Entering your 40s may seem like a nerve-racking prospect, but for many people, life after the big 4-0 is actually pretty great. You’ve hit your stride in terms of your career, those will-this-pack-of-ramen-break-the-bank financial concerns of your 20s are a thing of the past, and you’ve finally gotten to the point where you’re actually feeling pretty confident about the shape your life is taking. That said, getting older isn’t without its pitfalls. Chief among them is that your body is not quite the resilient, high-metabolism machine that it was in your 20s. In fact, there may be moments where you don’t recognize your body at all.
So, why is it doing these things—and should you be worried? Thankfully, we have the answers! Here are 40 ways your body changes at 40—and why.
When it comes to drinking, don’t expect to keep up with your younger self. Once you enter your 40s, you’ll find that not only will fewer drinks get you drunk, but your hangovers are distinctly worse. Because of your liver’s weakened ability to metabolize alcohol and less water in your body, it doesn’t take much to get a buzz. If you’re over 40, you shouldn’t be having more than one drink a day.
Sorry, fellas—this one’s for women only. When women reach the age of 40, something magical happens. They tend to have newfound confidence, at least according to recent research.
A 2017 study from marketing agency SuperHuman found that 67 percent of women over 40 felt more confident than they did a decade ago. Many women find that, by the time they reach 40, they’ve finally grown comfortable in their own skin. And as a result, they’re more confident than ever.
Sports injuries and pulled muscles aren’t easy to get over once you reach a certain age. Due to a complex interaction of hormonal, biochemical, and physiological processes in the body, it takes more time and power to heal muscle wounds. If you want to maintain an athletic lifestyle into middle age and beyond, you should integrate a generous amount of protein into your diet.
Everybody shrinks. Due to losses in bone density as well as muscle mass, it’s inevitable. For some, this process can begin as early as 30, though the rate at which you get shorter varies.
Between 30 and 70, for example, men are likely to lose about an inch, while women can expect to lose two. Then, after 80, it’s possible to lose yet another inch. You can control the rate at which you shrink by maintaining good posture, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and keeping good nutrition.
By the time you reach 40, you’ve probably already noticed gray hairs here and there. But it’s nothing to worry about. It’s merely a decrease in the amount of melanin your body produces.
The rate at which you go gray is often linked to your family history and your ethnicity, says Roshini Rajapaksa, an associate professor of medicine at New York University. Caucasians and Asians, for example, begin graying in their 30s, while African-Americans tend to go gray in their mid-40s.
The brain begins deteriorating disturbingly early: just after it reaches maturity in your late 20s. But the changes in the brain are hardly noticeable until you reach your mid-40s, when reasoning skills begin to slow down.
According to research published in the British Medical Journal, reasoning skills drop 3.6 percent throughout your mid-40s and 50s.
If you’ve had to stop by the local drugstore to pick up a pair of readers, you’re not alone. Starting in your early- to mid-40s, your eyes become more easily strained when reading or using screens. Focusing can be especially difficult in dim lighting.
This change is called presbyopia and it is completely normal. Regular trips to the ophthalmologist are recommended for keeping up on your eye health.
Around 40, men and women alike begin experiencing changes in their skin, particularly in the face. As testosterone slowly drops, men will notice their facial skin drying out and thinning, making wrinkles more apparent. The case is the same for women, whose skin produces less oil as a result of lower estrogen levels. To combat sagging skin, make sure to moisturize thoroughly—and often!
Sadly, there’s no getting around the fact that your ears don’t pick up as much as they once did. While some cases are hereditary or linked to disease, environmental conditions play a significant role, as well. People exposed to excessive loud noises may begin to notice their hearing decline as early as their 40s.
But for most people, serious hearing loss comes later. Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, according to the U.S. Department of Health.
Oral hygiene is an often overlooked part of health, but skipping the dentist is not a risk you should take, especially once you’re over the hill. As you age, lower bone density eventually leads to receding gum lines in the mouth, leaving the roots of your teeth more exposed and vulnerable to decay. Some tips for preventing root decay are to brush often, drink tap water (which often has fluoride in it), make regular trips to the dentist, and—as you’ve heard a million times—floss.
