By Tara Parker-PopeIllustrations by Kim Murton
Our health needs change with every passing decade, but the good news is that it’s never too late to start taking better care of yourself. Whether you are in your 30s, 40s, 50s or beyond, the Well Midlife Tuneup will put you on a healthier path to improving your body, mind and relationships. You are only as old as you feel, and completing our tuneup will definitely help you feel young at heart. Let’s get started.
Healthful eating is not the only way to improve your overall well being, but it’s often the first place many of us start.
Food is not the enemy; it’s just the bad habits that need to go. As you embark on tuning up your eating habits, don’t think about going on a diet or losing weight. Instead, make a promise to yourself that you’re going to focus on healthful eating habits that will make you feel well today and every day. If you do that, you’ll have more energy and chances are you will also lose weight. Here are a few guidelines to get you started.
No More Packaged Foods
Midlife is a great time to stop eating packaged processed foods. We eat a lot of these foods for convenience when we are rushing kids out the door to school or when we’re working late. Whether you still have kids at home or an empty nest, resolve to stop eating packaged foods. (Help your kids kick the habit now!) Here are some tips for eliminating packaged food from your daily diet.
- Only buy single-ingredient items from the grocery store. Some foods — like milk, yogurt and almonds — have to come in a package, but you will know it’s OK to eat them because the container label shows only one or two ingredients. Processed foods (think chips, cookies, frozen dinners) have multiple ingredients, additives and added sugar. Don’t eat them. Cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple. Make a simple avocado taco (you can buy the salsa if you don’t have time for homemade), roast a really big beet or make a more-vegetable-than-egg frittata.
- Don’t be fooled by “healthy” foods. Granola bars, sports drinks and vegetable chips sound like they’d be good for you, but they are loaded with added sugars, extra calories, food coloring, preservatives and other things you don’t need. Grab some nuts or an apple instead.
- Find homemade alternatives. If you love breakfast cereal, make your own blueberry oatmeal or steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, make your own granola or a yogurt parfait. Love french fries? Cut up some sweet potatoes and bake fries at home. Mac-n-cheese from a box? Our Cooking team has 11 great ways to make it yourself.
Skip the Sugar
The nutrition community has spent much of the past few decades talking about the perils of fatty foods and eating too many calories. But increasingly, research is showing that sugar is what ails us. Not only is there evidence that it makes you gain weight, but it appears that the body metabolizes sugar in a way that is, quite literally, toxic. Sugar appears to play a role in insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes, heart disease and other problems. When the body can’t manage the amount of sugar in the blood, the sugar begins to damage artery walls, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Some research has suggested a link between sugar and cancer.
Just Add Nuts
One of the simplest ways to stop eating packaged junk food and unhealthy snacks is to keep nuts close at hand. At first, you may over do it, so be careful as you nosh on that pack of salted almonds. But over time, you will learn that just eating seven or eight nuts can do the trick when you need an afternoon pick me up.
Why are nuts good for you? Nuts have been shown to lower the risk for heart disease as well as diabetes. A review of nearly two dozen studies of nuts and health found that people who ate, on average, about one ounce of nuts a day (that’s about two dozen almonds or 15 pecan halves) had lower risk for heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes and infectious diseases compared with those who rarely ate nuts.
It’s not entirely clear why nuts are so good for you, but we know they contain healthful unsaturated fats; omega-3 fatty acids (good for the heart); fiber (which can lower cholesterol and diabetes and increase satiety); vitamin E (good for heart health); and L-arginine (good for healthy artery walls.)
One provocative study suggests that eating walnuts — and perhaps any type of nut – may influence satiety sensors in the brain. The study was tiny — just nine people and it was paid for by the California Walnut Commission, so obviously more research is needed. But the research does offer a hypothesis about why nuts can help curb our appetite.
Stop Drinking Your Flavors
Most cultures around the world are grateful for healthy, clean water. But in a growing number of countries, we’ve taken to wanting our water flavored. We can thank the beverage marketers for treating us to the joys of flavored beverages. While flavored drinks tickle our taste buds, they also fill our bodies with empty calories and added sugars. Even diet sodas have been implicated — the artificial sweeteners may change our gut bacteria, causing glucose intolerance, or it may be that fake sweeteners increase your cravings for actual sweets.
