Nutrition for Health, and Other Wellness Tips for Men in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s
by Catherine Morris | June 11, 2020
As Canadians gear up to celebrate the sixth annual Men's Health Week, it's time to confront some tough questions. According to the Canadian Men's Health Foundation (CMHF), men are 79 per cent more likely to die from heart disease, 57 per cent more likely to die from diabetes and 29 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. A shocking 80 per cent of suicides in Canada are men. What is going on with men’s health and how do we change it?
The CMHF says 70 per cent of men's health conditions are preventable. With the improvement of the average man's diet, lifestyle and exercise habits, there are plenty of opportunities to bridge the gender health gap. Bridging the gap means getting the message out to men of all ages––It's never too early, or too late, to embrace wellness. When it comes down to lifestyle changes around food, it seems men believe that bridging the gap will create one bridge too far.
According to the Global Action on Men’s Health, men are less knowledgeable than women when it comes to nutrition, and are more likely to be overweight or obese. Men also tend to eat less fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains than women, and are more likely to have a high-salt diet that favours meat. Health starts at home, particularly in the kitchen, and men have different nutritional needs throughout the various stages of their lives. Making sure men are getting the right foods for their age can help prevent disease, and build mental and physical resilience in every stage of life.
For men in their 20s, it's all about preventative care.
This is the time when men are at their physical peak, it's unfortunately also the time when bad habits become entrenched. Drinking, smoking, and chowing down on fast food might not be an issue now, but those vices could well come back to haunt you later in life. Nutritionist Skylar Nelson says young men shouldn't worry too much about the occasional indulgence, as long as they're paying attention to their nutritional needs and setting up good habits for the future. “Your 20s are when you're building the owner's manual for your body,” he says. “Your body recovers well and it's very forgiving, but you need to start building a solid foundation for later.”
Nelson, whose clients at Nelson Nutrition include men of all ages, says younger men should focus on eating plenty of good quality protein, and they should look at how colourful their plate is. Looking at the colours on your plate is a great life hack that helps you judge if your plate has enough antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables on it. The more colourful, the better. He advises his younger clients to learn to cook, and says that knowing your way around the kitchen isn't just a valuable life skill, it's also a way of keeping your diet varied:
“Build those good habits now so you are eating real food, and exposing yourself to new foods. If you can learn to cook as a male in your 20s, that's a real bonus. It’s a nice thing to bring to a relationship as you get older, and it's good for you, your future partner and your family.
“If you can just get a few healthy habits you are doing yourself a huge favour.”
A good diet at this stage isn’t just about preventing future illness. Poor nutrition is directly related to poor mental health, putting unhealthy eaters at risk of depression and other mood disorders. While your 20s may be physically forgiving, it can be a tough decade for mental health. Entering the adult world and saying goodbye to the familiar environments of the last two decades of your life can be immensely stressful. For men who have experienced childhood trauma such as divorce, abuse, or bereavement it can be worse. Life Coach Philip Hicks works with men dealing with trauma, and lost his own father at a young age. He says young men who haven’t had a fatherly role model are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems:
“The 20s are the experimentation age. Men are trying to figure out how they fit into society and life in general. Men can be challenging and defensive if they've had trauma as a child, because they are now questioning everything. Throw them into the workplace and they can feel threatened or suspicious of authority.
“They are working out their boundaries and the 20s is when a lot of barriers get put up. They have left the nest so they are trying to figure out relationships outside of family relationships.”
Hicks says working with a life coach at this stage can help. Sometimes a life coach will recommend therapy to ensure any mental health problems are addressed before they become inflated.
Entering your 30s is a whole new ball game. You're slowing down, and weekends are more likely to be spent browsing farmers markets with the family than couch-surfing your way through a hangover.
“In your 30s, you're on the precipice of committing to a career, buying a house, having a family... All those things can be stressful. Life becomes real. As you grow up, you have to grow into your food choices,” says Nelson.
For some, the 30s are the ‘Dad bod’ decade. As a man’s metabolism changes, the pounds can begin to creep up. Nelson suggests keeping an eye on portion control saying:
“It’s harder to build muscle in your 30s and it's easier to build fat. Your metabolism changes so your food requirements are less. You need to start recognizing what a healthy plate looks like, with at least three different colours and lean proteins.”
It's also the time when men start thinking about family. One of Nelson’s specialities as a nutritionist is in treating male infertility, and says it's never too early to consider sperm health, adding, “You lay that foundation for creating healthy sperm with a well-rounded diet of fish, fruits and vegetables.” As career and family come to the fore, men in their 30s can find themselves juggling a busy schedule, but it’s important to continue making time for exercise as physical activity is another great fertility booster.
A study from Urmia University in Iran looked at the exercise habits of men aged 25 to 40 and discovered that those who exercised between three and five times a week boosted their sperm count in a matter of months, with moderate-intensity training showing the best results.
Exercise at this stage will also help men in their 30s de-stress as family responsibilities and an increasing workload takes its toll.
