Tips for starting my 40s off right
December 29, 2016 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I just turned 40 and am a father of two young boys (a two-year old and newborn). What are things I can do to take care of myself to ensure that I have the energy needed to be an active and energetic dad for my boys as they get older? I'm thinking largely physical, but mental tips would be great too.

I'm realizing that I'll be in my 50s when my sons turn ten through the time they get through high school. I have seen 50 look quite different dependent on the person (e.g. marathon running, long hike taking, picture of good health 55 year olds vs couch potato obese 42 year olds) so am looking for tips on how I can set myself up to be in the best shape possible over the next 18 years to be as engaged and energetic a father as I'd like to be.
posted by buddha9090 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I'm mainly commenting because I am also interested in answers to this, but as someone who is approaching a similar milestone some things that I have been thinking about include:

Intense but safe(r) exercise on a regular basis. Marathon running sounds great and all, but I worry about its effects on the joints (especially as someone whose body isn't used to that form of impact). I've been spending more time cycling (in the nicer months) and am considering a gym membership for access to a pool.

Better nutrition. No diets, but just eating more vegetables really. I need to figure out what needs to happen to set my life up so that "salad" is as easy of a default meal for me as "ramen" or "egg sandwich".

Mindfulness. It's taken me over three months to finish the 30 day foundation period on Headspace, which sucks, but some kind of meditation needs to become a part of my life on a more regular basis.

Professional self-care. Annual (at least) physicals, regular dental cleaning, eye doctor appointments. Schedule them, keep them.

And most importantly, for me, is to stop thinking about these things and actually do them. Which I bet is going to be the hurdle for you too. Constructive Living is a book that has been recommended here along those lines before.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I did this.
In the words of Mrs. Plinth, "He looks better at 50 than he did in his 30's."
First, I made a commitment to better health so that I would be around as long as I could for everyone. That's the goal and I've committed to it.
Second, I make sure that I exercise 3x/week. I run, but there is no way in hell this body can handle a marathon. Being able to do a 5K? Great. Yes, running is rough on my joints, but it fits with my mindset.
Third, I made changes in my diet:
1. Nearly 0 added sugar or artificial sweeteners. I will have a treat once in a while.
2. Nearly 0 caffeine. That went with artificial sweeteners, so no more diet soda. Once in a while, I will have a cup of green tea if I feel cold.
3. Two meals out of three are based almost entirely on fruits and vegetables. Dinner is the exception because that gets shared with the family and it's more economical to cook 4 nearly identical meals.
This is more or less the Nurtitarian diet.
I've noticed a couple things which are interesting: beans taste like candy now; diet soda tastes truly awful; I get colds far less often than I did before and the colds don't last nearly as long.
posted by plinth at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2016 [10 favorites]

What are things I can do to take care of myself to ensure that I have the energy needed to be an active and energetic dad for my boys as they get older?

Sleep. Try to get as much as you need, not just the bare minimum. I can't stress this enough - it's the key to getting the energy to do all the other things that are good for you.
posted by Petersondub at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Congrats on your newborn!

I worked on this. I go back and forth but my goal is to try to maintain the health I have and work on what could use improvement. What works for me.

- Sleep like it is your JOB and this goes for stress reduction generally. Take a serious look at what causes you stress and work on that.
- Along with this, mindfulness can be a great way to deal with this. Even 10-20 min of meditation daily can help retrain your mind to roll with life's ups and downs better.
- Stay hydrated and eat decently. Try to shift patterns of eating with an eye towards sustainability.
- If you drink to excess or smoke, stop.
- Do other basic safety stuff like wear your seatbelt and bike helmet, bring a first aid kit when you go hiking. Make sure smoke detectors and CO2 detectors are working. (any safety stuff you think of for your kids, do it for you and your partner as well)
- Form close relationships with other adults besides your partner and family. Meet your neighbors and work on getting along with them. Have them be accountability partners with some of the changes you are trying to make. Spend more time with people engaging in healthy lifestyles (they don't have to be healthy, they just have to be working on it, there are a LOT of ways to be working on it)
- Get regular checkups, go to a physical therapist if you have aches and pains that aren't healing. Check skin for weird spots. Wear sunscreen.

