A 6pm finish, three cups of coffee a day and one cold shower: the maths of a healthy middle-age
In the final part of our series on the maths of midlife fitness, we reveal the lifestyle habits midlifers should add to their daily routines…
Two minutes in a cold shower
From model Elle Macpherson to fitness guru Joe Wicks, many successful people extol the benefits of a cold shower in the morning. Research has shown that cold water immersion strengthens your cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems – all of which need a little extra care in midlife. Cold water can also increase your immunity-boosting white blood cell count. One study found that people who take cold showers are 29 per cent less likely to call in sick for work while research by Virginia Commonwealth University found that cold showers can even help to ward off depressive symptoms. Research in Medical Hypotheses suggests a bracing 20°C is about right. Try to brave a full two minutes in there if you can.
1.8 liters of water
Water supports your kidneys and liver, lubricates and cushions your joints, boosts your mental alertness and memory, aids digestion, improves the performance of your cells, supports the transfer of nutrients and oxygen, and helps remove waste. But surveys suggest 62-89 per cent of UK adults don’t drink enough. This becomes an even bigger issue in midlife because we tend to “dry out” as we age. According to the NHS, the human body is approximately 70 per cent water at birth, whereas by the time we reach old age this figure is down to 55 per cent. There are a few reasons for this: we naturally lose muscle as we age, which reduces our ability to store water. Our sweat rates, temperature control mechanisms and kidneys become less efficient. And our thirst reflex is blunted with age. So make sure you sip throughout the day. An independent review of hydration studies published in the journal Nutrients found a total daily water intake of less than 1.8 liters appears to be when dehydration-related health issues kick in. So aim for at least 1.8 liters – around eight glasses – per day.
Two hours of hobbies
Whether you enjoy reading novels, gardening or playing the piano, maintaining a range of enjoyable hobbies is the secret to a healthy midlife. Research by the University of California found that participants who devoted two hours a day to hobbies were 21 per cent less likely to die early. Challenging your brain with interesting pursuits helps sharpen your cognitive performance, increases your social interactions and wards off disease. Hobbies also inject a healthy sense of purpose into your life, which research in Psychological Science suggests can work to “buffer against mortality risk” throughout your midlife years and into retirement. Reading is particularly powerful: a study by the University of Sussex found reading a book can help to reduce stress by up to 68 per cent. And listening to music offers a “total brain workout,” according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, helping to reduce anxiety and blood pressure while also improving sleep and memory.
200-300 minutes outside
Research by the University of East Anglia found spending time in greenery helps beat stress by lowering blood pressure and HDL cholesterol, which reduces your risk of Type 2 diabetes and all-cause mortality. According to a research paper in Scientific Reports, spending 200-300 minutes per week outside in natural environments delivers the optimal health boost (just over half an hour a day). It doesn’t matter whether you spend every day in a park or enjoy a long day out at the weekend – as long as you hit that target, you’ll improve your physical and mental health.
Four alcohol-free days
People aged between 45 and 65 are more likely than any other group to consume more than the recommended alcohol limit of 14 units a week, despite being at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Research in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that even drinking lightly four or more times per week may raise the risk of early death by 20 per cent. A little won’t harm you. In fact, research in the British Medical Journal found low to moderate intake of wine is associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular disease. But you really need four alcohol-free days per week to protect your liver – a key organ responsible for over 500 vital bodily functions, from energy production to detoxification – in midlife.
6pm finish time
Working past normal office hours could be killing you. New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Preventive Cardiology Congress found people whose working hours are out of sync with their natural body clock suffer a higher risk to their cardiovascular health. In fact, data from the World Health Organization suggests long work hours are killing 750,000 people per year. With the rise of home working, this is no longer just a problem for shift workers. So stick to a regular work schedule and avoid late night emails.
Three cups of coffee
Excessive caffeine consumption could lead to an early grave. Research has shown that high coffee consumption (more than 28 cups per week, or four cups a day) is linked to a 21 per cent increased mortality risk. But research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests moderate coffee consumption in midlife can deliver a 65 per cent decrease in risk of dementia later in life, so you don’t need to give it up altogether. A paper in the Journal of Caffeine Research found that coffee can cut your risk of early death by 10 per cent. As ever, the key is moderation and most health organizations recommend no more than 300mg of caffeine (about three cups) per day.
Eight hours of sleep
The 2021 State of UK Sleep Survey found 54 per cent of the UK population is unhappy with their sleep, with work pressure, financial stress and Covid-19 all having an impact. This is bad news for midlife health. Research in the journal Sleep found people who sleep less than seven hours a night have a 26 per cent higher risk of dying early. And a study by the University of Paris found people who get less than six hours sleep in their middle and older years face a 30 per cent greater risk of dementia. However, those who laze in bed for more than eight hours a day also face a 17 per cent spike in their chances of an early death. So getting as close as possible to eight hours of sleep per night seems to be the optimal way to go. Start improving your sleep by downloading a sleep app like Pzizz, Sleep Cycle, Calm or Sleep School now.
Lastly, be organized
Tidy your desk, organize your emails and turn up to meetings on time. Being conscientious helps to sustain your health in midlife, according to research by Duke University. The researchers found people who are conscientious tend to follow other good habits – such as exercising and cleaning their teeth – which makes them 27 per cent less likely to suffer health problems in later life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, inflammation, hypertension and gum disease.