By the time you reach your 40s, it may seem like you’re stuck in your ways. You’ve got the same habits—both good and bad—that you’ve been practicing for years, if not decades. But since your 40s are a time when your body, your interests, and your responsibilities undergo significant changes, your habits should, too—especially in terms of your health. With that in mind, here are 40 habits you’re going to want to make part of your daily life from here on out, according to medical and health professionals.
Your bad habits are no doubt deeply ingrained by the time you are in your 40s, but by this stage of life, you also have a clear sense of the kind of damage they can cause. Your 40s are the time to take a closer look at your behaviors and nip your vices in the bud.
“If you smoke, drink more than you should (more than one drink for women and two for men per day on a regular basis), gamble excessively … or struggle with other forms of addiction, it is critical to confront those bad habits and take action,” says Lisa Doggett, MD, a family physician based in Austin, Texas. “The consequences of unchecked vices can increase with age, and reaching out to a physician, supportive friend, or other resources in the community can make a big difference.”
Schedule annual (or semi-annual) physicals with your physician and be sure you are following the doctor’s orders. “Rates of chronic disease increase significantly as we age,” Doggett says. “Conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension can be detected early through routine medical visits, and early treatment reduces the risk of heart disease and other complications. Cancer rates also rise as we age, so screening tests become more important in our 40s.”
You’ve heard sleep is important—and you know firsthand how miserable you can be when you don’t get enough of it. But once you get into your 40s, you might need to reassess exactly how much sleep you’re getting. “The quality of our sleep tends to go down with age, partly due to increased life stress and also due to hormonal changes that occur in both men and women over 40,” says Ivana Chapman, a fitness and nutrition coach based in Toronto. “Getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep will enhance your immune system, reduce stress levels, and optimize your recovery from exercise.”
If you want to ensure that your good night’s rest isn’t unnaturally and unhealthily interrupted, then you might want to get rid of your alarm clock. And that’s not just for the sake of your sleep cycle. In a 2005 study published in the journal Industrial Health, researchers found that while blood pressure and heart rate rapidly increased with the use of an alarm clock, levels gradually and more healthily increased when subjects woke up on their own.
For many of us, in just a few short years, smartphones have gone from a novelty to a necessity. And though these devices provide tons of pluses—like entertainment and connection—they can also be detrimental to your mental health and the development of good habits.
“When it comes to sleep, 40-somethings are the worst. Most of their sleep disturbances come from overuse of technology—the blue light emitted from smartphones, computers, and televisions disrupt the natural circadian rhythm because it inhibits the production of melatonin,” says Walter Gaman, MD, co-author of Stay Young: 10 Proven Steps to Ultimate Health. “Avoid electronics two hours before bed and opt for a great novel instead.”
“Many of the jobs that people in their 40s have call for heavy computer work. While your fingers may be going ninety to nothing, your large muscles are sitting stagnant,” says Gaman. “Sitting really is the new smoking because living a sedentary lifestyle increases inflammation and inflammation is the root of most chronic disease.”
So what can you do if you have to be at your desk all day? Get a standing or treadmill desk, or take micro-breaks throughout the day to stretch or walk around the block. There are plenty of small but meaningful changes you can make in order to avoid putting your health at risk.
This habit for getting healthy in your 40s will benefit you in more ways than one. “Training with weights two to four times a week builds muscle and maintains bone density,” explains Chapman. “It also makes it easier to maintain your weight, since a leaner body with more muscle is more metabolically active and burns more calories all day long.”
“Building and preserving precious muscle isn’t possible if you’re not taking in enough protein,” says Chapman. She notes that the USDA’s recommendation—5.5 ounces of protein daily—is “unnecessarily low, and [they] don’t represent the amount of protein required for optimal health and muscle maintenance and growth.” She says that in order to maintain and build muscle in your 40s, you should aim to get 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
There’s a reason why doctors are nuts for nuts, especially as their patients age. Over the course of 20-plus years, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health followed up with nearly 156,000 men and women in four-year intervals. Their research, which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2019, determined that subjects who ate a daily serving of any type of nut had a lower risk of weight gain and obesity.
“Adding one ounce of nuts to your diet in place of less healthy foods—such as red or processed meat, French fries, or sugary snacks—may help prevent that slow, gradual weight gain after you enter adulthood and reduce the risk of obesity-related cardiovascular diseases,” study author Xiaoran Liu, PhD, said in a statement.
While you want to eat wisely to help keep your weight under control, it’s not just the size of your gut that you should be concerned about in your 40s. “Eighty percent of your immunity is in your gut,” says Gaman. “Protecting your microbiome should be top priority. Do this by avoiding artificial sweeteners and increasing your intake of prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, and asparagus.”