And even though all of this is sort of focused on small improvements, learn to love the you that you are. You got this far, you are probably mostly fine. Be good to yourself the way you would to your kids or your partner. Work on positive self-talk and try to let your light shine on those around you. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 1:30 PM on December 29, 2016 [12 favorites]

No sugar no caffeine and easy on the saturated fats (red meats and cheeses).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:31 PM on December 29, 2016

With a two year old and a newborn, best of luck on that sleep thing!

I don't know, among things that seem simple, impactful and compatible with small children right now:
- be careful with your teeth & gums. Brush well, floss, get your dental work.
- be good to your skin. Get in the habit of using a sunscreen everyday on your face.
- drink lots of water
- maybe do some stretching/yoga
- be nice to your wife: married men are healthier than unmarried men
posted by vunder at 1:47 PM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I keep a Buff or bandana with me in the car to cover my left arm while driving, and have a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a baseball cap in the back seat for general sun protection. Sunscreen is your friend.
How's the local water supply? Bottled water or a good water filter on the kitchen tap are ideas for alternatives to calorie-laden drinks.
What are the opportunities for taking a stroll with the kids? I took my girls to the local park, the zoo, the science museum, anyplace we could get some exercise. This is also a good time as they get older to ask about their day for some one-on-one conversation.
It isn't exercise, but how about time reading to the little ones? It doesn't have to be Dr. Seuss, anything that interests you will do. Watching you enjoy reading is good modeling. Actually, kids learn a great deal by watching you read the instructions for a home project, or research online for a hobby, or take a guidebook to the park for bird watching / plant i.d. / stargazing / weather observation.
Go on scavenger hunts with the little ones (indoors in winter). Think Pokemon Go / Easter egg hunts, but make up your own rules.
Doing yoga / Pilates / exercise with toddlers can be hilarious.
posted by TrishaU at 4:24 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to the obvious (good nutrition, sustainable exercise) I would definitely recommend yoga.

It can be as physical & challenging as you want it to be, often more so than many gym workouts, and will keep you supple & flexible to help support whatever else in life takes your fancy.

Yoga will also help you become more mindful of your body and all the biomechanical things like poor posture that could otherwise lead to further problems, while stabilising joints & strengthening muscles you may not have known you even have.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:56 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

My centenarian grandmother has kept herself sharp-minded and healthy all these years. She swears by:

- Fiber
- Good sleep
- Crossword puzzles for mental agility
- A healthy sense of humor and being able to laugh at yourself
- Never paying anyone to do work she can do herself

I'm also going to throw in hydration, too. Water keeps all the machines working.
posted by mochapickle at 7:20 PM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey, I am in the same situation, minus a newborn! These answers looking promising!

Some things I think will help that I'm trying:

- Do less stuff. I am in this weird situation in which I'm more skilled than I've ever been, so a larger proportion of project ideas are now possible to do than in the past, but I have far less time. This year, I pushed myself too close to the limit and was exhausted a lot. You can't optimize every spare minute without it costing you. (I know doing less stuff is easier said than done; I'm struggling with deciding what not to do right now.)

- Everything people have said about sleep is important, and in order to make that happen, you need to take winding down seriously. Do not plan to do intense stuff until the last minute before you go to bed. I've tried to program, then go right to bed, and always ended up lying awake for two hours.

- Another thing that helps to take sleep seriously is to think: If I only get six hours of sleep, am I going to be cranky to my partner and kids? Do they deserve that?

- Make exercise easy and accessible. I went from working out five times a week to nothing over the course of the past couple of years. I prioritized the kid, work, and projects, and exercise and sleep got squeezed out a lot. I've gotten on track the past couple of weeks thanks to having gotten a treadmill. It was expensive, and not everyone has space for one, but if you can swing it, running can be done in the winter without leaving the house. Having a barbell and dumbbells around helps, too, if you're into weightlifting.

- Really make sure you stretch. You might not be able to do a full yoga thing, but stretch enough after a workout that you feel some heat. Flexibility loss seems to be accelerating, and kid stuff requires a lot of awkward movement. By that same token, lift kids with good posture to protect your back. Butt below shoulders all the time.

