Why mid-life health kicks can WRECK men's bodies: Jogging and low-fat food will make you fatter and damage your heart
21:52 GMT, 14 May 2012
Hitting 40 marks a turning point for many men and their health.
Their metabolism slows, leading to the dreaded belly and the first signs of ageing and long-term disease — raised blood cholesterol and high blood pressure — begin to appear.
Last week, came the gloomy prediction that almost two thirds of men aged between 40 and 100 will be obese by 2040, risking type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and early death.
Running into trouble David Cameron, 45, and Boris Johnson, 47. Jogging is almost as much a rite of passage for the middle-aged man as buying a fast car
The thickening waist and heightened sense of mortality is often enough to kick start a new regimen, which usually means choosing low-fat foods and taking up jogging (indeed, jogging is almost as much a rite of passage for the middle-aged man as buying a fast car, with David Cameron and Boris Johnson recently spotted pounding the pavements).
But these are actually the worst things the middle-aged man can do, says Dr Charles Clark, a consultant surgeon and expert on diabetes.
Like a growing number of experts, Dr Clark (an honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow), says low-fat diets could be making our long-term health worse.
That’s because they are often high in sugar and carbohydrates.
Dr Clark and others believe sugar, and its effect on the hormone insulin, is the real dietary evil behind our ever-rising obesity levels and our frightening incidence of heart disease.
In a new book, he claims that controlling insulin is the key to protecting a man’s heart, and also protecting him against a host of potential killers — raised cholesterol, diabetes, cancers — as well as reducing his risk of arthritis and obesity, and even boosting his libido.
It is a controversial view, but Dr Clark has strong medical credentials, having published more than 80 scientific research articles in high-profile journals such as the British Medical Journal.
As for jogging, Dr Clark says if you’re unfit, it’s a quick-fire way of destroying your hip and knee joints and placing a tremendous strain on your heart and lungs.
But all is not lost, for Dr Clark believes men can dramatically improve their health, and reduce their risk of killer diseases, in as little as two weeks by making a few very simple changes.
Here are some of his key recommendations.
AVOID ‘LOW-FAT’ FOODS
Dr Clark says low-fat diet foods are very often pumped with extra sugar (file picture)
We’ve long been told that high-fat foods (such as cream and cheese) clog up the arteries. So, for most men, going low-fat would seem the obvious way to eat healthily.
But Dr Clark says dietary cholesterol accounts for just 15 per cent of the total cholesterol in our bodies — the rest is manufactured by the liver.
As he explains it, the problem is sugar. In response to sugar in the blood, the body produces the hormone insulin.
This in turn instructs the liver to metabolise dietary fat and convert any extra food in the blood into triglycerides (a form of blood fat).
These triglycerides are bundled into globules transported through the blood to be taken up by the fat cells. That’s how excess food makes us fat.
Insulin also controls the extent to which the liver creates and pumps out cholesterol. Scientists believe high insulin levels are more likely to trigger the production of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
When insulin levels are reduced, the liver cells find it harder to convert the fat in food into cholesterol and tends to pump out more ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Dr Clark says low-fat diet foods (yoghurts, ready-meals, biscuits, even salad dressings) are very often pumped with extra sugar to make them palatable and people on low-fat diets are very likely to fill up on carbohydrates, both of which raise insulin levels, increasing LDL and triglycerides.
Exercise plays an important role in keeping insulin levels under control.
But while jogging is an excellent form of exercise when you are fit, it is also an excellent way of precipitating a heart attack when you’re not, says Dr Clark.
If you are overweight with poor muscle tone, jogging is a fast track to ruining your hip and knee joints and put unbearable strain on your heart and lungs.
Instead, start exercising slowly and build up your fitness gradually by walking for 20 minutes five times a week, and adding some gentle muscle-building exercises (such as lifting light weights) and stretching.
EXERCISE YOUR SMOOTH MUSCLE
We all start to lose our muscle tone with age, but while exercise will help, don’t forget your smooth muscles. These make up the intestines, the bladder and the muscle in internal organs and their health is vital. Like any other cell, they need food and oxygen.
These come in the form of nutrition from your diet and good profusion, or blood flow, to the tissues. Healthy smooth muscle prevents constriction of the arteries by cholesterol and stress.
To ‘exercise’ the smooth muscles, you need roughage (such as green vegetables). This stretches the muscle fibres and helps to press food through the bowel. If you don’t have roughage in your diet, the bowel isn’t stimulated and it becomes dormant — a major cause of bowel cancer.
Water is also vital — drink regularly, not just when you feel thirsty. This keeps the bowel’s contractor muscle moving, prevents constipation and prevents many of the typical diseases that occur in middle age such as cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and peptic ulcers.