These days, most cities have at least one farmer’s market, if not several. These are great places to go for fresh produce—and while you’re there, you can get inspired to make nutritious meals with seasonal ingredients. Through programs like Prescription for Health, some doctors even write “prescriptions” for their patients to visit the farmer’s market in order to ensure adequate fruit and veggie intake.
Visiting the dermatologist annually becomes especially important once you reach 40. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma risk increases with age, and the average age of diagnosis is 65. Make sure you’re getting your skin checked at least once a year so that if you do have skin cancer, you can get it treated in the early stages.
This is a good habit at any age, but it’s especially critical in your 40s, seeing as your melanoma risk increases with age, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists exposure to the sun’s UV rays as one of the biggest controllable risk factors. Find a sunscreen with moisturizer to both protect yourself from skin cancer and fight off those wrinkles simultaneously.
Sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement; they prevent “UV exposure, [which] promotes skin cancer of the eyelids and cancer of the surface mucous membrane of the eye,” says Howard R. Krauss, MD, surgical neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. After 40, he recommends wearing sunglasses not just in the summer, but every time you go outside.
“The top leaders and most successful people in the world make fitness a priority,” says Marcello Pedalino, a fitness trainer, mindfulness coach, and author of Celebrate Life. “Sleep, nutrition, and exercise are the foundation [for good health] and a consistent implementation of all three are paramount if you want to be ready for whatever life throws your way.”
It’s important to make a habit of spending time with people who enrich your life. Science has shown that negativity is contagious, so making plans with positive and uplifting people instead can go a long way as far as your mental and emotional wellbeing are concerned.
According to Pedalino, you should ask yourself which group a given social connection falls into: a VIP (Very Inspiring Person) or a VDP (Very Draining Person). “Go out of your way to associate with VIPs that will inspire you, empower you, and bring out the best in you,” he says. “Remove yourself from the company of VDPs, people who can come up with a problem for every solution.”
“Spending time with those who have meaning in our lives, who we feel most comfortable around, and who we can rely upon allows us to feel a sense of intimacy, trust, and rid ourselves of stress,” says Deborah Heiser, a lifestyle consultant and founder of I.M.AGE and The Mentor Project. And here’s an added bonus: A 2010 meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that subjects who had stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival.
Doctors swear by this healthy and stress-relieving habit so much that most of them even practice it themselves. “I take 30 seconds to re-center,” says Michael Sinel, MD, an assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Department of Medicine. “This can be done simply by taking three slow deep breaths, by inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds. This helps me to clear my mind so that I can focus.”
Want to burn some calories and blow off some steam in one fell swoop? Draw a hot bath. A study published in 2017 in the journal Temperature found that sitting in a hot bath for 60 minutes burns 130 calories, which is the same amount you’d burn walking for 30 minutes. What’s more, study participants also saw lower blood sugar levels and reduced inflammation when they sat in hot water for an hour. The benefits of baths are truly endless!
Getting into the habit of smiling when you enter a room and laughing easily and openly when you find something funny is not only contagious, it’s also healthy for you. As the Mayo Clinic notes, laughter boosts your mood, reduces stress, and even improves your heart health.
Take the time to point out the things you like about others, whether it’s a friend, coworker, or Uber driver. Just a quick approving comment about someone’s shoes or the way they did their work will leave both of you feeling better. Research—like this 2008 study published in the journal Neuron—has shown that getting complimented activates feel-good areas of the brain that improve mood and motivate you to get things done. Plus, giving out compliments is more likely to get you compliments!
If you’re in a committed relationship, there’s a good chance the sex has tapered off a bit since your honeymoon period. If this is the case, try to reignite the spark and make sex a more frequent habit. Not only does it feel good, but orgasms have been found to reduce stress and depression and increase your body’s immunity to infection.
Making a habit of getting more creative in the bedroom will also strengthen your relationship and, in turn, make you and your partner healthier, more relaxed, and more fulfilled. One 2019 study published in the journal Psychological Science even found that over an eight-year period, people who had happy partners had a lower mortality risk.
When was the last time you took a trip? If you had to think about it, chances are high your body and brain could use a rest. While saving up for retirement is important, you should also be budgeting for some memorable vacations at least a couple times a year. Not only do these trips offer a welcome change of pace, but 2010 research published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine also found that leisurely activities—like the ones you do while on vacation—can reduce stress-related cortisol levels and lower your blood pressure.
Vacation isn’t the only way to incorporate stress-reducing leisurely activities into your schedule. “Start scheduling good things [every day], like meeting friends, going on a hike, visiting a relative you haven’t seen in years, etc.,” says David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert who runs the website The Popular Man. “You’ll find that if you start scheduling positive things, you do more of those positive things, and feel better.”