We don’t have all the answers, but we do know for sure that water — simple, plain, water — is good for you. As you are tuning up your body for your second act, consider your commitment to water. And if you still are craving fruity, flavored drinks, consider cutting up some fruit and infusing your water at home to give you a touch of flavor without all the bad stuff. And you can use all the money you were spending on sweet drinks to buy yourself a nice water filter pitcher.
Love Your Vegetables
Midlife is not the time to starve yourself or embark on a restricted eating plan. Has that strategy ever worked for you? The good news: You can eat delicious food and still be healthy and lose weight. The best way to do that is to focus on the vegetables in your life. Spice them up. Sear them in a pan. Roast them in the oven. Enjoy them with quality olive oil, aioli or a dollop of butter. Shop for the freshest vegetables at a local farmer’s market. Eat them for dessert. Be decadent with your vegetables. Eating more of them will push less healthful foods of your plate.
It’s never too late to start exercising and reap the benefits.
The Best Workout for Middle-Aged Bodies
Research shows that becoming fit in middle age will stave off chronic illness and give you more years of good health. But most middle-aged and older adults in Western countries don’t exercise. (About one in four adults in the United States over 50 are essentially sedentary, moving only for essential daily activities.) While exercise in midlife and beyond requires a little extra care and planning, it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, the latest science shows the most effective exercise for a middle aged body is also much easier and faster than the hour-long jogs or bike treks we thought we were supposed to be doing.
The scientists call it high-intensity interval training or HIIT. But I think that scary-sounding name keeps many of us from trying it. Consider it fun, fast interval training (FFIT!) and don’t be intimidated. Here’s how to get started with a simple 3 min x 3 min interval workout. (Make sure you check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.) Treat it like a competition against yourself and have fun!
- Step 1: Get a heart rate monitor
To get started, buy a simple heart rate monitor with a wrist watch and a chest strap. They are easy to set up and the most accurate way to determine your target heart rate.
- Step 2: Warm up
Get on a bike, treadmill, stair climber or rowing machine and do an easy warm up for three minutes.
- Step 3: Push yourself for just three minutes
Now go! Three minutes of hard work is not that long. Pick up the pace and push yourself to a discomfort zone. How do you know if you’re doing it right? If you can sing, you’re not doing enough. If you can talk but can’t sing, that’s a moderate pace. Save that for your recovery. Now push yourself so that you (gasp) can still talk (gasp) but need to take (gasp) a breath every few (gasp) words. That’s your high-intensity zone.
- Step 4: Check your heart rate
It’s time for a break! After three minutes, slow down to a moderate pace and check your heart rate. Enjoy the three-minute recovery interval.
- Step 5: Repeat and try to beat your heart rate
O.K. This is a competition now. Once your three-minute recovery is over, push hard again for just three minutes. This time, try to better the heart rate number you posted in the first sprint. Make it a game! After all, three minutes goes by fast. You can do it!
- Step 6: Complete four sets of sprint and recovery
Each time you start a new three-minute sprint, try to best your heart rate. You will probably plateau on the third and fourth set, but that’s O.K. Your low number and high number will become your target heart rate zones for future workouts. (My target heart range was 145 to 165 — but yours will be different depending on your age and overall fitness) Finish with a three-minute easy cool down.
And that’s it! You’ve just completed a HIIT workout. It was fun, and it was fast — 30 minutes total with just 12 minutes of hard exercise that did more for your body than any hour-long slog on the treadmill.
Depending on your level of fitness, feel free to improvise. My colleague Gretchen Reynolds enjoys one-minute sprints and one-minute recovery intervals on the treadmill until she hits two miles. I really like knowing I’ve got a full three minutes to recover, so I’m sticking with the 3×3 interval workout. Most experts think that’s the sweet spot for interval training. Once you go above three minutes, it’s tough to push yourself and it isn’t as much fun.
A 7-Minute Workout for Real People
We’ve all heard about the 7-Minute Workout. The key is to do a series of 30-second-long simple exercises followed by five seconds of rest for just seven minutes. While it sounds easy, it can be really, really hard for some of us to complete. With aging knees, elbows and wrists, a pushup can be impossible and even a jumping jack might be a challenge. Here’s how to design a 7-Minute Workout you can actually do.
