Over 40? Here Are 40 Health Mistakes You're Too Old to Make
Swap your soda for a glass of water and get active to be more healthy after 40.
If you spent your 20s and 30s eating junk food, drinking soda, and avoiding the gym like the plague, then your 40-year-old self might be in for a rude awakening. Sure, the younger version of you might've been able to handle all of that fast food and all those late nights, but your body after 40 needs more TLC if you want it to carry you well into your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. With that, we've rounded up a list of the health mistakes that you need to stop making as soon as you enter your 40s—if not sooner.
Having bad posture
"We know that maintaining an aligned posture and that strengthening core abdominal muscles can work wonders on evening the stress on the book, relieving pain and preventing future occurrences," says Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center. Therefore, if you want to alleviate back pain and improve your posture, he suggests doing more ab exercises at the gym and focusing on better posture while you sit at your desk at work.
Looking at your phone too much, especially at night
"The biggest mistake people make as they get older is to expose their eyes to light in the hours before bedtime," says Richard L. Hansler, PhD, author of Avoid Alzheimer's Disease: Eliminate blue light at night. "The blue rays in ordinary white light stop the body from making melatonin. Melatonin can flow for about 12 hours if one avoids blue light in the evening, and that's easy to do if you use light bulbs that don't make blue light or wear glasses that block blue light."
Viewing stress as something normal
"So many of us want to be the busiest people we know, but to be constantly on high alert is horrible for our bodies," explains Erin Wathen, a certified life and weight loss coach. "When we're stressed, our hormones are out of whack, we aren't getting enough sleep, and we can't think straight."
Living a sedentary lifestyle
"The biggest mistake for the over-40 crowd is not moving at all," says Jeanette DePatie, a licensed fitness instructor who works with clients of all ages, shapes, and sizes. "Healthy movement is one of the most important things you can do for your life and your health." Even if you're just walking through the park every day, a little bit of locomotion goes a long way.
Not wearing sunscreen
One of the biggest health mistakes you can make is skipping the sunscreen portion of your skincare routine. Even in the winter, the sun's UV rays can do some serious damage to your smooth skin, and "so many skin concerns can be alleviated with regular use of good SPF," says Inessa Fishman, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia.
Focusing on exercise, but ignoring your diet
Sweat all you want, but it's simply impossible to outrun an unhealthy diet—literally. "A big health mistake is believing that you can exercise enough to beat the effects of a bad diet," says Stephanie D. McKenzie, CRC, a certified sleep science coach and founder of The Healing Firm. For older adults, it's important to "take the time to figure out what dietary rituals work" to shape your body's health from the inside out.
Going on unhealthy diets
Whether you're 45 or 25, dieting isn't the answer to your excess weight problem. "Diets require food restriction, which leads to obsessive thoughts about those foods and binging," explains Alison Barkman, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor. Dieting will also speed up muscle loss, which decreases your metabolism, she says.
It's perfectly acceptable—and even encouraged—to take control of your eating habits, but you should do so in a way that won't lead to a myriad of health problems.
For women and men approaching middle age, working out too much is just as bad for the body as not working out enough. In fact, a 2012 study published in the journal Preventative Medicine found that anything above 7.5 hours of exercise per week can harm your mental health.
Not using your vacation time
How much time you take off from work has a surprisingly substantial impact on your mental and physical well-being. In a 2018 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, Finnish researchers who tracked 1,222 middle-aged males over a 40-year period found that the subjects who took three weeks or less of vacation annually had a 37 percent greater chance of dying during the study compared to those who made the most of their time off—even when other factors like diet and exercise were taken into consideration.
Not exercising your brain
As you age, you need to make time for brain exercises in order to stay sharp and keep your memory in tact. "Lifelong learning is critical for our brains to continue to grow with age," says Krystal L. Culler, DBH, an Atlantic Senior Fellow with the Global Brain Health Institute. According to the cranium expert, engaging in even just two hours of brain exercises every week is enough to mold your memory.
Not getting enough magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that the body needs for essential functions like muscle movement, blood glucose regulation, and bone health. When you don't get enough magnesium from the foods in your diet, research has found that you are more likely to suffer from things like bone fractures and high blood pressure. Thankfully, though, "magnesium levels can be boosted through dietary changes and supplements with the help of one's medical provider," notes Chirag Shah, MD, a board-certified emergency physician and co-founder of Accesa Labs, so make sure that you're getting your levels tested regularly.
Not eating enough protein
"It is hugely important to eat protein to help maintain muscle as we get older so that we can stay active in our daily lives," says Emma Green, a certified personal trainer and health coach. Whether you're getting your protein for the day in the form of a filet of salmon or a scoop of whey powder, just make sure that you're not skimping out on this nourishing and all-important nutrient.