Another habit that provides major health benefits—mental, physical, and beyond—is meditation. “Our world is far too fast-paced and there are far too many perceived threats in it for our amygdalae to manage,” says Jonathan DeYoe, author of Mindful Money and founder of DeYoe Wealth Management in Berkeley, California. “Mindfulness practice, like meditation, can slow our natural reactivity and help us think through better solutions.”
There are no doubt plenty of things that frustrate you or are not exactly to your liking throughout the day, but for your own peace of mind and long-term wellbeing, making a habit of practicing gratitude can prove hugely beneficial.
“Gratitude is a great habit that allows a person to appreciate the experiences they have had and that have made them who they are today,” explains Anthony Treas, a men’s health coach. Research published in The Review of Communication in 2016 even showed that being grateful makes people more likely to hit the gym.
A common complexion problem that afflicts those in their 40s is those puffy dark under-eyes. To rid yourself of these, you’ll want to make eye cream a standard part of your morning routine. Specifically, look for a cream that contains retinol; as New York-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, explained to Real Simple, this ingredient “stimulates collagen production to help firm under-eye skin and strengthen the skin foundation.”
Hydrating does all kinds of great things for your health, mind, and body, and it only becomes more vital as you get older. As the CDC notes, drinking water maintains your body’s internal temperature, lubricates and cushions your joints, protects your spinal cord, and helps rid your body of waste via urination, perspiration, and bowel movements.
Not every doctor-recommended healthy habit after 40 is necessarily difficult. Case in point: For better heart health, many health professionals suggest adding more naps into your schedule. A 2019 observational study published in the journal Heart even found that subjects who napped once or twice a week had a 48 percent decreased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure compared to those who never napped.
If there’s one emotion you want to leave behind in your 30s, it’s anger. In addition to affecting you emotionally, one 2019 study from the American Heart Association found that being angry can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, like heart disease.
Electric toothbrushes have consistently been proven to be more effective than manual ones. According to Blue Back Dental, a dental practice in Connecticut, they’re better at removing plaque, they keep your gums healthier, and they’re easier to use. With the wide range of styles and price points now available, there’s no excuse not to upgrade—your teeth and gums will thank you.
Most people in their 40s already know the mental and mood-boosting benefits of being in nature, but what about the physical ones? One 2014 study from the University of Southampton found that ultraviolet light—even when received in small doses—dilates blood vessels and significantly lowers blood pressure. Yet another 2018 study from the University of East Anglia concluded that those who spent more time in green spaces had a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early death.
Ben Franklin knew what he was talking about: Early risers do tend to get healthy, wealthy, and wise. And, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, they are mentally healthier, too. In the four-year study of more than 32,000 female nurses, those who were late risers were more likely to become depressed than those who woke up on the earlier side.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—and not just because pancakes are delicious. In 2018, researchers from Tel Aviv University found that a big breakfast helped obese patients and patients with type 2 diabetes lose weight and decrease their need for insulin respectively.
Whether it’s a full-blown workout or just a few minutes of stretching, getting active as part of your morning routine will do your brain good. It will have you feeling more relaxed and more focused all throughout the day. For example, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine found that when older adults worked out for just 30 minutes in the morning, they saw improved cognition throughout the day.
If the distance from your home to your workplace isn’t absurdly long, then try turning your commute into a walk or bike ride, thus making it more active. Since being active in the morning has both mental and physical benefits that are long-lasting, it’s the perfect way to start your day. Plus, research published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 specifically found that walking to work was associated with a decreased cardiovascular disease risk.
Don’t be afraid to hop in the sauna after a sweat session at the gym. “Saunas help the body detoxify … and have been shown to reduce stress and the risk of strokes,” notes Richard Harris, MD, the founder of Great Health & Wellness, a Houston-based wellness clinic. “Saunas cause the body to increase a specific protein, called ‘heat shock’ proteins, which have numerous health benefits.”
Whether it’s a novel, a biography, or a self-help manual, you should always have a book that you’re in the process of reading. Not only does reading inspire new ideas, sharpen your reading skills, and broaden your knowledge base, but it also gives you the mental benefits of expanding your mind. One 2013 study published in the journal Neurology even found that reading slows the natural cognitive decline seen in older adults.
“Whatever stage [of life] you’re in, it’s likely you may have lost sight of your own self, goals, or priorities,” says Julia Colangelo, LCSW, a therapist and clinical social worker in New York City. “Try to revisit how you’d ideally like to spend your time and create a space during your day to give yourself time to focus on yourself. This can be in the form of revisiting a hobby you thought you didn’t have time for, trying something new, or beginning a new routine for yourself at sunrise or sunset.” This small but significant change can have a serious impact on your mental wellbeing in your 40s and beyond! And for more ways to stay mentally fit, here are 20 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day.
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