IT might come as a shock, but the Duchess of Cambridge turns 40 today.
In 2011, a 29-year-old Catherine Middleton married Prince William – who will also turn 40 this year – and now, more than 10 years later and three children down the line, Kate is set to enter her fifth decade of life.
The prospect of ageing can be daunting for anyone, royal or not, but as Nigella Lawson has said, it’s a privilege to grow old.
It’s also something we all face, year-to-year, day-to-day, even minute-to-minute, whether we like it or not.
While Kate is sure to age in style (the support of a whole household staff must help quite a bit) it’s more than possible to grow older equipped with the knowledge and tools to make sense of new aches, pains and worries – as well as joys!
“Reaching 40 is a great milestone and should be an exciting time in your life to celebrate your achievements, financial independence and striking a good work life balance,” says Dr Angela Rai, GP at www.thelondongeneralpractice.com. “It is also a very important time to become mindful about your physical and mental health.”
So what do we – and Kate – need to know about when it comes to health in our 40s?
We asked the experts…
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HEALTH WORRY: BONE HEALTH AND MUSCLE MASS
“Both men and women entering their 40s are likely to experience a decline in their bone mineral density, an area of health which in earlier life is often ignored,” says nutritionist Jenna Hope.
This can lead to osteoporosis and weakened bones, which can make you more vulnerable to fractures and breaks.
Women are at particular risk notes Jenna: “The risk of low bone mineral density increases for women due to the menopause and the decline in oestrogen.”
Loss of muscle mass is a similarly natural part of ageing that can affect strength and lead to increased sedentary behaviours, which in turn can have a knock on effect on your overall health.
Kathryn Danzey, Health Coach at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, says that in your 40s, “the body starts to lose muscle mass at the rate of 1-2 percent per year,” but adds “there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
It is possible to “become a stronger version of your younger self” says Kathryn.
She suggests you “lift weights to maintain bone strength and muscle mass”.
“You don’t have to hit the gym. Just by using the weight of your body and the power of gravity, you can build muscle, burn fat and stay strong,” says Kathryn.
“Include squats, lunges, push ups – from the knees or against the wall – and the plank.”
“It's all about protecting our bones,” says Personal Trainer Caroline Idiens, who says building strength is crucial to slowing bone density and muscle mass decline.
"As little as three times a week of 30 minutes of resistance exercises can really improve our bone health, building new tissue which will reduce your risk of osteoporosis later in life.”
“Training using weights will maintain and build our muscles, which in turn also helps us with our overall balance, reducing the risk of falls and injury, our posture – ensuring that we have correct alignment – as well as helping with weight management, better sleep and improved heart health,” she adds.
40s are a beautiful age!
Personal Trainer, Jack Claxton at David Lloyd Clubs agrees on the weights front: “Our bodies need regular exercise and some form of resistance or weight bearing exercises within our daily routines.”
His top suggestions are: “Hitting your daily step count (10K steps a day), regular weight training and having a balanced diet that includes plenty of Calcium and Vitamin D.”
GP Dr Jeff Foster from www.h3health.co.uk, agrees that exercise is a brilliant all-rounder.
“We [often] exercise less in our 40s,” he says.
“We are not designed to be sedentary and exercise literally gives you more energy as it makes more blood, increases muscle mass and improves mental and physical health.”
Diet is also vital. “Increase the amount of good quality lean protein you have in your diet to maintain muscle mass,” says Kathryn, while Jenna says to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients – think calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin K.
Jenna also recommends dairy, soya products, fortified milks, green leafy vegetables and nuts like almonds, to support bone health.
THE HEALTH CONCERN: METABOLISM
Diet and metabolism can start taking up a lot more brain space than they did when you were younger.
“In your 20s you can eat what you want, it makes little difference, but as we get older our ability to metabolise high calorie food becomes harder and we have to be more careful,” says Dr Jeff.
Hormones can also play a part, says Sabrina Ovadya, Pilates & PT and co-founder of URWell: “One of the main concerns around the age of 40 for women is hormonal imbalance which can have a number of impacts such as the metabolism slowing down.”
This can lead to weight gain, not to mention menopause symptoms too.
There’s no miracle pill for this one.
Dr Jeff says to “eat a more sensible diet and watch your calories” while Sabrina is in favour of “exercise, good nutrition and a quality lifestyle” for boosting metabolism.
“By quality lifestyle we mean meditation and mindfulness practises, trying to reduce stress and being kind to oneself,” she says.
Meanwhile Jack says metabolism and muscle mass are intrinsically linked.
“As we age our metabolisms slow down and our muscle mass naturally decreases.
“In order to maintain a high metabolism you need adequate levels of muscle mass.
