exercise

Stressed, fat, tired and depressed - because you're 50?

Is that how you feel? I speak to so many women around that age – not least because I am one of them – and am surprised and saddened by how many of us feel that way, have accepted it as a normal consequence of ageing and have given up. After all: Everyone else says the same.

Many of us have battled with their weight for our entire lives. We grew up surrounded by magazines that showed us what a woman should look like. A quick comparison between what we saw in the mirror and what was depicted in the magazine confirmed that we certainly didn’t fit the ideal. So we went on a diet. I was probably on my first one at around age 14. Looking back at the photographs now, I can’t really see what the problem was: OK, I wasn’t a stick insect, but I certainly wasn’t as fat as I thought I was (and as I was going to become!) by any stretch of the imagination.

Me as a teenager in the early 80s.

Me as a teenager in the early 80s.

I wish I had known then what I know now: That going on diets is just a downward spiral – or upward, in terms of weight. Diets don’t work and serve only to make us feel miserable. After all, we keep failing at them. We eat less, move more, are starving all the time … and then fall off the wagon. Before we know it the weight we just lost is back and then some.

And then the exercise … We work all day and are lucky if we get away with 9-5 only, we’re commuting for 3-4 hours a day, braving London transport, do household chores when we get home and are still replying to work emails when we’re finally on the couch. Those of us who don’t work in London may be even worse off, stuck in traffic on the Southend Arterial Road twice a day, inching forward in the summer sun and losing the will to live. We pass the time by making mental lists of all the things we have to do when we get there. If we ever get there. We’re stressed, we’re tired, and hungry all the time. Where are we supposed to find the time and energy to exercise? Which is not even fun! Unwinding with a glass of wine and some chocolate in front of the telly sounds much more like it, and there’s barely even time for that.

Many of us around 50 are facing major life changes: The kids have left the nest, instead our parents are getting older and demand more of our time, maybe even need our care. There is a house to maintain, food shopping to be done, a social life to keep up with and a job to hold down for our contribution to the household income. The days never seem to be long enough.

And then that age … 50! Even that number alone! We’re officially middle-aged. It’s downhill from here. Yes, ok, there seem to be some of those annoying ‘healthy’ types who never seem to age, still run marathons with ease, keep their youthful figures, golden tresses and wrinkle-free faces apparently effortlessly. But that’s not us. We’ve acquired a spare tire around the middle, crow’s feet around our eyes, and no sooner do we get our roots dyed and they show again. The last thing we need are hot flushes and night sweats to rob us of that desperately needed beauty sleep, but, hey, things weren’t bad enough already, so why not add that to our misery and remind us that we’re now officially old. Thanks a bunch!

So what’s the answer? Is there even one? After all most of the women we know are in the same boat, going through similar things. It must be normal to be stressed, fat, tired and depressed at 50. Right?

Well, no. It depends on how to define normal: Is it how the majority of people feel? Then yes, it’s ‘normal’. Is it inevitable to feel like that at 50? I think not.

Given my profession, you’ll already know that food is going to come in here somewhere. And it is! You cannot underestimate the power of food. After all, everything that happens in our bodies is chemistry, and that requires chemicals, which in the food world are called nutrients: fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients. That’s what you need for your body to work properly and it is fully capable of doing that even at 50 (and beyond).

You wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol car and expect the engine to run on that. And that’s just a machine. How is the human body – an intricate biological organism – supposed to function on artificial 'foods', laden with sugar, damaged fats, flavourings, thickeners, emulsifiers, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, plasticisers, colourings and other questionable additives?

It won’t, and you already know that a) from experience and b) because you’re not stupid, but it’s near impossible to get away from the stuff! Fake foods are made for us to love them. The food industry spends billions on research to find that ‘bliss point’, that perfect combination of fat and sugar, that melt-in-the-mouth feeling, that will trigger our brain chemistry to release endorphins that will make us happy and keep coming back for more. It’s not you, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s chemistry.

Knowing that is power. If you know what to do, you can take the reigns back and can get your health – and with it your life – back on track.

I didn’t mind turning 50, because … what’s the alternative? My father died from a heart attack when I was 4. He was only 39. When I was approaching 50 I was determined to celebrate my age, because I knew that he would have loved to turn 50. Getting older is nothing to complain about. It’s great!

And you know what? I’ve never felt better! And if I could achieve that, so can you!

Here’s me at 36 (left) and now. Need I say more?

50 stressed fat tired depressed menopausal

5 Top Tips for Healthy Ageing

Throughout life, our nutrient requirements change as our body changes. As we get older, muscle mass and stomach acid levels, for example, naturally decline. You can support your body by providing the nutrients it requires and by adding in some exercise. Don't worry, there's no need to run a marathon, just don't stop moving. 

Exercise for weight loss - Is it worth doing?

They say that "you cannot outrun a bad diet". Does that mean that there's no need to exercise when you want to lose weight? Not really. While exercise might not contribute as much to weight loss as is commonly thought, there is still a very good reason to keep working out: your body composition. Building muscle has a number of advantages, and exercise also helps to maintain bone health. 

Plugged up?