- I don't know if you have this problem, but realize you can push back on some of your kids' demands without diminishing their life experience at all. For example, our library has a kid rocking chair and an adult rocking chair. My son usually wants me to sit in the adult rocking chair and read to him while he sits next to me in the kid rocking chair. This makes a kind of sense to me, so I'm usually go along with it, but I realized that bending over from that chair to display the books to him is messing up my back. So today, I said, no, we're both sitting on the floor. He was eventually OK with that.

I'm sure there's at least a handful of other situations like this in which I'm doing more work than I have to for little gain.
posted by ignignokt at 7:41 PM on December 29, 2016

Weight training. You're going to be lifting them for years, carrying gear for them, grabbing their raft before they get strike a log... Definitely weight training.
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:42 PM on December 29, 2016

I have recently been in almost exactly this boat (unfit 33-year-old with a 2-year-old and newborn daughters) and you need to remember that your life is HARD right now, you're under huge pressure and it is very difficult to prioritise right.

The first rule of surf life-saving applies: you look after yourself first. Carve out some time to do your own hobbies or get drunk with your mates. Then carve out time to date your partner. Your kids come third and then household chores and your job come last.

I'm being deliberately controversial and black-and-white for effect of course, but it is worth thinking in this way: kids don't actually need much materially, they just need a full belly and then will be happy playing with cardboard boxes and torn-up paper. They also don't give a toss about whether the house is tidy. So put the chores on hold and stick to your contracted hours at work as much as possible (we even got a cleaner and a meals delivery service at times). The best thing you can provide for your kids is a model relationship, so pouring your effort into your relationship is not abandoning your kids, it is good parenting. And to do any of this you need to keep yourself in good mental health, and your brain needs maintenance. You wouldn't drive a car flat out without doing some basic maintenance so why treat yourself worse than your car?

Maybe this sounds obvious, but to me it was life changing - if you want to do the best for your kids, you have to put yourself and your relationship first.
posted by askmeaboutboardgames at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2016 [10 favorites]

Absolutely take care of yourself and your relationship. I can give an example of what NOT to do: my parents had great cars, a gorgeous house that was kept spic and span (largely because they made me do most of the chores), their jobs paid well and were stable... and they hated each other and blamed everything that ever went wrong on a terrible event that befell them without any warning whatsoever, namely, my mother got pregnant with me and on top of that I had the gall to be a girl-child. Seriously – I wouldn't have given a flying flip if the house were a mess or we had beat-up cars. In fact, I had friends whose parents only had one car that kept breaking down all the time, their plumbing sucked and they often had to bathe outside, their house was ramshackle, their jobs a mess, but their parents made time for their kids, loved them, and loved each other. Guess which kids grew up to be happier at age 40. Guess which parents are healthier and, well, still in contact with their children at ages 60-70.

Sports are good yep. This is where it will depend on what you love doing – what gets you out and doing the thing? For me, for a while, I too thought (because we'd been taught it) that running hurt your joints. I'd even been told I could never run again around age 16 because of a "bad knee". So I cycled. Mountain biking was what got me outdoors and loving physical activity. Road cycling ended up being pretty great too. Last year I tried out roller skating, namely roller derby, but fell and broke my arm. I couldn't cycle once the pins were out, but I could run. I asked my physical therapist about my knee and he said: "can you walk? Can you walk up and down stairs? Yes? You can run. Get the right shoes. No really GET THE RIGHT SHOES." I did, in my case zero drop Merrells, and omigod, my life has changed.

