As a man, you’ve seen your body change with the years. Maybe you’ve put on a few (or more) pounds, or perhaps you’ve started to notice that your hairline isn’t quite where it used to be. Understanding all of the unique ways in which a man’s body ages can open up new ways to lead a healthier, vital life—in every decade.
Here are some changes to be aware of as you continue on your path to wellness:
Fat: Men often gain weight steadily starting at around age 30 and continuing until roughly age 55. Throughout life, a man’s excess weight tends to be carried as belly fat, which increases his risk of heart disease and other conditions. One simple way to gauge whether you’re carrying too much is to measure your waist circumference. If yours comes in over 40 inches, it’s wise to work toward a healthier goal. The good news is that, as a man, any weight you lose will usually come off your belly first.
Muscle: As your male hormones begin to decline around middle age, you’ll naturally lose muscle mass. Although your body will respond less dramatically to strength training as you get older, it’s important to keep it up over the years because it can slow muscle and bone loss, and actually boost testosterone levels. If you’re new to strength training, learn more by reading Getting Started, Getting Stronger. Aim for two strength-training sessions every week with at least a day of rest for those muscles in between (you can do alternative exercise, like cardio activity, on those days, or strength train other muscles). Do several reps of eight to 10 different movements to target each major muscle group.
Heart: Heart disease is relatively rare in men in their thirties and forties, but risk factors can creep up quickly with age. For example, more than half of men have hypertension by the time they are age 50 to 64. Even a healthy person’s blood vessels and arteries become slightly less supple with time, which can contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol problems. It’s never too early (or too late) to adopt a preventive lifestyle, which includes regular screening. Healthy men should get their blood pressure checked every year and their cholesterol checked at least every five years; you may need to be screened more often depending on your risk factors. Once you’ve turned 45, ask your doctor if you should start a daily aspirin to help prevent a heart attack.
Prostate: This small organ tends to get larger as you get older. As it presses on your urethra or bladder, you may find yourself urinating more often—or feeling like you need to go but can’t. You can learn more about how to manage urination concerns by reading Common Urination Problems in Men. Prostate cancer also becomes more common with age, but the same healthy lifestyle that protects your heart also lowers your risk of this disease. As for screening, it’s important to get a manual prostate exam annually starting at age 40; there’s debate over the usefulness of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, so it’s best to discuss it with your doctor.
Penis: Although many men continue to experience normal sexual function well into advanced years, erections become less frequent for some men, and the ability to have repeated sexual intercourse in a short period of time becomes less common. Sexual desire—libido—may also decline with age. Once again, maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle can help: Perhaps surprisingly, the primary cause of erectile dysfunction is actually cardiovascular disease, which can affect blood flow to the penis.
Skin: As you get older your skin gets thinner, which brings changes like slower wound healing and greater sensitivity to the cold. So, it makes sense to take good care of it now—even if you never paid much attention to it in the past. Skip the tanning beds, wear UVA and UVB-blocking sunscreen, use a moisturizer and treat any cuts or scrapes you get. Crusty, rough patches, known as solar keratosis, become more common after age 45. Since this is considered a precancerous condition, talk to your doctor about whether a skin cancer screening may be a good idea for you. If you see any change in your skin, see your dermatologist.
Hair: About half of men have male pattern baldness. While some men with a genetic predisposition may begin to lose their hair before leaving the college years, most who experience thinning notice it by their mid-thirties or later. Often, you’ll start to lose hair on the top of your head—the famous “bald spot.” Though less hair isn’t a health concern, of course, it’s important to know that you may be at slightly increased risk of heart disease and prostate cancer if you started to lose your hair early on. All that means is that you have even more incentive to the preventive lifestyle that all men—and women—should pursue.