The biggest health risk to the over 40s has been revealed as high-risk drinking

A new British study has found 35% of over-40s have two or more serious health conditions

Men drinking beer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When we're over 40, everything seems to get a bit harder. The Best Fitbit will show you that it's getting a bit more difficult to burn calories in the same way, and a rigorous routine of stretching exercises are necessary to keep you at peak performance and range of motion. As we age, our metabolism slows down, our muscles waste and stiffen and our immune system declines, which makes it all the more important to keep ourselves in good healthy habits. 

However, a study following the lives of 17,000 people from Britain, all born within a similar time period, has found surprising results regarding the state of over-40s today. Published by BMC Public Health and University College London, 35% of the study's cohort (around one-third in total) have at least two serious health conditions. The age group of the cohort were age 46-48. 

On the one hand, it's not wholly surprising that people's health declines with age, as habits that seemed to cause no issues in our 20s and early 30s begin to catch up with us in later life. The nature of the most common serious health problems found in the study include muscular, cardiovascular, mental and physical issues.

The study found 16% of respondents had high blood pressure, a precursor to serious cardiovascular disease. 19% suffered from mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. 21% of respondents suffered from recurring back problems, which can be brought about by any number of things from poor posture to too much time spent sitting down. 

The biggest problem facing over-40s, according to the study, was problem drinking. A hefty 26% of participants, just over one-quarter, reported regularly taking part in high-risk drinking. The study doesn't report exactly what high-risk drinking entails, but the UK's NHS advises we drink no more than 14 units of alcohol, around seven pints of strong beer, each week. 

Beer

(Image credit: Gerrie Van der Waal/Unsplash)

What does alcohol do to our bodies?

Alcohol contains a lot of calories, first and foremost. A glass of 150ml of red wine or a 330ml bottle of Budweiser, a low-strength beer, contains around 125 calories. A pint of medium strength beer of 5% or more might contain around 225 calories. But it's more than the calorie content: the more we drink, the more likely we'll turn away from healthy food and opt for comfort foods such as burgers and pizza.

It's well-known alcohol damages the liver over time, and it's also a diuretic, which means the more we drink, the more dehydrated we become. This affects our overall health, from the headaches we get after a heavy night of drinking to the effect it has on our skin. Coincidentally, this is why lots of water can counteract some of alcohol's effects. Alcohol can also interfere with our gut health according to studies, stopping us from digesting food correctly. 

In addition, alcohol is a depressant, which dulls the senses and can create mental health problems if drank in excess. In this way, problem drinking can lead to many of the other problems highlighted on the list, from depression to high blood pressure. Ensure you know your limits, stick to the recommended guidelines and stay hydrated if you are drinking alcohol. 

Five habits to ensure good health in your 40s and beyond (based on the UCL study)

  • Limit your alcohol intake to the recommend weekly guidelines.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretching has been found to be more effective than walking to reduce blood pressure, according to research.
  • Do resistance training with a set of resistance bands or dumbbells. This will prevent muscles wasting as you age, and strength training has been found to help with bad backs.
  • Drink lots of water to keep your gut, skin and liver healthy. 
  • Reduce the amount of excess added sugar in your diet. Whether through food or drink, sugar increases insulin resistance, leading to weight gain and prediabetes. 
Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.