Here's the most recent science, and it contradicts the popular wisdom we thought was science until now. First, not everyone can run marathon distances! And that's quite all right, because slow, short-distance runners live longer than everybody. "The ideal amount of jogging for prolonged life, this nuanced analysis showed, was between 1 hour and 2.4 hours each week. And the ideal pace was slow." There's no specific, numeric pace because this was based on self-evaluations using the categories slow, average, and fast. Second, runners don't get knee arthritis. Even more surprising, running is actually good for your joints – that's a sports doctor writing there. Even for beginners. It's also apparently pretty good for older people, that being an 85-year-old who still runs sub-4-hour marathons. And he had stopped running at 20, and took it back up at 40! So – if you think you'd like running, absolutely, it's a great thing to do. It's cheap, there's very little prep (as opposed to cycling/swimming/gym/etc.), and you can do it anywhere.
posted by fraula at 1:50 AM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm in the same position (40 in a few months with a 3yr old, 1 yr old, and another on the way), so I've been researching this subject a lot. Based on longevity research, and general health metrics, your best chance for success include:
- achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. I'm doing this with a low carb diet, which seems to work for my body.
- be active. Half an hour a day. It can be walking, running, sports, gym, etc. Doesn't matter what, just do something.
- stop smoking and/or drinking

Bonus items:
- always be learning, keep your mind sharp
- focus on nutrition, take a multivitamin and vitamin D especially
- get rid of, or be better at handling stress
posted by blue_beetle at 3:13 AM on December 30, 2016

I'm 52 with three grown kids and in addition to the great mental and physical advice you've gotten I'll add to make sure you do ALL THE THINGS with your kids to build their sense of adventure and to model how to not be bored. Explore your city. Go for walks and marvel at the leaf changes. Go hiking together. Walk downtown and people watch. Go to museums, even the ones you think are really boring. Build memories. Take classes together. Have dinner together as often as you can. Go for bike rides. Get your kids out to do the raking and teach them the boring chores. Teach them to change headlights and fuses and all those things.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:56 AM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

40ish here as well.

Barbell training - with good form - is just about the best thing you can do for your body, your joints, and your brain. I started about six months ago from being mostly a office/couch potato, I've put relatively little time into it, and I feel great, all around.

Mark Rippetoe's book "Starting Strength" explains the form of the major four or five ways to lift a bar. Reddit's r/fitness has a terrific wiki and offers fantastic Q&A. Most gyms are kind of bad, as machines... well, are optimized for them to make money, not for you to safely get into great shape.

Starting Strength; workout M/W/F, for about 45 minutes each. Warm up, do workout, (optionally) stretch. The beginner workouts rotate between "squats/overhead press/deadlift" and "squats/bench press/deadlift", and that's about it.
posted by talldean at 12:49 PM on December 30, 2016

Stop eating sugar and any foods that contain added sugars, in all its forms and eat polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated fat. Following a Mediterranean diet will take care of both of the above. A lot of people are still under the impression that diet is still a bit of a mystery.

In some ways yes, but in many ways no. Not anymore.

The PREDIMED study found that a Mediterranean diet (which follows the above 2 recommendations) reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 30% in 7447 people aged 55 to 80 years at enrollment followed over 6 years ( This is an important study--it is one of the very few prospectively designed studies that shows an important benefit to specific dietary recommendations that can be implemented fairly easily, and is already followed by a lot of people (eg, those living in the Mediterranean).

Reduce or eliminate exposure to blue light to help improve the quality of your sleep (I use NASA bulbs from Hammacher-Schlemmer, flux for my computer, and a blue light filter for my TV made by Fiara in Australia). A wake-up light alarm clock can be helpful getting up. A side benefit is that kids get to bed earlier, too.

Maintaining physical activity is crucial. A good way to maintain activity is a penalty system. I use a coffee can and coins. Every day I exercise, I put a coin in the can. The can has a pledge printed on it (signed by me) that I will donate $1 for every day I don't exercise at least 30 minutes to my university (which I would rather not do). My exercise has been more consistent over the past 3 years since I implemented this. For better results, sign the pledge more often than every year. Signing the pledge is a surprisingly important part of this.

Also, think about a standing desk or set a timer to avoid prolonged periods of physical inactivity. The evidence is perhaps not there yet, but some observational studies show standing is at least associated with longer life (even adjusting for exercise). The fact that endothelial function improves in those who stand more lends plausibility to the association.

Also, get a yearly physical and get recommended vaccines.
posted by candasartan at 8:49 PM on December 30, 2016

« Older How to turn a viral article into work?   |   fitness tips for the lazy and changeable Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.