The 40-Year-Old Athlete's 3 Cardinal Rules to Staying Healthy
Full disclosure: I have been over the age of 40 for only a short time so far. Having said that, I've been able to remain extremely active over the last 20 years—and if anything, I'm more active now than I was 10 years ago. I just have to do things a little bit differently.
I teach and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a physical martial art that involves rough contact on the ground, and I occasionally train judo as well. For several years I also had Muay Thai Kickboxing in my regimen.
It took some time to admit that I was getting a little bit older. I felt invincible in my 20s, and even well into my 30s I was constantly acting just like I was a kid, training upwards of 15 times in a single week. Nowadays, I've found a routine that works well for me—rolling (grappling on the ground) about 9 times a week, and weekends off whenever possible, up to and including Fridays whenever possible. The following are the three main keys to maintaining this relatively intense physical lifestyle as I approach my fifth decade of life.
Cardinal Rule # 1: Get Plenty of Rest
The phrase "I'll rest when I'm dead" comes up a lot among people who are in denial of their age—and you tend to hear it a lot in corporate America, which tends to be one of the most unhealthy environments I've ever seen. While the sentiment is noble and admirable, the fact is that your body needs recovery time, especially as you approach 40. Here are the two ways I ensure that my body recovers:
- I insist on eight hours of sleep every night. That's right, eight. Sound unreasonable? Considering what I put my body through, I don't see it that way at all. In fact, I actually see sleeping as a part of my training, because all of those minute muscle tears that you incur when you're training hard actually repair themselves when you're asleep. And it's not just your muscles; your joints need an increasingly longer time to recover, as well. Instead of upping your daily ibuprofen dose, try getting a good night's sleep for a couple of weeks straight, and see how much better you feel.
- I take the weekends off, as mentioned. This was not easy at first. I was accustomed to training every day, and I'll have to be honest—I thought this was sustainable. In truth, I viewed taking the weekend off to recover as a necessary evil at first, but over time, it became clear to me that it was so much more than that: it reinforced my weekly routine. As a gym owner, I was privy to the habits of our students and training partners who stuck with it for years, and those who didn't. The biggest single difference? Those who stuck with BJJ over time developed strong routines. It's not about whether you can train 9 times in one week or 11 days in a row, but whether you can come in four days a week for the next 10 years.
Cardinal Rule # 2: Drink Enough Water
If there's one piece of health advice that I can really say is universal, it's that we need to drink enough water. This is never more true, however, than when you're approaching 40 years of age and beyond. My friend and student, Vince Newton, age 52 and a BJJ black belt, had kidney stones late last year. Vince had a catheter in his body and said it was the most painful thing he had ever been through. It allowed him to see his own mortality head-on. Vince's lesson? Drink plenty of water. It seems that he had been going home dehydrated from working out; then he'd go home and have a glass of wine (or two) before bed; then wake up and have coffee at work.
Clearly, your body needs a lot of water to function. The idea that we're literally made up of water isn't far from the truth—we're about 60% water, so hydrating is something that you know is super important. But do you actually do it? Here's my "health hack" for the day: I take an empty one-liter bottle of seltzer and drink regular water from that in order to ensure that I'm getting enough. An average adult needs around a gallon of water (over 3 liters, close to 4). As an athlete, you may need as much as twice that much. If you have a hard time remembering this or making yourself do it, you may want to check out this article I wrote suggesting tips for tricking yourself into drinking plenty of water.
Vince Newton, Age 46, Getting His BJJ Purple Belt
How much water do you drink in a day?
Cardinal Rule # 3: Eat Four Salads a Week
This is the newest one for me, and I can say that I have noticed very good energy levels this year as I've forced myself to have a minimum of four salads per week. I include house and caesar salads (my favorite) in this, as well as entrée salads. The main idea, like with everything else, is to make it into a routine. I am now "trained" to have four salads every week. I like to start with one on Sunday so I'm ahead of the game, and if I want to just have a burger and fries on Friday, I can do that.
You may be well ahead of the game here if you're already a fanatic about your diet, but for me, it's all about improving incrementally. Eating four salads a week—instead of trying to cut a whole bunch of less healthy stuff out—is something I have been able to sustain for the better part of the year, and I know that I'll be able to maintain this habit for the rest of my life. It's a simple way to ensure that you're getting fresh vegetables and roughage.
Me Rolling With My Students
You Can Do It!
All three of these "cardinal rules" have one common trait: they're sustainable. You can build each of them into a habit, and they're not just things you'll want to do once and then forget about. Remember, you're going to be an athlete (hopefully) for another 40 years, and sustainability and seeing the big picture is the important thing!
- Allocate time for rest and recovery (view this as part of your training)
- Drink 1-2 gallons of water every day that you're training
- Eat a minimum of four salads every week
If you can start with these three steps, you'll already be healthier than 99% of 40-year-olds out there. What tips do you have for getting older and staying athletic?