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A Lot of Guys Don’t Take their Health Seriously Until 30. Here’s Why That’s A Great Time to Start.
The first time my doctor brought up my cholesterol levels, I was caught off-guard. I knew that I was due for routine bloodwork since some of the medication I’m on can be hard on your liver, but to have my cholesterol tested? That felt unnecessary– especially since I’m very active and eat a pretty great diet.
The mention of testing my cholesterol levels surprised me because it was one of the first instances when I had to actually recognize my age. What my doctor knew and I had forgotten was that my father was only ten years or so older than I am now when he had to have stints put in. As this recognition settled upon me, it reminded me that– cholesterol aside– I am aging.
Thirty still feels so young. I recognize that what I once thought of as the mark of a fully-fledged adult/ borderline antique is really just the beginning of so much in my life, career, finances, and so on. In many ways, it’s the start of so much for my body, too. Some good, some less so. My knees get achy and my hips feel stiff in ways they didn’t in the past. Injuries tend to take a bit longer to heal. I can’t pull all-nighters… okay, I can’t really stay up past midnight more than once per month.
But those are just a few of the ways my body is changing. I’m also benching and squatting more than I’ve ever lifted before. My endurance is on par with what it was, if not better than it was when I was twenty-three. My sexual health is in a much better place. I actually have enough experience to know what I’m doing and enough cash flow to buy the food, equipment, supplements, and gym memberships I want (I don’t miss having to choose between eating dinner at a restaurant once per week or paying my yoga studio membership).
Anecdotally, being able to prioritize my health and fitness at this stage in my life has proven to be massively beneficial in a variety of areas, and research suggests that these benefits aren’t unique to just me. Exercise is a lot like the quote often attributed to being a Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Had I taken exercise, skincare, and nutrition seriously twenty years ago, I’d probably be a freak (in a good way), but I didn’t. So, now is as good a time as any.
The Good News: Thirty is Still Young. We Have Time to Prevent the Scary Parts of Aging.
As much as my friends and I joke about aging and being old, the truth is that thirty is still quite young. Your body is likely still primed for action and you can still get away with laughing at penis jokes, but you’ve been around long enough to make fewer dumb choices.
For men in our age group, most of the signs of aging are fairly minimal or cosmetic. For example, it’s more likely that men in their thirties will have a receding hairline or start to notice their hair thinning. Especially since men, historically, haven’t been socialized to use sunscreen and moisturizer regularly, we’re more likely to start having visible lines and wrinkles.
Research suggests that men in their thirties generally:
- Still have healthy sex drives.
- Have adequate levels of testosterone.
- Haven’t “lost” their metabolism.
- Don’t yet have an increased risk for age-related illnesses.
There are some fitness publications that will try to say that exercise, weight loss, and muscle building are the cure-all solutions for preventing these signs of aging and preserving our current state of health into our forties, fifties, and beyond.
We’re not so overly optimistic. Aging– like fitness and nutrition– is a multifaceted, complex process that’s affected by so many converging factors that it would be naive to suggest that any single intervention could be overwhelmingly impactful. However, consistent exercise can benefit certain aspects of the ways our bodies change beyond our thirties, and making it a habit now can prevent us from scrambling to play catch up later.
Testosterone Levels Start to Decline in Our Thirties. Exercise May Help.
Ready for an understatement? Testosterone is an important hormone.
While pop culture has seemingly constructed an entire culture around testosterone that’s a bit excessive, its roles in our bodies are wide-reaching. Testosterone plays a critical role in facilitating the following:
- The development of the penis and testes
- The deepening of the voice during puberty
- The appearance of facial and pubic hair starting at puberty; later in life, it may play a role in balding
- Muscle size and strength
- Bone growth and strength
- Sex drive (libido)
- Sperm production
By our thirties, most of us aren’t too concerned with ongoing penis development, deepening of our voices, or sprouting hair from new places. But, balding, muscle size and strength, bone growth and strength, sex drive, and sperm production are still important concerns.
Testosterone production tends to spike in our late teens and early adulthood (18-20). By the time we’re 35, most men will start experiencing a 1-3% decrease in free testosterone levels year over year. As testosterone levels get lower and lower, signs of low testosterone may become apparent, such as:
- Declining Sex Drive
- Less Semen
- Low Energy
- Hair Loss
- Weight Gain
While further research is needed to isolate the specific mechanisms and impact, exercise has been found to increase levels of serum testosterone. Current theories suggest that heavy, compound lifts are most effective at this, but in general, exercising at a moderate intensity helps.
If Testosterone Starts Declining at 35, What Does that Mean for my Sex Life?
For most men, your libido remains strong through your thirties and early forties. As mentioned, there is often a decrease in testosterone starting around 35, and if your testosterone levels drop quickly, it’s possible that you’ll notice having a lower libido, taking longer to get fully erect or reach orgasm, or having less firm erections than you once did.
However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that testosterone levels are the only reason your sex life may change. For lack of a better phrase, it’s in their thirties that most guys really start getting their shit together. It’s at this time that work, family, and other commitments can interfere with how interested in sex you are.