Hicks says this can be a time when pressure mounts but the tight friendships of the 20s drop away, leaving men without a circle of close confidants to confide in. He says it’s important for men to ask for help if they need it and adds, “When men don’t know how to express themselves it can be toxic. There’s no such thing as a perfect home environment, there will always be issues, but men need to learn how to release those emotions.”
The 40s are the gut era, according to Nelson, who says this is when men tend to start addressing food allergies and sensitivities.
“Gut health is a huge deal. Now is a good time to address sensitivities and intolerances. You can deal with an upset stomach in your 20s, but the 40s are the age when people begin seeking help for those things and are getting diagnosed with IBS, Crohns or other issues.”
Nelson advises men to pack their diet with gut-friendly, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, and yoghurt. He also recommends probiotics, and says men in their 40s should start thinking about supplementing if they can't get what they need from their diet. His top recommendations are vitamins D and C, zinc and magnesium. Men should get a blood work-up done to assess their vitamin D and vitamin B levels so that they can have a better idea of how much, and how often they need to supplement.
Testosterone starts to decline in a man’s 40s, dropping 1-2 percent each year. A good exercise regime can help counter this––particularly one that includes strength training. There's also a lot you can do on your plate. Incorporating Ginger, pomegranate, and fatty fish can help boost fertility hormones.
The 40s are often characterised as the mid-life crisis decade. Heading into the older years, waning hormones can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Hicks treats a lot of clients in their 40s who are processing “heavy hitter emotions” such as suicidal thoughts, and severe depression. He says some of it stems from untreated early trauma or relationship issues and some from a feeling of inadequacy or a lack of purpose as men enter their late 40s and early 50s.
He encourages these clients to go slow and “sit with their feelings”. “I tell them that all of their emotions are allowed, and to be present. It is not about not feeling things, it’s about expressing them and having an outlet and a safe place to do that in.”
The 50s (and beyond)
For a lot of men, the 50s are a time to refocus. This might be the era where men embark on a new diet, a new exercise plan, or a new lifestyle as they slow down in preparation for retirement.
Nelson sees a lot of older clients who want to change their eating habits, but don't know how. With a baffling array of dietary trends to pick from––keto, paleo, vegan, pescatarian–– it's easy to get overwhelmed, but Nelson says the 50s are “a real opportunity to reset, and a kick in the ass to get it right.” He suggests finding evidence-based nutritional advice, and if possible, enlisting the help of a health professional to help you cut through the noise.
A good place to start is curbing inflammation, which Nelson says is a particular issue as men age:
“Inflammation is a big deal in your 50s. There is a higher likelihood of chronic disease so you want to combat that oxidative stress with anti-inflammatory supplements. You need variety in your diet, which means mindful eating and nutrient-rich foods. There is a learning curve if you're not used to eating that way.”
Absorption of the B vitamins declines with age, so it’s important to get levels checked, and to supplement where necessary. Men with underlying conditions such as Crohn's Disease, Celiac Disease, or alcoholism should definitely consider supplements. Deficiency in B vitamins can lead to anaemia, depression and lowered immune function.
As men enter their 50s they should be concerned about maintaining cognitive function, and bone health. A well-rounded Mediterranean-style diet can help with both, suggests Nelson, who advocates less meat, more fish and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Glucosamine and collagen are great for the skeletal system and the brain, and can be found in quality bone broth or supplements. Growing older isn't an excuse to stop moving––exercise remains a critical part of overall wellness. We've all heard the phrase 'move it or lose it' and this becomes more applicable with every decade. Low-impact exercise with an emphasis on gentle stretching can help men live longer, healthier lives. People who live long enough to see their 100th birthday tend to have one thing in common––a commitment to physical activity. Movement does prolong life, but having a sense of purpose is also important. Retirement is a major stressor for men who've invested decades into their career, and it can be difficult to make the switch from busy work days in the office to nothing but spare time. Life coach Philip Hicks says this can be a lonely time for men, with a lot of regret, disappointment, and uncertainty:
“Some retirees feel like it’s too late to have a purpose, or like they are just waiting to die. There are men retiring earlier, and living longer so that can mean they've got another 20 years left that they don't know what to do with. I try to reframe it as an opportunity, by asking them what they want to do. If they've always wanted to travel, this is the time.”
The retirement years can be a time of new experiences, new friends and new meaning. If men are struggling, Hicks says the most important thing is to not be ashamed to ask for help. Emotional well being isn't just a young person's problem:
“It is absolutely crucial to maintain your mental health throughout your life. There is no generation that has it completely right. Retirees may be feeling some things for the first time, while at the other end of the spectrum, teenagers are feeling everything.”
A Whole Life, Whole Health Approach
Taken as a whole, the concept of good health can be overwhelming. Diet, exercise, mental health, lifestyle changes––there are many paths to wellness and tackling everything at once can feel impossible. Diet is the obvious and easiest place to start but men who adopt a healthier eating plan will soon see results in their mental health and fitness levels too, no matter what age and stage they’re at––because the body is a system, and it’s all interconnected.
Every decade in a man's life brings its own unique challenges, but a holistic approach to health can build the mental and physical resilience necessary to avoid disease and live not just longer, but better.