Zest Up After 25!
It’s the time of life to strengthen the foundations of your health
By the age of about 25 years, the body systems have fully developed and the body should be at its peak. At this age young adults have total control over their health and their future – if they take that control and establish healthy lifestyle practices, they will have gone a long way in ensuring a long and healthy life. The thirties are often a time of increased responsibility, with family and work commitments becoming more important for men and women.
More and more women are choosing to wait until their thirties to have a family and some women are deciding not to follow that path at all. People entering parenthood generally feel an impact on their work and social life, and the relationship to their partner may change as a result of this new role. Readjustments may be required in several areas in order to fulfil these different demands, which can be stressful to manage.
Work pressures may be increasing, and additional financial responsibilities are often apparent, with childrearing costs and mortgage repayments all taking their toll. This can, however, be a marvelously rewarding time of life, especially if these additional pressures are well managed.
It is also a time of life to strengthen the foundations of health. We can make positive or negative impacts on our health all throughout our lifetime, but in our thirties, we tend to become more aware of health issues, and the impact that diet and lifestyle can make on our long and short-term health. This could be called the make or break time for looking at overall health and lifestyle issues. For example, if a person gives up smoking by the age of thirty-five, their life expectancy will not differ much from that of a non-smoker.
With body image – an issue that simply won’t go away, weight management is a perennial issue for many women and men.
The major health issues in this decade tend to be related to fertility and hormonal health, pregnancy and breastfeeding, maintaining energy, stress management, bone health, skin and looking at strategies to improve health and fitness.
In adulthood there are differences in the way that men and women are at risk of disease. Some of the differences are due to biology – women’s hormones offer protection against heart disease, for example. Many of the differences are due to behaviour e.g., men are more likely to smoke, to consume excess alcohol and to be obese. Men also tend to be more physically active, spend more time outdoors, take more physical risks and work in more hazardous occupations.
The reproductive system is primed for reproduction in the twenties; many women, however, are choosing to delay having children until they are ready, and elect to pursue careers and other pursuits before settling down.
The most popular form of contraception remains the oral contraceptive pill. Supplementation with vitamins B1, B2, B12 and C along with the minerals zinc and magnesium is recommended for women taking “the pill”.
Vitamin B6 is also of benefit for women who suffer with some of the emotional symptoms (categorised as PMS-A) of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid which can help with menstrual pain and breast tenderness associated with PMS, as well as some of the emotional symptoms.
Herbs such as black haw and dong quai have a hormone-balancing effect and can help in managing the symptoms of PMS.
Reproductive health requires health on all levels – mental, physical and emotional. It is important for the diet to contain a full range of macro and micronutrients to support the function of the whole body, including the reproductive organs.
Pre-conception care is becoming more recognised as an important preparation for both men and women. To ensure the best chances of health for the infant, both parents should look to their health and fitness prior to conceiving a child. Both should give up or reduce the intake of environmental toxins such as cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine. It is wise to choose a well-balanced diet to encourage the production of healthy sperm, and to prepare and support the woman’s body. Zinc is an important mineral for reproductive health, particularly for men, whilst women need to ensure that they have an adequate intake of the B vitamin folic acid and other vital nutrients like iodine. For those experiencing problems conceiving a child, it is important to remember that there may be a whole range of reasons for this, for example: stress, nutritional deficiencies, being over or under weight, ingesting excess amounts of coffee or alcohol as well as medical reasons.
Many people are now turning to complementary medicine practitioners to assist them with fertility issues. Orthodox medicine can of course help in some cases, with the chances of falling pregnant on IVF reaching 18%.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
During pregnancy, a woman’s body needs more of most things nutritional. There are increased requirements for all vital minerals, particularly iron and calcium. Calcium is especially important, as during pregnancy, the growing child can extract up to 7% of a woman’s calcium stores from her bones, if dietary requirements are not reached. Ensuring adequate calcium intake at this time can reduce the risk of suffering from reduced bone density and osteoporosis later in life.
The B vitamin folic acid is particularly important in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is essential for the proper development of the nervous system and the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Ideally a woman should take this nutrient prior to conception and through at least the first trimester of pregnancy.