It’s not something that is discussed much in circles of friends and colleagues – for obvious reasons – but constipation is common. In the UK, approx.12% of the general population suffer from chronic constipation. Twice as many women than men struggle with it, and the over 65s are most affected: 25% of free living older people experience constipation, but a shocking 80% of the elderly living in nursing homes. Because bowel habits are not a popular topic of conversation, it is hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. If you can answer ‘yes’ to two or more of the following, you are probably constipated:

  • Do you ‘go’ less than three times per week?
  • Do you often strain (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Are your stools often hard or lumpy (at least 25% of the time)?
  • Do you often feel that you haven’t been able to excrete everything (at least 25% of the time)

A comparison with the Bristol Stool Chart may also help you see where you are.

Man sitting on toilet bowl
Man sitting on toilet bowl

Why does it matter?

Not being able to ‘go’ can be extremely uncomfortable, but not everybody feels that way. Some people have infrequent bowel movements and feel fine. In fact, according to the (official) diagnostic criteria just emptying the bowel three times a week is ok. However, the ideal transit time for food is 12 to 24 hours. Defecating three times a week constitutes an average transit time of 56 hours, which really is too slow. A bowel movement at least once a day is what we should all strive for.

If you are not sure, you can test your transit time: Eat three or four whole beetroots and make a note of when you ate them. Wait and see when the beetroot comes out the other end. It should dye your faeces crimson. If you don’t like beetroot, try it with a generous amount of corn on the cob.

Having faecal matter sit in the colon for too long is undesirable for several reasons. Bile acids contained in it can irritate the gut wall, if faeces aren’t excreted swiftly, causing damage. The colon’s main function is to recycle nutrients and water back into the system and to eliminate waste products. In order to do this job properly it needs a healthy gut microflora. Chronic constipation can upset the balance of good and bad bacteria, and an imbalanced gut flora can lead to constipation – a vicious circle. If waste remains in the colon for too long, putrefying bacteria start working on it, releasing toxins, which then cause damage to the intestinal lining with potentially serious long-term consequences.

Old oestrogen, which was meant to be excreted, gets attached to a protein called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in the liver. SHGB is the vehicle to see the oestrogen out. However, some strains of bad bacteria have the ability to uncouple hormones from SHBG, thus enabling those hormones to get reabsorbed. This can contribute to oestrogen dominance and related disturbances and diseases (e. g. PMS, fibroids, breast cancer). The slower your transit time, the more time bacteria have to send old hormones back into circulation.

Straining to excrete hard stools is the most common underlying cause for haemorrhoids (piles): enlarged, swollen blood vessels around the anus. Once formed, they can make defecation even harder and very painful, and they often cause rectal bleeding.

Other health issues linked to constipation are bad breath, body odour, depression, fatigue, flatulence, food sensitivities, headaches, indigestion, joint pain and dark circles under the eyes.

What causes constipation?

The most common causes by far are a sedentary lifestyle, dehydration and a low-fibre diet. The vast majority of sufferers get rid of the problem by increasing exercise, increase fluid intake and change to a diet high in fibre, eg from vegetables, beans and pulses, as well as wholegrains.

You can add extra soluble fibre by taking linseeds (flaxseeds) or chia seeds. These seeds soak up water and form a gel, which makes stools soft and easy to pass, but make sure to always have them with lots of water otherwise they can make the problem worse. Prunes, too, are excellent helpers. Not only does the fibre they contain help bulk up the stool and move things along, but they are also food for the good bacteria. Bacteria convert the fibre from prunes into short-chain fatty acids, which become fuel for the cells of the gut wall.

Another common contributor to constipation is magnesium deficiency. (Remember last week’s post on vegetables?) Magnesium is involved in the proper function of muscles. The entire digestive system is surrounded by smooth muscle, which contracts in stages (like a Mexican Wave) to move intestinal contents along, a process called peristalsis. For peristalsis to work, magnesium is required. Food processing causes the loss of 75% of the magnesium contained in food, and deficiency is very common. Yet another good reason to move away from junk food – which is also low in fibre! - and start cooking your own.

Putting off going to the toilet can also lead to constipation. If you continuously postpone a bowel movement, the nerves of the rectum become less sensitive to the rectum being stretched and stop sending the message to the brain. If you think that you may already have lost that sensitivity, you can retrain your nerves: Sit on the toilet for 20 minutes every morning and relax. Your colon will soon learn to relax again, too. And stop putting off your trip to the loo: You may not like to go and empty your bowels when you’re not at home, but at work or travelling, but you need to get used to that. It’s what people do.

Other reasons

There are many more reasons why someone would develop chronic constipation. It is, for example, a very common side effect of medication. If you suspect your prescription drugs, take out the leaflet and have a look. If constipation is listed, speak to your doctor. Maybe there is a similar drug that you can tolerate better.

Constipation is also part of a number of diseases, such as stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, illnesses that affect the nervous or muscular systems (eg multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries), over- or underactive thyroid. Stress or depression, pregnancy, high calcium levels, iron supplements and the long-term use of laxatives can be behind the problem. Constipation is very common in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis and colon cancer. If your bowel habits change for no apparent reason, you must tell your doctor.

For more on constipation and bowel habits and more tips on what to do, read tomorrow’s Nutrilicious News. It is not too late to sign up.

If you are experiencing digestive issues, why not come and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex? Contact me and we'll have a chat on the phone first to decide whether you would benefit from a personalised Health & Nutrition Programme with me.