Step 1: Pick one exercise from each muscle group
Cardio: Jumping jacks, high knees, jump rope skip (pretend you have a rope), march in place, stand and box (like a boxer)
Lower Body:: Chair-assisted split squat, (holding on to the back of a chair as you move up and down from a near-sitting position), chair assisted squat, lunge, side lunge, wall sit
Core::: Abdominal crunch, kneeling side plank, plank, Superman, kneeling plank
Upper Body:: Kneeling push-up, push-up, triceps dip, chair-assisted push-up, wall push-up
Step 2: Create Your Exercise Sequence
In a seven minute workout, you work out four muscle groups — cardio, lower body, upper body and core — in that order, so that each muscle group has nearly two minutes to rest before being challenged again.
Sample sequence: Jumping jacks (cardio), lunge (lower body), kneeling push-up (upper body), kneeling plank (core)
Step 3: Do the Workout
Now do each exercise for 30 seconds, with a five second rest in between. Repeat the sequences of four exercises three times. You’ve just done at 7-Minute Workout! Feel free to change the exercise for variety. Instead of doing jumping jacks three times, you could do jumping jacks first, then stand and box and then march in place. Just pick the exercises from each group that you can do. For more options, go to the Johnson & Johnson 7-Minute Workout App for 22 different versions of the workout.
The wisdom that comes from middle age is learning that both your body and your mind need recovery time.
Quiet Your Mind
Often when we think about health, we focus on eating right and exercise. But it’s time to start thinking about your inner fitness, too. A growing body of evidence now shows that meditation, mindfulness practice, sleep improvements and stress reduction can slow the aging process.
Research suggests that the brains of long-time meditators are less affected by aging than the brains of people who don’t meditate. Some studies indicate that meditation may have a positive effect on telomeres — structures at the end of our chromosomes that influence aging. In this research, it appears that meditation may increase telomerase activity and telomere length — essentially slowing aging. Research also shows that meditation can reduce markers of inflammation and reduce stress and cortisol levels. While more study is needed to fully understand the effects, it’s clear that meditation is good for you and good for your brain.
If you’re still not sold on meditation, think of it this way. If you want to build your arm muscles, you can’t work those muscles every day. You need to give them a day of rest in between workouts so they can heal and rebuild. Your mind is just like a muscle. It needs recovery time. Regular meditation quiets your mind and gives it the break it needs to rejuvenate.
Starting a Meditation Practice
Meditation comes in many forms — it can be spiritual or simple, it can include deep breathing and oms or it can be quietly contemplative. You decide. Find the meditation practice that works for you. Here are some tips:
- Try basic mindfulness meditation. This just involves taking a moment to pause and appreciate the present moment. Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes and take a few breaths. Stop and become aware of your body. Devote your attention to your breath. Just be aware of your breathing and focus on it. If your mind wanders, that’s O.K., just return your attention to your breath. Try this for just five minutes.
- Get a meditation app. There are dozens of meditation apps to choose from. I recommend you start by checking out a few of the free versions to see what suits you. The voice, pace, music and sounds can affect your experience, so it’s really about personal preference. Headspace or Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics (often called the 10% Happier app) are two great places to start. But once you begin, keep exploring to find the guided meditation app that is right for you. For variety, I sometimes just go to YouTube and find guided meditations to try. If you’re feeling ambitious, explore additional meditation apps, including Calm, Simply Being, Omvana, Buddhify, White Noise, Equanimity. The list goes on.
- Take a class. Learning to meditate can be challenging, so it may help to have an experienced teacher guiding you along the way. Find a convenient meditation class and attend a few sessions. You will be more likely to continue if you have a great experience the first few times you meditate.
- Try controlled breathing. There is a lot of science to support controlled breathing, which has been described as “meditation for people who can’t meditate.” We’ve created several exercises to guide you through different types of controlled breathing.
- Gratitude journaling. If meditation and controlled breathing still feel too “New Agey” for you, consider going old school and grab a pen and paper. Take five or 10 or 15 minutes before bedtime to write down three things that happened that day for which you feel gratitude. Don’t be afraid to keep writing. What happened that makes you feel thankful? What gave you joy? What are you feeling now about the experience? The goal is to quiet your mind and shed negative thoughts. Gratitude journaling has been shown to lower stress and boost sleep.