Not eating enough healthy fats
"Most people avoid fats when they're trying to lose a few pounds, but that's not how it works," says Allen Conrad, a chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist. "Polyunsaturated fats are good for the body, and they can also help reduce cholesterol levels."
Even when you're on a diet, make sure that you're still eating healthy fats like nuts, avocados, flax seeds, and chia seeds in order to give your body the nutrients it craves.
When it comes to maximizing your strength and making the most of your muscles, it's just as important to stretch as it is to exercise—especially as you start to get older. "As we age, muscles and tendons are more vulnerable to injury," Conrad says. "Due to the risks of pulling a muscle and the time it takes to recover as we age, making a regular stretching program part of your daily routine will help keep you moving."
Not drinking enough water
You probably already know by now all of the benefits of drinking water—healthier skin, a stronger immune system, etc.—but it's even more important to guzzle down your H2O as you age. As one meta-analysis published in Nutrition Reviews notes, while water makes up 75 percent of an infant's bodyweight, it only compromises 55 percent of an elderly individual's. What this means is that as you age, your water reserves get more and more depleted, therefore making it more essential for you to up your fluid intake and stay hydrated.
People in their 40s should be experienced and knowledgable enough to understand that being healthy isn't necessarily about how many calories you consume. Rather, "listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues is often the ideal way to determine what, when, and how much to eat," says registered dietitian Jessica Jones.
If you haven't quit smoking by now, then let these harrowing fast facts lead you in the right direction: According to the CDC, more than 16 million Americans are currently living with a smoking-related illness. In the United States, cigarettes are responsible for more than 480,000 deaths annually; worldwide, that number is almost 6 million. For the sake of your health, you should quit smoking as soon as possible.
Not taking care of your feet
"Most people spend a lot of time each day taking care of their face, skin, hair, and teeth, but feet often end up being overlooked when it comes to daily routines," says Velimir Petkov, MD, a board-certified podiatrist and resident doctor at Premier Podiatry.
To keep your feet happy and healthy, Petkov recommends never wearing old footwear and never wearing high heels for an extended period of time. Additionally, the doctor suggests seeking the help of a professional as soon as you notice any pain or discoloration in your lower extremities. "Checking with a podiatrist in a timely manner allows for early diagnosis and easier treatment," he explains.
Not acting your age
"The bad habits that we sometimes get into—eating, drinking, not exercising, etc.—can catch up with us, especially as we age," says Kimberly Gomer, RD, LDN, director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa. "Our biggest mistake is not acknowledging that our bodies are changing and we need to adjust our lifestyles accordingly."
Not taking the time to rest when you're sick
Don't try to fight your way through the flu or any other illness. While toughing it out might have worked in your 20s and 30s, after 40 your body needs the appropriate amount of time to recover. Plus, you need to be careful about going outside when you're sick, as it doesn't take much for a virus like the flu to spread from one person to another.
Not having health insurance
"Though the cost of health insurance premiums increases as we age, none of us can actually afford to go without coverage," says Ruth Linden, PhD, founder and president of Tree of Life Health Advocates. Health insurance might be expensive, but the costs you'll incur in the hospital without them are much worse.
Not getting enough sleep
"If you're chronically missing out on sleep, you could be at risk for serious health complications such as obesity, heart disease, and some cancers," says Ashley Little of Mattress Advisor. Plus, older bodies require adequate amounts of sleep in order to repair themselves, so make sure that you're getting the recommended six to eight hours if you want to be well-rested and physically restored.
Not going to the dentist regularly
We're sorry to report that those dreaded dentist visits don't stop once you reach adulthood—or at least they shouldn't stop if you care about your oral health and hygiene. Sure, getting poked and prodded by the dentist isn't fun no matter how you look at it, but it does help you keep your teeth and gums in pristine condition.
Not getting an annual breast exam
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women. Though it's impossible to protect yourself entirely from the disease, one thing is for certain: the sooner you catch the condition, the better your chances are of treating it.
Even if you aren't experiencing any symptoms, getting an annual breast exam could help detect cancer. According to a 2016 study published in Current Oncology, when Canadian researchers analyzed the dataset for 6,333 breast cancer patients, they found that "a significant number of cancers would have been missed if a clinical breast examination had not been performed." Given that the exam is minimally invasive and takes little time, there's really no reason not to get one at least once a year.