SIT UP STRAIGHT
Correct posture is vital for the health of bones and muscles — but Dr Clark says sitting and standing properly are also crucial for the internal organs to function effectively. It enables unrestricted expansion of the internal organs, allowing for blood flow, breathing and gastroeintestinal function.
So be aware of your posture at all times. When sitting, standing or walking, consciously pull your shoulders back and lift your head to draw the body into a balanced position and help prevent upper and lower back pain.
Additionally, learn to sit with the feet directly in front with the toes pointing forward. This will help stop excessive rotation in the hip joint, which can lead to injury, and prevent strain on the hip muscles.
When we’re under stress, the body produces the hormone cortisol.
One of its actions is to force the liver to release sugar into the blood, providing instant energy to help you fight or flee. This triggers yet more insulin, high levels of which can lead to obesity and disease.
If you’re under constant stress, your insulin levels will inevitably be high.
Stress can cause such powerful chemical changes in the body that it can trigger the start of diabetes, raise blood pressure (cortisol also instructs the arteries to narrow, forcing the heart to pump harder and faster), reduce your immunity, affect your testosterone levels, and even increase the risk of osteoporosis and certain cancers.
De-stressing is therefore vital: eat healthily and at regular intervals (hunger and poor diet put extra stress on the body), get plenty of sleep and exercise, and try relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises.
Sit quietly for five minutes each day, close your eyes and focus on nothing but your breathing and your heartbeat, and try to breathe evenly and slowly.
For days when negative thoughts take over, use ‘stress Elastoplasts’ such as a good book (reading something of interest to you for as little as six minutes can reduce stress by 68 per cent), listening to music (it can lower stress by 32 per cent) or massage (a weekly massage brings down stress levels by 27 per cent).
DRINK WINE, NOT FRUIT JUICE
Dr Clark recommends alcohol consumption is limited to two small glasses of red wine per day (file picture)
Dr Clark recommends drinking at least ten cups of water a day. He says fruit juice is ‘far too high in sugar for general consumption’, coffee causes dehydration and should be restricted to two cups a day, tea to three cups (herbal tea is unlimited), but alcohol is allowed, in moderation.
‘Beers have high carbohydrate content and therefore a greater likelihood of promoting the development of diabetes than those drinks with a low carbohydrate content, such as red wine,’ he says, recommending alcohol consumption is limited to two small glasses of red wine per day.
SAVE YOUR SEX LIFE
Testosterone levels naturally fall with age (at a rate of 1-2 per cent per year after the age of 40), but a dwindling libido can also be a symptom of excessive stress and poor diet.
Poor nutrition causes physical and mental fatigue, leaving little left over for social interest, let alone sexual activity.
Obesity itself also limits libido. In one French study, obese men were 69 per cent less likely to have had more than one sexual partner in a year than men of normal weight.
Another problem at this age can be impotence, which can be an early sign of coronary heart disease and diabetes. It can also be due to atherosclerosis, a systemic condition where plaque builds up inside the arteries, leading to restricted blood flow in the penis.
So how to resolve a flagging libido Once again the process is simple, says Dr Clark: Reduce refined carbohydrates, reduce stress levels and take more exercise. All will help ensure the body is working at optimum levels.
TUCK INTO A STEAK
For every meal, energy should, instead, come from protein
Modern diets have become dangerously carbohydrate-heavy, says Dr Charles Clark.
All carbohydrates consist of sugar molecules joined together — the typical Western diet can contain as much as 66 teaspoons of sugar in one day.
While public health advice recommends carbohydrates form a major part of a healthy, balanced diet, most carbohydrates are completely surplus to our bodily requirements, Dr Clark suggests.
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice provide only energy, he says.
They don’t provide any form of nutrition at all. What’s more, if your diet is dominated by these you could be producing too much insulin.
Insulin is the master hormone for weight management, commanding the body to convert excess sugar in the bloodstream into fat — which is stored primarily in the abdomen.
Keep carbohydrates to no more than 50g a day (a slice of wholemeal bread has 18g of carbs; a small, 5cm diameter, baked potato has around 15g).
For every meal, energy should, instead, come from protein (in the form of meat, fish, eggs and cheese) and a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and salads.
When we consume proteins, the body breaks them down into amino acids, which are absorbed through the wall of the bowel and form skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and all the organs such as the brain and the heart.
Avoid all refined carbohydrates for two weeks to kick-start any healthy-eating plan.
Adapted from Health Revolution For Men by Dr Charles Clark and Maureen Clark (Piatkus, 12.99).
2012 Dr Charles Clark and Maureen Clark. To order a copy for 10.99 (incl. p&p) call 0843 382 0000.