But it’s not all bad news for your teeth when you’re middle-aged. You’ll probably find that they become less sensitive by the time you enter your 50s. This is because, over time, the nerves in your teeth get smaller. Sure, this might make it easier to bite into an ice cream sandwich, but beware, you’ll also be less likely to notice any cavities.
Smell and taste are highly connected senses. When one deteriorates, the other does as well—and, sadly, age can play a factor here. Head injuries and nerve damage, for example, can lead to long-term smell impairment, as can serious diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Over time, taste buds also slowly die off, making you less keen to pick up on certain flavors.
One major bonus of an aging immune system is that by the time you reach middle age, your body will have been exposed to the cold and other similar viruses so many times, it will have become naturally immune.
Of course, this can’t be said for all strains of the cold, and certainly not for the flu. Still, getting through an entire winter without a runny nose is pretty great!
If your joints are feeling more rickety these days, it could be a sign of osteoarthritis, which is typically considered a normal part of aging. It occurs when the cartilage between bones wears down over time, but can also be aggravated by certain factors, like hormonal imbalance, obesity, and chronic inflammation. Eating non-acidic foods, leading an active lifestyle, and buying orthopedic shoes are just a few ways to soothe joint pains.
If you’re having trouble thinking clearly, staying on track, or remembering even the tiniest things, you’re probably experiencing brain fog. This sort of mental fuzziness can come from stress, fatigue, depression, blood sugar imbalances, and hormonal changes. Though brain fog can happen to people of all ages, it is more common in people over 40, as hormonal changes tend to trigger these symptoms.
Though some hair goes away, others start to appear. Both men and women are likely to find strange, wiry hairs in places they never were before in their 40s.
For men, some common areas include the back, the nose, and the ears. This is because men continue to produce testosterone well into their 70s. For women, this occurs most notably in the form of facial hair, as estrogen levels reduce and testosterone begins to take precedence.
As you age, your sweat glands change, shrinking in size and becoming less responsive to stimuli. When this happens, you’ll notice that your armpits stay dry most of the time. The major exception to this rule, of course, is women who are experiencing menopause or perimenopause, who might sweat during hot flashes.
There’s no denying that middle age hits women hardest. As previously mentioned, this is the decade when women first begin experiencing pre-menopause or perimenopause. Shifting hormones wreak havoc on women’s bodies, causing hot flashes, irregular vaginal bleeding and periods, and trouble sleeping.
The risk of developing breast cancer increases as women age. In fact, by the time a woman reaches age 40, her risk for breast cancers is 3.5 times higher than it was at age 30. In addition to age, other factors that can determine your risk for breast cancer include family history and ethnicity. Women in Asia, for instance, are half as likely to contract breast cancer as women from Western countries.
Men also increase their risk for cancer as they age. In fact, 90 percent of patients with colon cancer—the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States—are over 50. In addition to age, ethnicity, weight, and family history are all risk factors as well. As men age, it’s important to get screened regularly for abnormal polyps.
Not only does middle age mean menopause and an increased risk of breast cancer, but it also complicates sex. As the body slows its production of estrogen, the hormone responsible for creating vaginal lubrication, many women will experience painful vaginal dryness. This can lead to painful urination, vaginal infections, as well as sensitive vaginal tissues.
Our hormones are volatile, especially in middle age. But no hormone is more finicky than testosterone. It’s the hormone responsible for sex drive, sperm production, muscle mass, and energy. So, when testosterone levels decrease, naturally the body responds. After age 30, testosterone decreases by 1 percent each year in men. Though women experience a rise in testosterone as menopause hits, their levels eventually decrease, too.
As they age, many men will experience an increase in the size of their prostate. Benign prostatic hyperplasia is a non-life-threatening occurrence that affects 14 million men in the United States, most of whom are over 50. The primary symptoms of an enlarged prostate are urinary troubles and painful ejaculation. It can be treated in serious cases, but most people just have to get used to going to the bathroom more often.
Along with a decrease in testosterone comes the subsequent decrease in libido. But the change in sex drive is as psychological as it is hormonal. At middle age, bodies begin to change, as do social roles as people step into retirement or shift focus to different aspects of their lives. These changes can lead to issues in self-perception, which challenge libido in both men and women.
As difficult a time as perimenopause is, something good can still be said of it. Namely, that it’s responsible for an increased sex drive in many women. Though not the case for all women, testosterone, the hormone linked to libido, becomes dominant.