Create a Midlife Mission Statement
If you were starting a new business or charitable organization, you would sit down and think about your goals and values for the company. Ultimately, you would craft a mission statement. Well, now it’s time to think about your second act as a new enterprise.
Don’t focus on a single behavior like losing weight or working less. Instead try to identify the underlying values that will motivate you to change. (“I want to be a role model for my kids and have more energy.” “I want to spend more time with my family and having fun.”) At the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, coaches work with attendees to help them identify their values and define their mission by asking them the following questions:
- How do you want to be remembered?
- How do you want people to describe you?
- Who do you want to be?
- Who or what matters most to you?
- What are your deepest values?
- How would you define success in your life?
- What makes your life really worth living?
Use your answers to craft a personal mission statement that reveals your ultimate purpose in life. Focus on a set of guiding principles that capture how you want to live your life.
Give Yourself a Sleep Makeover
A good night’s sleep can help you solve a lot of life’s problems, but many of us are not getting the sleep we need. Genetics play a role in our sleep needs, but most of us need 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep to function well, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. How alert are you? Try this five-minute test that measures reaction time.
For years, I believed I was one of those genetically blessed people who could function well on just four or five hours of sleep. But after doing my own sleep makeover, I discovered that my body really did want more sleep. Once I allowed myself to fall asleep when I was tired and to wake up without an alarm, I discovered my natural sleep needs were closer to 7.5 hours a night. Here’s how to start a sleep makeover.
- Keep a sleep diary: Tracking your sleep time and patterns is a helpful way to determine your personal sleep needs. So put a notebook and pen beside your bed, and make notes about your sleep habits. Include the time you go to bed and wake up, hours of sleep and any awakenings during the night. Do you feel refreshed or tired when you wake up? Do you nap during the day or doze off on the subway home or while watching television? Make sure you track your weekend sleep as well. Chances are you will start to notice patterns that will help you make needed changes to your sleep habits.
- Take a sleep vacation: This takes a bit more commitment but is also one of the more revelatory things you can do for yourself. Plan some time away when you don’t have to walk the dog or rush the kids to school. Put yourself to bed at the same time every night and don’t set an alarm. Make sure the blinds are closed and the room stays dark. Early in the process, your body is likely to catch up on sleep debt. But after a few days, you will likely begin to wake at a consistent time each day. Track it for several days in your sleep diary. Now you know how much sleep your body really needs.
- Practice good sleep habits: Parents know that small children need regular sleep routines to get adequate sleep. Guess what? So do grownups.
Once you’ve committed to getting more or better sleep, follow these tips to improve your sleep:
- Make your bedroom a refuge. Create a comfortable bed, invest in pillows and soft sheets. Make sure your curtains or shades block light and eliminate glowing clocks and computers that add light to the room. Remove the television and other screens from your bedroom. Keep pets and work out of the bedroom. Make sure the temperature is comfortable.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, spicy foods and other substances late in the day that can interfere with sleep.
- Limit daily naps if you’re having trouble sleeping at night.
- No screens. Put your phone, tablet and computer down at least a half hour before bed. The light from screens wakes up your brain and interferes with sleep.
- Establish a calming pre-sleep routine and stick to it. An hour before bedtime, start your sleep routine. Take a bath. Watch a television show that makes you laugh. Read a book. Chat with your spouse or partner about their day. Once you head to the bedroom, leave work, stress and distractions behind. The bed is not a place for emotional conversations or solving problems. Write in your gratitude journal or meditate. Make a “to do” list for the next day so those distracting thoughts are on paper and not in your head. Avoid activities that stimulate your brain. Listen to quiet music or nature sounds. That calming hour before bedtime will help relax your mind and make it easier to surrender to sleep.
- Exercise regularly for better sleep, but not too close to bedtime.
Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks and retirement worries. Yet many of us don’t build the coping skills we need to meet these challenges. The good news is that some of the qualities of middle age — a better ability to regulate emotions, perspective gained from life experiences and concern for future generations — may give older people an advantage over younger ones when it comes to developing resilience. Here are some simple steps to boost your resilience.
- Focus on optimism: Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring problems. It means facing challenges in a more hopeful way. An empty nest could be lonely or it could be a great opportunity to try new things. A job loss is difficult, but an optimist will seize the opportunity to rethink his life goals. So shed negative thoughts and surround yourself with positive people.