A nutrient known as DHA, which is found in fish oil (and also in breast milk) has been found to be particularly important. It has a role in the structure and function of the brain, retina and nervous system. As a population, we are not eating as much fish as in previous generations and this has had an impact on DHA levels.
Pregnancy is also an important time to prepare for the physical and emotional challenge of parenthood, especially for first time parents. Pre-natal classes may be beneficial, as well as speaking to people who have been through this most wonderful of life changing experiences.
Whilst some people’s energy levels may be undiminished, the pressures that occur in this decade may take their toll on our general vitality. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to lowered energy levels. B vitamins are essential to help convert the energy in food to metabolic energy, whilst iron is important for oxygenation of our body tissues. Iron deficiency is common in women who menstruate, and iron deficiency is the most common deficiency worldwide. It is a common cause of reduced energy levels in women during their reproductive years.
Sleep deprivation may also diminish energy levels as well as affecting mood and our ability to concentrate. Reduced hours of sleep are common owing to childrearing or insomnia, possibly related to stress levels. Valerian, lemon balm, hops and passionflow are some of herbs useful for increasing quality of sleep.
The herbs Siberian ginseng and Korean ginseng have long been used to improve energy. They also help to reduce the detrimental effects of stress on the body.
Stress affects everyone differently, but what it does do for everyone, is increase his or her nutritional requirements. High-pressure lifestyles require extra nutritional support, and filling the nutrient gap is an important part of health maintenance. B vitamins are utilised by the body in the production of stress hormones, causing an increased need for these essential nutrients. The mineral magnesium is also in high demand at these times, and inadequate amounts can predispose the body to muscle aches and spasms, irritability and increased blood pressure.
It’s important to get the balance right in all aspects of life, including nutrition. As life becomes more sedentary, we may need less calorific input, but a better quality of input, as mental stress requires nutritional support. Psychological stress may also lead to decreased immunity, so nutrients such as vitamin C may be indicated.
Many people turn to alcohol to help deal with their stress. In fact 35% drink at a level that can cause short-term harm. Whilst drinking one or two standard drinks a day is not harmful, and may indeed be beneficial to health, drinking to excess solves no problems. It may cause nutrient deficiencies, particularly of B vitamins, as well as many health and social problems.
The density of bones continues to increase, and bones become even stronger. After the age of 25, however, muscle bulk and strength start to decline as part of the normal ageing process; the rate of decline can be slowed down by regular exercise. Similarly weight-bearing exercise, such as running, walking, yoga and tai chi, at this age and continuing through the next decades, reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis (and heart disease) in later years. Calcium and vitamin D3 is recommended for all women above the age of 25.
The skin shouldn’t show any undue deterioration due to ageing during the twenties. Excessive exposure to the sun, however, can prematurely age the skin if preventive measures are not taken. The best prevention is avoidance of exposure during the hours of maximum ultraviolet radiation – 10am to 2pm – and covering up with appropriate clothing. The safest UV sunscreens are the ones that block (as opposed to absorb) UV radiation – they are based on titanium or zinc oxides.
Vitamin E can reduce the erythema caused by sunburn, and antioxidant CoQ10, vitamins A, C, E, selenium and grape seed can protect against free radical damage caused by exposure of the skin to UV light and environmental pollutants.
Health & fitness
Maintaining a balance between work and family can be difficult enough, without trying to incorporate a fitness programme into an already busy schedule, but the benefits of regular exercise are becoming more and more recognised for the health of the mind as well as the body. Benefits include:
- Maintenance or improvement of bone density
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Increased vitality and quality of life
- Improved weight management
- Increased balance and flexibility
- Better sleep
- Decreased levels of anxiety and depression
With adult participation in sufficient physical activity for a health benefit declining from 62% in 1997 to 57% in 2000 it is clear that many people are maintaining an unsatisfactory level of physical activity.
Exercise has to be enjoyable for regular participation to be encouraged. Maybe a dance class is the way to go, but whatever you choose, try to combine some aerobic exercise with weight bearing exercise. Guidelines suggest 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise should be taken on most, preferably all days. Also, try to increase the amount of incidental exercise in your day, for example, taking the stairs instead of the lift, carrying the groceries or walking to work if possible.