Middle age is all about health maintenance
The mid-life years, the 30s, 40s and 50s, are a time to develop habits that will help you stay healthy into your 60s, 70s and 80s.
"It's usually a point in life when we're talking about health maintenance," said Dr. Stephen Nordmark, who works in internal medicine at Sanford Health Clinic in Detroit Lakes.
The four main goals are:
When it comes to healthy eating, Nordmark said, "you can bottle a lot of nutrition into eating more fruits and vegetables."
Other simple changes include cutting back on carbohydrates and, "when you eat protein, eat low-fat protein," he said.
That essentially means skinless chicken breast and fish as opposed to ground meat like hamburger or sausage.
"Anything ground up tends to have more fat in it," he said.
Unfortunately, leaner cuts of beef also tend to be more expensive.
When it comes to exercise, the goal is 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four times a week, he said.
That can mean walking, biking or swimming.
"If you're walking with someone and get too short of breath to carry on a conversation, you're probably pushing it too hard," he said.
If you want a more vigorous exercise routine, talk to a doctor first about target heart rates and other details, he said.
Most people don't get nearly enough exercise, and it's important to make it part of your routine.
"Exercise has numerous benefits," Nordmark said.
"All your organ systems benefit, and it can help lower your blood pressure, lower your weight and reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke ... It increases flexibility, strength and energy as we get older."
Some people are surprised that sleep is a health issue, but "a lot of people have issues with sleep," Nordmark said.
The goal for adults is 6-8 hours of good, restorative sleep each night. (Teens need 8-10 hours of good sleep per night).
Some may skimp on sleep during the week and try to make it up on the weekends, but that's not a great idea, Nordmark said.
"Restorative sleep affects your ability to concentrate the next day," he said.
Stress is more difficult to define, and there's no easy test for it.
"It's hard for people to get their arms around it," Nordmark said. "One man's stress is another man's thrills."
One person may parachute from airplanes for fun and stress-reduction, while another may be afraid of heights and consider jumping out of an airplane the most stressful thing in the world, he said.
Stress can negatively impact sleep patterns and blood pressure and can lead to poor diabetes control, Nordmark said. It can affect everything from relationships to work environments.
And financial or health problems can cause stress all their own.
"We need to learn how and when we have stress, and learn to deal with it in a healthy way," Nordmark said.
That can mean walking the dog, reading a book, listening to music, working on a project, exercising, or any basically doing anything that relaxes you in a healthy way.
"We want to avoid falling into bad habits (to deal with stress) -- sitting in front of the TV, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol -- we want healthy ways to deal with stress," he said.
In general, Nordmark said, the middle years of life "is the period in which you should be monitoring blood pressure and getting periodic medical exams and cancer screenings, depending on your situation. Talk to your doctor.
"Maintaining health is the key -- you don't want to lose it and try to regain it ... A lot of this is not rocket science, but a matter of developing a plan."