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Be fab in your 40s!

Forget the angst-filled teenage years or the fear of slowly slipping into dotage, it turns out the time of life that you really need to be concerned about is middle age.

We've all heard the horror stories of middle-age spread and mid-life crises, but now it turns out that a bit of a muffin top and an ill-thought-out motorbike purchase could be the least of your worries.

A survey carried out by UK healthcare provider BUPA released this month shows that middle-aged Britons are amongst the most unhealthy in the world.

Not only that, but the age group also reported high levels of depression and low levels of quality of life.

And before anyone starts imagining that this is a problem limited to mid-lifers across the Irish Sea, similar surveys report the same sort of findings here.

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) shows that one quarter of those in the 50-65 age bracket don't do much exercise, between 70-80% are overweight or obese and, when compared with older people, more reported problems with alcohol, depression and poor quality of life

Dr Kevin McCarroll from Dublin's Mercer Institute for Successful Ageing says: "When you look at the two studies, the results aren't dissimilar.

"The age categories may vary slightly, BUPA is looking at 45-54-year-olds and TILDA 50-65-year-olds but as far as the issues affecting people in this middle-aged grouping go, there are a lot of similarities."

What's particularly worrying is that, even if many middle-aged people aren't happy with the quality of their lives, they think their health is fine.

A host of age-related health problems become a bigger risk past 40, such as raised blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

But while those over 65 are quicker to head to the doctors and get checked out, the middle-aged bracket are more likely to plod on, allowing the problem to go untreated and get worse.

Dr McCarroll says: "Almost 80% of 50-65-year-olds self-assess their health as being excellent, very good or good.

"But TILDA revealed that problems in this age group are under diagnosed.

"The biggest one is blood pressure, which is crucial to get because untreated it can lead to heart attacks, strokes and heart disease.

"About 40% of deaths are due to cardiovascular disease -- that could be cut down vastly if high blood pressure was diagnosed and treated in middle age."

The biggest health concern is obesity.

After dropping the kids off to school, spending a day hunched over a desk and battling the long commute it's not surprising many middle-aged mums and dads would rather curl up on the couch than return outdoors for a brisk walk.

The healthy sales of diet books, fitness products and longevity promoting produce suggests that most people know what they should be doing, but the data suggests it's not being put into practice.

"Obesity is a ticking time bomb for middle aged people," says Dr McCarroll.

"It carries a big risk of diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis."

People obese in middle age are more likely to be obese for the rest of their lives.

Because people don't realise how important exercise is, it often gets pushed down the list of priorities.

"The most common excuse I hear is 'no time to train'," says Dublin-based fitness trainer Al Conboy.

"People feel their time is taken up with work and family commitments.

"They're often under stress (which unfortunately is a major contributing factor to weight gain) and feel too tired to work out.

"But there's always a training programme that can suit any schedule."

The sad fact is that it won't be an overnight transition.

The later you leave it the harder it will be to shift the pounds.

"Natural changes occur in the body as you get older," explains personal trainer, Emma McMenamy from Lucan, West Dublin.

"As you get older your metabolism slows down and muscular strength begins to decline.

'The decrease in muscle tone can bring with it dreaded bingo wings and a slower metabolism makes it harder to shift those extra pounds, which is why it's best to implement a healthy eating and fitness routine sooner rather than later."

Add to that middle-age spread from increased levels of oestrogen which attracts fat round the waist and it can seem like an insurmountable challenge, no doubt the reason so many gym cards end up cast aside.

But it really is better to start late than never.

Conboy says: "It's a tougher challenge, you'll need to put more effort in and one yoga class or one hour of any exercise a week is not going to be enough -- but you can lose weight at any age.

"Any training or diet plan will depend on the individual but to see real results I would suggest 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise two to three times a week and 30 minutes of weight lifting two or three times a week to build up muscle density and rev up the metabolism.

"Combine this with healthy eating and midlife is definitely not too late to make a difference to the rest of your life."

Irish Independent

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