Guys in their 30s are reported, on average, to still have sex about twice per week. (1.6 times, if we’re using the more precise statistic… but if you can figure out how to have 0.6 sexual interactions, let us know). Additionally, it’s estimated that about 20% of men in this age range also masturbate 2-3 times per week. While we’re not going to tell you how often you should be having sex or masturbating– that’s completely a personal thing that’s entirely up to you– there’s also research suggesting that more frequent ejaculation could improve prostate health and decrease the risk of developing prostate cancer as you age.
Overall, your sex life is likely still going to be in a fairly healthy place. Where things may be complicated are in the environmental factors rather than purely biological factors. Stress, busy schedules, and interruptions (especially if you have a family) are more likely to prevent sex than your inherent ability to perform.
Speaking of performing, let’s talk about another kind of stiffness.
Lifestyle and Environmental Factors May Contribute to Being Sedentary
I work at a desk all day. That means I spend more time sitting than I would care to admit, and I can feel the side effects of this in my hips and lower back. I tend to get stiff and achy, and I know that it negatively impacts my posture.
My experience isn’t uncommon, either. Between work, commutes, and spending leisure time on the couch or in bed, being fairly sedentary has, in many ways, become the norm. That’s not specific to guys in their thirties, either. We are, however, in a great place in life to integrate habits that undo the damage and risk of being sedentary.
The World Health Organization writes that adults, “should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity (including light intensity) provides health benefits, and to help reduce the detrimental effects of high levels of sedentary behavior on health, all adults and older adults should aim to do more than the recommended levels of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.”
It has been said that movement is lubrication, and there may be some truth to that. By activating the muscles and joints that are neglected during the work day, we can stimulate our cartilage cells’ natural processes for lubricating and protecting joints.
In many ways, I tend to think about full ranges of movement in a “use it or lose it” way. While that aphorism is a bit of an oversimplification, there’s a kernel of truth in it. By frequently engaging muscles and joints in ways that safely challenge them, we can not only expand their function but protect them against degradation, too.
This is one reason I’ve shifted my training focus away from being purely about strength to including more work on mobility. I have some bone and joint issues (not related to being a man of a certain age) that contribute to frequent pain and inflammation in my knees and hips. Sitting at my desk job for hours on end doesn’t help this pain; training to bring natural mobility and reinforce the stabilizing muscles around these areas has helped me to feel more confident and have fewer bouts of prolonged discomfort.
A General Caveat to Using it or Losing it
Not specific to being in your thirties, but one thing that should be noted on the “use it or lose it” aspect of physical activity as a way to offset the effects of being sedentary is that you can go too far in the opposite direction.
Too much strenuous physical activity– things like long-distance running and heavy weight lifting– can increase your risk of injury, especially if your body is unaccustomed to that level of strain. Speaking from experience, trying to lift too much too quickly has caused me to injure my rotator cuff and incur significant pain around my sciatic nerve/ IT band. Neither injury was easy to overcome, and both took weeks before I was back to having a full, pain-free range of motion. These types of injuries have the opposite effect of what we want since they prevent us from being able to exercise frequently.
The TL;DR of this caveat is that you likely need to increase your amount of exercise, but be smart about it. Don’t try to compete with the 18-year-old athletes and 20-something bodybuilders in the gym. Do what you can and challenge yourself to make consistent progress, but don’t train purely for your ego. Focus on good form and gradual, steady increases in resistance and you’ll be on the right track.
Balancing Your Work Schedule and Gym Routine is Tough. But it’s Worth it.
One thing we’re adamant about on Self-Himprovement is that the non-physical benefits of exercise are often just as impactful as the physical benefits.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise, especially when consistent and at or above a moderate intensity, has a positive impact on enhancing mood, sharpening focus, and improving memory. This makes it a decent way to offset the impact of tight schedules, burnout at work, arguments and relationship stress, and the general ebb and flow of life when you have a full schedule and a long list of responsibilities.
One thing I have been transparent about is that I started exercising regularly after my doctor advised me to do so. It wasn’t a prompt to lose weight or even to protect my heart health. It was because I was dealing with unmanaged chronic anxiety. I was so consistently anxious that it was impacting my quality of life– insomnia and nausea were just part of my daily life. It had gotten to the point that I worried about reaching a breaking point with my mental health. Something had to change, and my SSRIs took off just enough of the edge for me to make it to the gym and exercise.
Because there are some in the fitness and wellness world who will say that exercise is a miracle cure, I want to be upfront and say that that is not where I’m going. Some folks love to argue that if people would just exercise more, they wouldn’t need medications or therapy or whatever else. That is garbage advice. For me, SSRIs quite literally saved my life and made it possible for me to start exercising. Here, we don’t vilify medical care.
Once I started exercising regularly, I noticed a significant improvement in a few areas of my life. With consistent exercise, I started sleeping better. Having slept better, I had more energy and optimism going into my work day. By the end of the workday, I could go to the gym and use that as an outlet for pent-up stress. Little by little, it created a virtuous cycle of little wins and gradual improvements.
Really, I think that's how consistent exercise functions in general. It's a series of small improvements that has a compounding effect over time. Even if you're not looking to get shredded or compete in bodybuilding, it's the steady improvements in strength, mobility, and confidence that make it so worth it.