How to knock years off your body
You may feel 20 years younger, even look 10 years younger but can you knock years off your biological age? Yes, say experts, with a bit of effort and know-how. By Karen Evennett
Fight back: Eighty per cent of bone health is dictated by genes but 20 per cent is within our control. We reach peak bone density at 25 but, if osteoporosis runs in your family or you have other risk factors (see www.nos.org.uk), you can still help reverse it, even if youre past the menopause, when the risk of osteoporosis is highest. A milk-rich diet used to be considered the answer to perfect bone health, but a study at Harvard University found that the high-protein content of milk actually reduces the availability of calcium for producing healthy bones. Instead, eat bony fish, like sardines, or take a quality calcium supplement, such as Solgars Chelated Magnesium Calcium 2:1 (£13.99 for 90, www.nutricentre.com).
To add density to your bones, do more exercise. While walking is proven to prevent bone loss in the spine, using weights can actually build bone mass. In one study of sedentary post-menopausal women, half did weight-lifting exercises twice a week, while the others stuck with their lazy ways. After a year, the weight-lifters had one per cent greater bone mass in their hips and spines. In another study, a year-long strength-training programme increased the spinal bone mass of post-menopausal women by nine per cent.
A heart rate that hurts
Fight back: Your resting heart rate should be 70 beats per minute (BPM) if youre in good health, says holistic fitness coach Amelia Watts (www.benefitpersonaltraining.co.uk). But it can creep up with age. The heart is a muscle and needs to be worked out regularly to keep it strong. If its not strong, it will be harder to pump blood around your body, so will take more beats to do this. If, at 45, your heart rate has crept up to 85 BPM (use your index and middle fingers to feel your pulse on your neck or wrist), youll have to work to get it back down to 70.
The British Heart Foundation recommends a minimum of 30 minutes moderate exercise each day to get the heart moving but it wont strengthen it. For that, you need to work your heart, so it reaches 75 per cent of its maximum heartbeat (calculated by taking your age off 220). If youre 45, your maximum heart rate will be 175 and 75 per cent of that is 131. Start by working out until you feel your heart beating during exercise, but youre still capable of holding a conversation. Maintain this degree of cardio exercise for 20 minutes several times a week. After a month, step it up, so you feel challenged 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate, for 20 minutes. You should feel pleased to finish the workout, but not nauseous or faint (in which case, youve overdone it). It will take three to six months of this level of exercise to get your heart as healthy as that of a 30-year-old.
Wobble where there used to be muscle
Fight back: Muscle tone is individual, with some people maintaining good tone easily, while others find it much harder. For women, good muscle tone is a positive benefit of having high levels of the male hormone, testosterone, says Watts. If you have quite high levels, then going to the gym twice a week in your thirties will be enough to keep you toned and looking good in a bikini. But, if you have lower levels of testosterone, youll have a smaller muscle mass, and will have to work harder to tone up, she says. You can test your own muscle tone by pressing against different parts of the body. If youre well toned, you should have the tautness of a drum skin. Where your finger sinks in, there is a mixture of fat and poor muscle tone... and, of course, getting that drum skin will unfortunately take a bit of work.
Natural muscle tone declines from the early twenties onwards and, even if you found it easy to stay toned at 30, by 40 plus, youll have to add an extra weekly session at the gym, and also change the ratio of your workout to regain that tone, Watts recommends. At 30, it should be 60 to 70 per cent cardio work (running, cycling etc). By 40, aim for 40 to 50 per cent of strength training with weights. Start with 20 to 30 minutes of cardio, and spend the rest of your session on the resistance machines. Do this three times a week.
Your smile says it all
Fight back: While its a fallacy that we get longer in the tooth as we age seeing your hygienist regularly should stop that from happening two things do need attention, says Dr Tracey Bell of www.traceybell.co.uk. The first is the yellowing of our teeth as we age. This is because the enamel wears down with time. As it gets thinner, the yellow layer of dentin shows through. A bleaching treatment can instantly rejuvenate your smile, and the effects are long lasting.
By your forties, your teeth can become flatter and your top lip thins, so less of your top teeth are visible, while your bottom teeth become more noticeable. You can add length to your top teeth with porcelain veneers or crowns, but these dont last forever and cost up to £700 per tooth, warns Bell. A less expensive solution is white bonding (filling material) on the front of your teeth. The cost is similar to that of a filling.
As for receding gums, Sadly, you cant replace lost gum, or bone, caused by periodontal disease, says Bell. However, you can control it and maintain gum health with regular trips to the hygienist, and using products such as Gengigel Gel (£7.15 for 20ml from chemists and supermarkets). You must also floss every day, and use an interdental brush (your dentist can sell you one for less than £2), as well as your regular one. If your gum loss is bad, you can have Botox in your upper lip to drop your smile line so you show less gum, and antibiotics (prescribed by your dentist) can stall damage if these usual measures arent working.
A muddled mind
Fight back: Dusting off your trainers not only benefits your heart and waistline, it rejuvenates your brain, too. Fitness expert Dan Roberts (www.danroberts training.com) explains: Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain and gives you a rush of mood-boosting endorphins, the so-called runners high. Plus, research at Cambridge and Harvard Universities has pointed to the fact that exercise can improve overall brain function.
Researchers found that any physical exercise that also required brainpower was most beneficial, stimulating activity in the hippocampus the part of the brain thats responsible for clear thinking and one of the first parts to be damaged by Alzheimers disease. That means any sport where you are running, jumping and playing with a ball, or lifting weights (free weights), doing tai chi or aerobics.The easier it comes to you the more kinaesthetically aware you are the less you will gain from the effects on your brain, and the more you will have to challenge yourself.
But if you have decided youre hopeless at sports, you will benefit from the simplest challenges. So, instead of slipping into your comfort zone and sticking to easy walking or jogging, try tennis, dancing, or anything that requires you to use your brain to get it right. Your body will eventually learn to do these things without too much difficulty, so keep challenging yourself, advises Roberts. The more complicated the task, the better it is for your brain. And your body will see the pay-offs, too.
Hair with less lustre
Fight back: From your late thirties, you may notice that your hairline retreats slightly. As we get older, the filaments of our hair become thinner and drier and the scalp becomes more prone to flaking, because the hairs natural growth cycle slows down. This is often due to deficiencies in iron, zinc and protein, which are common as we approach our forties and fifties, says naturopathic doctor Deborah McManners.
This is exacerbated by extra sensitivity to male hormones androgens circulating in your blood once oestrogen supplies are dwindling. A diet rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids (from oily fish) is helpful, but not enough. The supplement Nourkrin (from £50.95 for 60 tablets at www.nourkrin.co.uk) provides all the minerals the hair needs to maintain growth, and has scientific evidence behind it.'