this decade, Guastella recommends workouts that improve flexibility: “Our body does not respond the way it used to in the 20s and early 30s – we notice a lot more aches and pains in the body. We need to train smarter. Flexibility helps to reduce injuries, improve your balance and reach your optimum level of fitness.”
What to check: “In your 40s it is advised to consider being screened for breast cancer every two years with a mammogram,” says Dr Magnago. Sawko recommends the 40s as a good decade to check for any food intolerances and making diet adjustments: “Sometimes just removing one of the common culprits like gluten or lactose can make you feel brand new again.”
In your 50s and beyond
What to eat: Portion control is key, says Scott: “With each decade we should be reducing calories by at least 15 per cent, accounting for a slowing metabolism. Try to increase high-antioxidant foods in your diet to beat cellular ageing. Also introduce calcium and magnesium into your daily routine as these minerals support bone health.”
How to train: “By this decade many women will be reaching menopause, which will have an effect on every system in the body,” says Guastella. “We are dealing with changes to our body outside our control. The metabolism slows down, we store more fat, our body temperature rises and there is an increased risk of heart disease along with osteoporosis, which causes weakness in the bones. It is import to stay active at this age, keep a regular routine and set goals to track your health conditions.
“Track your blood pressure and heart rate during exercise; there are many tools on the market that people can use to ensure they are meeting minimum requirements of activities, such as how many steps we take per day. We want to keep a well-rounded mix of training in our routine with aerobic, strength and stretching but our level of intensity might be different from the earlier years.”
What to check: Don’t squirm: this is the decade to bite the bullet and take control of your digestive health. “For those in their 50s and above, colon cancer screening with a colonoscopy or [comprehensive] blood tests are highly recommended,” says Dr Magnago.
Words: Rachel Silvestri