- Write and rewrite your story: Writing is a powerful way to boost happiness. The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.
- Remember your comebacks: When faced with tough times or a new challenge, remind yourself of the challenges in your life that you already have overcome.
- Help others: One of the simplest ways to boost your resilience is to get out of your head and do something for other people. “Part of resilience is taking responsibility for your life, and for creating a life that you consider meaningful and purposeful,” says Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at Yale Medical School. “It doesn’t have to be a big mission — it could be your family. As long as what you’re involved in has meaning to you, that can push you through all sorts of adversity.”
- Take stress breaks: Taking a walk break, spending five minutes to meditate or having lunch with a good friend are ways to give your mind and body a break from stress.
- Find your discomfort zone: One of the best ways to boost your resilience is to get out of your comfort zone. Do something you’ve never done before. It can be physical — a whitewater rafting trip or climbing a mountain. Or it can be creative — take a pottery class or cake decorating class. Do stand up comedy. Or just take your grandkids to a ball pit and dive in.
Take some time to reconnect with your partner, kids, friends and parents.
Disconnect to Reconnect
Recently I went on a weeklong retreat run by the Hoffman Process, which included disconnecting from phones, computers, emails, radio and television. At first, it was excruciating to give up my phone — texts, alerts and emails are how I stay connected to family, friends, work and news. A few people at my retreat cheated by sitting in their cars to listen to the news or sneaking the WiFi password to gain access to the outside world. It was tough, but I didn’t cheat. When I craved texting and screen time, I used an old disconnected device to look at pictures of my daughter, my loved ones and my dogs. After seven disconnected days, I was a new person. I was sleeping better. I wasn’t constantly reaching to check my phone. I was calmer. And I was happier.
When the retreat organizers gave me back my phone, I let it sit silent for a few hours before turning it on. I was eager to reconnect with my loved ones, but I instinctively knew that rushing to turn it on was not the way to get back in touch with the real world. I spent my last few hours in conversation with new friends. When I finally did turn on my phone, I avoided email a little longer and just used the phone to call and check in with the most important people in my life.
The experience changed me. Back in my routine, I now turn my phone off at meal time. I’m surprised how often my dinner companions check their phones. I also spend less time on my computer at home, and I’m more mindful of my screen time. While it’s not practical to give up your phone entirely, you can make small changes that will help you disconnect from your devices and better connect with the people you love. Try one or two of these suggestions to begin to change your relationship with technology:
- Buy an alarm clock so you can leave your phone charging in a different room at night. That way it won’t be there to tempt you when you first wake up or when you go to bed at night.
- Unplug for the first one to two hours you are home after work. Make sure your kids and partner do the same. This sounds hard, but it’s just a short break. Use the time to chat, help make dinner or read a book. You will probably get fidgety at first — a sure sign that you need to spend less time with your phone and computer.
- Do not use cellphones or tablets at the dinner table — at home or when you are out. Do this and you will start to notice how often the people in your life allow conversations to be interrupted by phones.
- Put away screens one hour before bedtime. Screen light stimulates your brain. Pick a book, quiet music or meditation instead.
- Turn off phone alerts. You can turn the sound off of text messages, Facebook alerts and news alerts. Pick the two most important people in your life and give their texts and calls a special ring. Everyone else should be assigned a quiet ring and silent texting.
- Take a walk every day and leave your cellphone at home or at your desk. Be mindful of the world around you that you’ve missed because you’ve been talking on your phone. If you’re addicted to using your phone for counting steps, get a fitness tracker.
- When you hear the ping or feel the vibration of a text or alert, stop yourself from checking it right away. Take a walk around the office, finish your conversation or go get a cup of coffee. Train yourself to resist the constant pull of electronics.
- When you hear yourself saying “I’m just going to do a quick check,” or “I just need a minute” as you look at your phone, stop yourself. Is it really important? Or is this just impulse and habit calling you to your phone? The first step to freeing yourself from technology is to take a breath and wait before checking your phone.
Talk to Your Parents About Their Childhood
If you’re like most people, you have a complicated relationship with your parents. If you are fortunate enough to have living parents, consider having a conversation with them about their childhood. I learned about this strategy during my time at the Hoffman Process, which included activities to help explore negative patterns learned in childhood. Part of the process includes developing compassion and understanding for your own parents. So ask questions. Some suggestions:
- How did your mom or dad grow up?