“The two go hand in hand which is why I suggest to all my clients, particularly anyone over 40, to include at least two resistance training workouts in their weekly programmes.”
“AS life expectancy continues to increase, 40 feels positively youthful,” says Rachel Ward GP, who recently turned 40 herself.
“However, physiologically as you get older, your risk of developing many chronic health conditions and cancers increases.”
For that reason, she says, when you turn 40 “it becomes even more crucial to engage in regular health checks and screening.”
Rachel continues: “The NHS in England offers a free health check every five years from age 40, which assesses your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar for diabetes and gives health advice related to weight, smoking and alcohol intake.
“This is important to detect any underlying early health problems such as high blood pressure and treat them before they become more serious.”
Regarding cancer screening, she adds “at 40, women are still in the cervical screening programme and will be offered regular smears.
“Some women, who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer, will have regular mammograms from age 40.”
HEALTH CONCERN: SLEEP
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your snooze time may become increasingly disrupted as you break into your 40s.
“As we hit our 40s we often have young kids and work commitments and our hours get squeezed at both ends,” says Dr Jeff.
Sonia Khan, Senior Pharmacist at Medicine Direct confirms that “getting enough sleep is vital at any age, but after the age of 40 a constant lack of sleep can lead to fatigue and make you more susceptible to illness.”
Frsutratingly, the menopause – and perimenoause – can increase sleep issues for women, says Jenna.
“As women approach menopausal age, they may experience disrupted sleep.
“Ensuring adequate sleep is fundamental to supporting a healthy mind and body.
“Poor sleep can contribute to increased appetite due to elevated Ghrelin (the hunger hormone), sugar cravings and impaired mental wellbeing. “
Pyjamas at the ready; it’s simply a case of fitting in more shut-eye, preferably at the right time, says Dr Jeff.
He says: “You need about seven hours per night as an adult and ideally the magic hour before 12, as this helps growth hormone release and is a key to staying young.”
Jenna’s tip is, “where possible, try to leave two hours between the last meal and going to sleep as this can help with the secretion and absorption of the sleep hormone melatonin.”
Meanwhile Sonia says “getting between seven and nine hours each night is often easier said than done, but by having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, you can regulate your body clock to feel tired at a similar time each day.
“This makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up around the same time each morning.
“Turn off electronic devices two hours before going to bed, so your body and mind can wind down gently at the end of the evening.”
HEALTH CONCERN: HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Feeling more lightheaded than usual?
The NHS recommends that all adults over 40 have their blood pressure checked at least every five years.
“Blood pressure rises with age and engaging in healthy habits and a healthy diet is essential in reducing the risk of high blood pressure and its consequences,” says Jenna.
Stress can also play a part, says Dr Farah Virjee, GP at digital healthcare company Livi: “In their 40s, many people are managing multiple responsibilities such as childcare, work and caring for elderly family members.
“This can lead to increased stress and reduced attention to lifestyle, both of which can underpin a number of harmful conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type two diabetes.”
Think about what you’re putting into your body.
Jenna’s top tips for helping to reduce the risk of high blood pressure include: “limiting salt intake to no more than 6g per day, consume around 2L of water per day, engaging in regular physical activity and limiting alcohol consumption.”
THE HEALTH CONCERN: STRESS AND ANXIETY
“Most probably, no age-related milestone sounds as worrisome as becoming a 40-something,” says Evren Celik, a Yoga Teacher and co-founder of URWell, who adds that joining this age bracket sadly “tends to come with anxiety and fear, instead of a sense of accomplishment.”
“The start of middle age — 40 and beyond — is often when people are the least happy, with highest levels of anxiety,” says Evren.
“At this period in our lives, we’re bombarded with worries about ageing.
“We also have anxiety about our kids being more independent and our parents needing more support, and it’s all topped with concerns about our own health, work, and finances.
“We’ve got a lot of stress in our lives, and we often struggle in dealing with it so we need to find effective ways to achieve balance and to truly unwind.”
Make time for physical and mental self-care.
“If stress has you anxious, tense, and worried, consider incorporating exercise regimes as well as yoga, meditation and breathwork in your life,” says Evren, adding “that those who are physically active are healthier, happier and tend to live longer than those who are often sedentary.”
Dr Jeff agrees. “Have ‘me time’,” he says.
“As life and work commitments peak in our 40s it can often mean the time we had to self-reflect and look after ourselves is sacrificed.
“How many times do you hear, ‘I don't have time to exercise’, or, ‘I don't have time to go for a walk’?
“You have to make time, as self-care is the key to overall health.”
Ultimately, embrace and enjoy your 40s; they’re a “beautiful age,” says Sabrina happily, “to be fully enjoyed just like any other age!”
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