Not expressing your emotions
Bottling up your emotions instead of sharing them with someone actually does more harm than good. Your 40s are a time to reflect—on career choices, on family, on accomplishments, on the future—and "the myriad of emotions that are triggered with this state of reflection need an effective outlet," says a licensed clinical psychologist Melissa Robinson-Brown, PhD. "Otherwise they will resurface as physical symptoms and mental health difficulties."
Not paying attention to your needs
"In our 40s we are invested in our careers and in acting as caregivers, both parenting youngsters and stepping in when help is needed with older generations," says Helena Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of wellness network Supportiv. "With all these time commitments, the mistake is that we don't devote time to our self-care and to maintaining our own support network community." Of course, dealing with your responsibilities is important, but so is attending to your own wants and needs. Take a bath, book a facial, take a nap—you've earned it.
Taking too many medications
Don't let your doctors prescribe you more medications than necessary. Per one 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, taking five or more medications is linked to frailty in older adults, which in turn increases the risk for potentially fatal falls.
Eating too much sugar
"It's been shown that consuming sugar activates aging pathways and can accelerate the aging process, so avoiding processed and packaged foods and anything with refined (white) sugar can go a long way," says Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM, a member of the advisory board for Family Living Today. You don't have to ban sugars from your diet completely, but monitoring your fructose intake will help you keep your blood sugar and aging in check.
Drinking sugary beverages
By the time you've reached adulthood, it shouldn't come as a surprise to read that drinking beverages like soda and fruit juice is a big no-no. Not only are these sips loaded with sugar, but they're also a colossal waste of calories.
And using artificial sweeteners
If you think that using artificial sweeteners in lieu of regular sugar is helping you lose weight, then think again. Though artificial sugars are relatively new to the market, in a 2010 study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, scientists were able to prove that substitutes like sucralose and aspartame actually cause the body to have even more cravings—leading to weight gain and obesity.
Not devoting time and energy to your relationship
Happier couples are healthier couples. That's according to Brigham Young University researchers who tracked 1,681 married individuals over a 20-year period and found that subjects with less conflict in their relationship were more likely to report being in tip-top shape. So, for the sake of your mental and physical well-being, make sure that you aren't neglecting your marriage.
Not having enough sex
Having fun in the bedroom isn't just a good time—it's actually beneficial for your brain, too. That's according to a 2017 study published in The Journals of Gerontology, which concluded that older adults who regularly engaged in sexual activity performed better on verbal fluency and visual perception tests.
Not having a garden
What do gardening and your health have to do with one another, you ask? More than you think.
Not too long ago, researchers from Texas A&M University and Texas State University discovered that older adults with a green thumb are more likely to eat an adequate amount of vegetables. Seeing as malnutrition is a huge risk factor for death—in older individuals especially—planting a gardening could be the key to living a long and happy life.
For the sake of both your own welfare and the welfare of others, you should spend more time giving back as you get older. One 2014 study published in Psychological Bulletin found that volunteers over the age of 50 experienced a decrease in depressive symptoms, greater longevity, and fewer functional limitations—on top of the happiness they felt after doing good.
Avoiding resistance training
"Resistance training, even in the most elderly cohorts, has been shown to increase protein synthesis, which in turn helps offset the worst of sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle tissue," explains Matthew Dawson, a personal trainer and exercise professional in Boulder, Colorado.
Sarcopenia becomes a bigger threat the more you age—but if you focus on weight training in addition to cardio at the gym, then you can protect your body and maintain your muscle mass well into your 40s and 50s.
Not taking HIIT classes
You've heard about the positive effects high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can have on your body, but what about on your brain? That's right: In one 2017 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, participating in just six weeks of this intense exercise resulted in memory improvement among adults.
Eating out too often
Want to save money and eat fewer calories? Then skip the take-out and cook at home instead. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health determined that the more you cook at home, the more likely you are to meet the federal guidelines for a healthy diet while simultaneously spending less.
Not socializing enough
Longevity isn't just about eating well and exercising often; it's about surrounding yourself with good friends, too. In fact, according to the Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging, people with the most friends generally outlived their more solitary counterparts by 22 percent.
Not getting enough Vitamin D
A few supplements can do an aging mind and body a lot of good. Take vitamin D, for instance. According to research published in JAMA, approximate 75 percent of American teens and adults are deficient in the vitamin—and this is a problem, seeing as vitamin D deficiency can lead to everything from cancer and obesity to diabetes.
Whether you're looking to lose some weight or want to maintain the healthy weight you're at now, you need to make sure that you're starting every morning with a healthy and hearty breakfast. A 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that the morning meal is the key to losing and keeping off the pounds, especially when the foods you're eating are protein-dense.