- Was it a happy childhood?
- Were their parents strict disciplinarians? Or were they absent?
- What was their life like on a day-to-day basis?
- What was their experience like at school?
Looking at your parents through the lens of their childhood could go a long way to helping you understand them and making peace with some of your childhood demons. Start by finding old photos of your parents when they were children. Don’t make the conversation about your childhood and any complaints you have. And don’t try to solve your adult problems with your parents. Focus on your parents as children and find compassion for their experiences. This simple exercise will give you a new level of understanding about your parents and will give you insights into their thinking as they raised you.
Connecting With Teenagers
As you tuneup your body and your mind, think about ways to tuneup your connection with any young people in your life. Teens have a lot on their minds with school, friendships, college and social media, and they often aren’t that receptive to parent or adult questions or thoughtful exchanges. Wait until the time is right — a long drive when your teen seems chatty, or a dinner out, just the two of you.
Find time for family meals
Most modern families don’t have time to sit down for a family meal every night. Busy teens have sports practices and late-night study sessions. Parents have long commutes that prevent them from getting home for dinner every night. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a family meal. Try scheduling breakfast one day a week. Or make Sunday night dinner a special family event never to be missed. Even if your child is a senior in high school or home from college for the summer, take the time to sit down for a meal with them.
Make the dinner table a hassle-free zone
When you do finally get your teen to the table, don’t hassle him or her with a barrage of questions about school, grades or college plans. Make dinner time fun and interesting. Get to know each other. Here’s a suggested list of topics.
- Tell me something I don’t know about you. I tried this with my 18-year-old over dinner one night, and she shared a truly delightful story of a little fib she told in first grade that has haunted her for years. We couldn’t stop laughing as she told the story, and that conversation is now among my favorite memories of spending time with her. Just be warned, your teen will turn the question back on you, so be prepared to share.
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you travel to? This question, and some of the others on this list, come from Mark Merrill, who lectures and writes on family relationships. The answer will give you a glimpse into your child’s hopes and dreams, and give you a sense of how he or she sees the world.
- If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? This is a fun question at any age, and one that can be recycled several times.
- What was your favorite book when you were little? If you haven’t read it, read it now so you can talk about it the next time you sit down together.
- What’s on your bucket list? If your teen doesn’t have a bucket list, explain it and sit down together and write five things on your list and talk about it.
- Which class are you learning the least in? Asking teens about teachers and classes they don’t like is a fast way to get them talking.
- Would you ever get a tattoo? What would it be? Brace yourself for the answer, but many teens would be delighted by this question.
During my daughter’s last few years of high school, we had a lot of stuff to talk about that she found unpleasant or stressful. Topics like college athletic recruiting, college essays and applications, schedule planning and conflicts, family vacations and of course, high school grades, were certain to shut her down or prompt a “Can we talk about this later?” response.
A guidance counselor gave me great advice. Don’t constantly pepper your near-graduate with questions about college, logistics and grades. Instead, make a deal with them. Schedule a weekly dinner where you can discuss one (just one) of these topics and promise not to hassle them about it the rest of the week. My daughter embraced this idea and we scheduled regular Sunday night dinners out for a favorite meal. We both began to look forward to it, and it made the rest of our week conflict-free and far less stressful for both of us.
Be a Potted Plant
Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist, notes that for teens, sometimes the best way to reconnect with adults is through “detached availability.” This means staying in the general vicinity of your teen, but not necessarily engaging with them unless they seek you out.
Many parents instinctively know this, notes Dr. Damour, author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions of Adulthood.” She tells the story of a friend who quietly folds laundry each evening in the den where her teenagers watch TV. They enjoy one another’s company without any pressure to make conversation. Another routinely accepts his daughter’s invitation to work or read nearby while she sits and does her homework.
“With teenagers, it’s not always easy to know how to connect,” writes Dr. Damour. “By their nature, adolescents aren’t always on board with our plans for making the most of family time and they aren’t always in the mood to chat. Happily, the quality parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant.”
Midlife is a good time to give some individual body parts a little extra attention.
The best skincare advice at any age is to limit sun exposure and wear sunscreen. But if you want to be more proactive than that there are lots of ways to do it.