For many young men, erectile dysfunction sounds like the big bad wolf of middle age. But only one-third of men between 50 and 64 suffer from ED. Despite all the commercials advertising pills meant to treat ED, just know that it’s not necessarily going to happen to you.
Unlike women, whose fertility begins decreasing at age 35, men remain fertile well into their later years. Still, the chances of conceiving in middle age are not good for men, as sperm motility tends to decrease with age, along with semen volume.
We all know women have biological clocks (as do men, by the way), but just when does it start ticking? The chances of having a healthy baby starts to decrease for women over 35 and men over 40. Even if an older couple is able to conceive, the chances of having a baby with chromosomal problems is four times as high as it would be for a younger couple.
Changes in sleep patterns are a totally normal part of aging. Older adults tend to be less satisfied with their quality of sleep and report waking more frequently in the night. Sleep troubles and insomnia can be indicative of underlying health problems associated with age as well, such as chronic diseases, osteoarthritis, and neurodegenerative disorders, to name a few.
As bones lose calcium and minerals, they become more brittle and more achy. This increases the risk of fracture as well as stress on joints, which is why so many adults suffer from arthritis. Well-balanced diets with calcium and vitamin D can help prevent excessive bone deterioration.
Muscle loss is natural and unavoidable for all adults—and it actually begins at 30. But sarcopenia , as this process is called, is slow-going and can be slowed further by exercise. Aside from physical appearance, typical symptoms may include brain fog, along with decreased energy.
If you’re feeling a bit rounder in the midsection than you used to, you’re not alone. Hormonal and lifestyle changes can lead to weight gain, especially in your 30s and 40s. When it comes to those extra seven pounds (i.e. the average amount of weight gain people experience in their 40s), losing weight can be a challenge. That’s because muscle mass degenerates and fat is burned at a slower rate. Still, there are ways to combat it. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and portion control are all good ways to start.
One specific way muscle deterioration affects the body is by weakening the muscles of the digestive tract, thereby causing digestive issues like heartburn, peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. Unfortunately, age-related digestive troubles often trigger secondary conditions. As always, the solution to staving off such repercussion is healthy living.
Some of the more unfortunate muscles that weaken with age are the urinary tract muscles. Most post-menopausal women and men over 40 experience urinary incontinence, more often described as “leaking.” In one study out of the University of California, Davis, researchers found that 68 percent of women between 42 and 64 experienced this issue.
Unfortunately for women nearing and experiencing menopause, agonizing urinary tract infections can become a common occurrence. Changes in vaginal architecture, a decrease in estrogen, and urinary incontinence all play a role in this problem. But antibiotics can treat UTIs if necessary.
Sooner or later, you’re going to have to decide whether that ice cream is worth the bloating, cramping, and diarrhea it might give you, now that you’ve developed lactose intolerance in your 40s. This doesn’t happen in all adults, but it is surprisingly common. According to the National Institute of Health, roughly 65 percent of people experience lactose intolerance later in life as the body’s levels of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, decreases.
Facelifts and Botox are intended to reverse the body’s natural aging process, by which skin on the face appears less taut over time. Along with wrinkles, sagging skin on the face is most apparent on the ears, near the jawline, below the eyes, and at the tip of the nose.
Once you pass 40, you become more likely to develop small spots in places that are often exposed to the sun, such as the face or hands. Called age spots or liver spots, many believe these are the result of extensive UV exposure. Though they are almost always harmless, they can be removed.
If you think this only concerns men, think again! Nearly everyone will experience some hair loss as they get older. In fact, the statistics are the same for both men and women, 40 percent of whom will see visible hair loss by the time they reach 40. This is due to hormonal changes, which alter the re-growth rate of hair.
While adults continue to lose hair at a normal rate—around 100 strands per day—the time it takes for them to grow back becomes greater and greater.
Sure, there may be liver spots or saggy skin, but the real danger of entering mid-life is the increased risk of being diagnosed with a chronic disease. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity are all leading causes of death around the world. Understandably, these diseases are scary. The good news is that aging doesn’t necessitate a chronic illness. Regular check-ups and a healthy, active lifestyle can help keep these afflictions at bay.
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