Editor's note: This article is the third in a series on wellness and gay men from Devin Wicks, ACE, AFA, who is coordinating UC Berkeley's pioneering new wellness program. See his Welcome to Wellness for an introduction to wellness and a series of starter wellness tips for gay men in their twenties.
As part of my series on gay men and wellness—your physical, psychological, occupational, spiritual, social, and intellectual health—I've addressed the needs of guys in their twenties and thirties. Now, I'd like to talk to all of you who have entered your forties. As a gay man entering or already in your forties, there are some things you can do now to safeguard your health and happiness for the future. Get a pencil, and get ready—it's time to start taking some measures of your health, rethink your fitness regimen, and learn to manage your stress.
Top Four Health Checks After Forty
In your forties you really need to start looking out for a few potential health problems, even if this is only by way of getting a baseline of where you stand now. Take the plunge—go to the doctor, and ask to have a few simple tests. These are tests that you'll continue to do as you age—starting now develops good habits, and gives you a point of origin.
- Corotid artery disease: This syndrome causes more than half of the strokes in the U.S. each year. It occurs when plaque builds up in the artery that branches on either side of your neck. A doctor can listen to your corotid artery with a stethoscope, and move to ultrasound or angiography if necessary. It doesn't take long to investigate the state of your corotid artery, and it may save your life. Plan to have it checked annually.
- PSA score: A cancerous prostate causes high levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. A simple blood test can tell you whether you have prostate cancer well before symptoms set in. You are unlikely to have prostate cancer in your forties—but if you do, and don't detect it, it will have a long time in which to grow. Best to start testing now, and plan to do it once a year.
- Osteoporosis: Believe it or not, men actually do get osteoporosis. If you are at risk for this disease, plan to test for it. If you are smaller framed, have a family history of the disease, or have been told by a doctor to monitor your bone density, you should have an assessment. The best thing you can do for yourself is also to keep lifting weights—the stress on your bones while lifting forces them to strengthen.
- Diabetes: A fasting plasma glucose test can tell you if you have diabetes—and you'll only have to fast for eight hours. You should get tested for this every three years, especially if you are overweight.
As you enter your forties, you're probably starting to have more little aches and pains, and recovering from exercise—or just a rough weekend—is getting harder. Now is not the time to be Queen of Denial. Instead, develop a fitness regimen to address your changing body, and prepare it for the future.
- Flexibility: Even if you've never stretched before, you need to start. Doing a little yoga will put you on a path to fewer injuries down the road. Remember, you can get hurt reaching up to get a book off a high shelf just as easily as curling weights at the gym. Stretching gives you a better chance of moving through life without getting injured.
- Basic strength: I'm not talking about going for the big bench press. Basic strength is functional training. It involves any closed kinetic chain exercise requiring balance, stability, and control. Work in multiple planes, as you do with a squat, for instance. This is not about getting big—this is about keeping you able to perform your activities of daily life, like picking up your kids, taking out the trash, or walking down the stairs. You need strength through full body movement. RealJock's beginner href="http://www.realjock.com/workout/1057/">Strength Foundation and more advanced Strong and Lean 12-week workouts are two good places to start.
- Non-pounding cardio: It may be time to hang up the running shoes, at least a couple of days a week. Your joints are not going to be able to take the pounding they used to; so think about getting off the road all the time and into the pool. Swimming is great cardio along with resistance training, and it is very good for your joints.
Do you feel stressed? Of course you do. Well, stress increases your risk levels for all of the biggest killers—heart disease, stroke, cancer, and so on—and it also makes your life much less enjoyable. Doing what you can to reduce your stress levels will help make your forties a lot more enjoyable. More important, it will allow you to get to your fifties, sixties, and beyond. Follow these tips to manage your stress:
- Assertively manage your schedule; don't let it manage you: You really need to put parameters around your time, and make sure that you schedule areas in the day to fill your own needs—like time to eat healthy meals, to exercise, and to think quietly. This won't happen by accident—you'll need to plan in order to have time for yourself.
- Lose the list of 10—focus on your top three: Most of us write to-do lists that go on forever—and we only ever get to the top couple of things. That leaves you feeling discouraged, unless you're realistic from the beginning. Don't put everything on your list—just pick the three most important things you need to do, and really plan how you're going to accomplish them.
- Actively maintain your social relationships: With a busy schedule at work, family at home, aging parents, and so on, it can be hard to find time for friends. But your friends are your support system, and an outlet for relaxation. You need to maintain those relationships even when it seems difficult, so that they can sustain you when things get really tough.
- Lose the clutter: You're too busy to clean off your desk. Or so you think—but some of your mental clutter and sense of being overwhelmed will be relieved by getting control of your physical environment. Try to get rid of some of the unnecessary debris around you, and organize what remains.
- Find a creative outlet: Believe it or not, you are not too old to take up the tuba, or oil painting. A creative hobby will give you a way to express yourself, and let your mind follow different paths than you use at work or at home.
About Devin Wicks: Devin Wicks (ACSM-HFI, USAW Club Coach) is creator of the RealJock Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program and the fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is coordinating a pioneering new campus employee wellness program.