Vision changes are often some of the earliest signs that we are getting older. While it’s normal for eyes to change over the years, it’s important to have annual eye exams and visit doctors whenever you experience a change in vision. Vision declines can be corrected or slowed with early treatment, so don’t ignore any symptoms. Here are some common issues with aging eyes.
- Presbyopia: If you find yourself holding a book or menu farther away to read it, you probably have presbyopia, one of the most common vision problems of aging. As we get older, our eye lenses lose their flexibiity and can’t focus clearly. The solution may just be reading glasses or prescription progressive glasses, but don’t self diagnose. Annual eye exams should be a priority in midlife.
- Dry eyes: If your eyes feel dry and irritated most of the time, see a doctor. Our eyes make fewer tears as we age. If the problem becomes noticeable, a doctor may suggest over the counter artificial teardrops or a prescription medication.
- Cataracts: Cataracts — a clouding of the lens that affects vision — can begin in your 40s, but they typically don’t begin to affect vision until your 60s. Symptoms include blurry or double vision, halos around lights, fading colors or trouble seeing at night. Cataracts can be removed with surgery or if your problems are mild, your doctor may suggest simple changes like brighter reading lights and a new eyeglass prescription.
- Floaters: Everyone sees floaters — those spots or squiggly lines that seem to drift around in your eye and visual field — from time to time. But if you suddenly notice a host of floaters, see a doctor. Too many floaters can be a sign of a torn or detaching retina, which puts your vision at risk so seek treatment to minimize any damage.
Midlife is a good time for a hearing test. It will tell you the state of your hearing now and give you a baseline to measure hearing loss as you age. Talk to your general practitioner about scheduling a hearing test. Even though one in three people over 60 have significant hearing loss, most wait five to 15 years before seeking help, according to a 2012 report in Healthy Hearing magazine.
While some age-related hearing loss is inevitable, there are things you can do to protect your ears from noise-induced hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Hearing Disorders notes that loud music, firearms, snowmobiles, lawn mowers and leaf blowers are potential sources of noise-induced hearing loss. Protect your ears with ear plugs and avoid exposure to loud noises to help limit the amount of hearing you might lose as you age.
How do you know if you have hearing loss? The hearing disorders institute offers a simple quiz. If you answer yes to three or more questions, it’s time to see a doctor about your hearing.
- Do you sometimes feel embarrassed when you meet new people because you struggle to hear?
- Do you feel frustrated when talking to members of your family because you have difficulty hearing them?
- Do you have difficulty hearing or understanding co-workers, clients, or customers?
- Do you feel restricted or limited by a hearing problem?
- Do you have difficulty hearing when visiting friends, relatives, or neighbors?
- Do you have trouble hearing in the movies or in the theater?
- Does a hearing problem cause you to argue with family members?
- Do you have trouble hearing the TV or radio at levels that are loud enough for others?
- Do you feel that any difficulty with your hearing limits your personal or social life?
- Do you have trouble hearing family or friends when you are together in a restaurant?
The good news is that losing your teeth and getting dentures is no longer an inevitable part of aging. Better hygiene and fluoridation means older people have more teeth to preserve than in the past. And the rules for proper dental care don’t change as we age — brush and floss regularly and avoid sweets and sodas, hard candies and caramels to keep your teeth healthy and your existing dental work in place.
But aging does bring some new dental challenges. As we take drugs for a variety of life’s ailments, we can experience dry mouth as a side effect, which makes teeth more vulnerable to decay. Bone loss can make teeth less stable and receding gums expose roots to tooth decay. Poor mouth health has been linked to other ailments, like heart disease and diabetes.
But the biggest challenge of dental care as we age is cost. Medicare typically doesn’t cover dental procedures, and only about 10 percent of retirees have dental benefits from their former employer. Prevention is key: Seek dental care when you have dental benefits through your employer or a bit more disposable income to pay for treatments.
Heart and Brain
Taking care of your cardiovascular system means getting regular checkups for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — conditions that can all be helped with a better diet and more exercise. If you smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation.
The best way to take care of your heart and brain in midlife is to follow the steps in this guide: adopt healthful eating habits, get moving, don’t be sedentary, give your mind time to recover and focus on family connections and personal relationships.