Prescription treatments aren’t the first step. Unlock the power of your existing testosterone with these lifestyle tweaks.
It’s no secret, though most men treat it like one. Testosterone declines as we age. After peaking between ages 20 and 30, levels drop 1 to 2 percent each year.
Low testosterone, or low T, can lower your sex drive, increase the amount of body fat you store, and sap your energy levels and muscle mass, says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., director of the kinesiology and applied physiology graduate program at Rutgers University.
With symptoms like that, it’s no wonder men have been looking for a solution. Between 2001 and 2011, testosterone use tripled in the United States, and in 2012, Americans spent nearly $3.5 billion on low-T prescriptions. “People want to function better, for longer,” Arent says. “But they also want to maintain optimal function for whatever time they have.”
But meds shouldn’t be the first line of defense. “Testosterone replacement is a lifetime commitment,” says Nelson Vergel, author of Testosterone: A Man’s Guide. “Once you start, you shut down your own production, and it’s going to take awhile for you to normalize if you come off.”
The most recent guidelines from the Endocrine Society agree: Low-t prescriptions shouldn’t be the standard for men 65 years and older. What they do recommend: Prescriptions should be decided on an individual basis, factoring in symptom severity, any coexisting conditions, and risks and benefits of treatment.
Plus, recent studies have found that age alone isn’t to blame for decreasing testosterone. Lifestyle factors may play a bigger role than we previously thought. That includes things like not sleeping well, lack of exercise, and carrying extra weight around your middle.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about low T, plus try these lifestyle changes to slow testosterone decline.
Step #1: Downsize Your Spare Tire
Men with low T tend to have bigger waist circumferences, and vice versa. In a European Journal of Epidemiology study, the lowest levels of testosterone were observed in men who had big waists but relatively low body mass index (BMI)—so their fat was concentrated in their bellies.
The good news: Losing weight helps low T. In a study of almost 900 middle-aged men with prediabetes, those who lost weight—an average of 17 pounds in one year—through diet and exercise saw a 15 percent bump in testosterone levels. They also improved their insulin sensitivity.
Step #2: Eat Like the Greek
To help get rid of fat, eat more healthy fats. It may sound counterintuitive, but a Mediterranean diet rich in monounsaturated fats like those found in nuts, seeds, fatty fishes, and olive oil has been shown to reduce belly fat compared to diets where other fats are eaten instead.
If you’re not ready to revamp your entire diet, try adding more vegetables, fiber, and some fermentation to your plate, says Stella Metsovas, C.C.N., author of Wild Mediterranean. “Going Mediterranean means plants need to make up a bulk part of your diet,” she says. “I recommend looking to the palm of your hand for serving sizes of vegetables—try to aim for a total of six servings throughout the day.”
More simple suggestions: Try eating baked sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes to increase your fiber, or topping steamed broccoli with a splash of extra virgin olive oil for a combo of fiber and healthy fats.
And don’t forget the cheese. “Mediterraneans regularly eat cheeses that are rich in probiotic bacteria,” Metsovas says. “Not all cheeses are rich in probiotics so look for soft fermented cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, and those made from goat’s milk and sheep’s milk.”
Step #3: Don’t Starve Yourself
Losing weight can help slow testosterone decline, but Arent points out that dieting can also hasten decline. “If you start to go into a chronic calorie deficit,” he says, “we know that can negatively affect testosterone.”
Being low on fuel can make even the healthiest, most active men become hypogonadal, the term for having extremely low testosterone levels. For example, soldiers, whose calorie intake may not be able to keep up with their calorie needs, can experience hypogonadism. “It’s such a problem that the Army is studying how to keep T levels up,” Arent says.
The average older man likely won’t have the same physical demands of a younger soldier, but the principle still applies. “When people are chronically cutting calories, or they’re on yo-yo diets, these are things we need to pay attention to,” Arent says.
The solution: Don’t tell yourself that you’re “on” a diet. Make small, healthy changes you can sustain. Once you get to a healthy weight, it’ll be easier to stay there with your new habits.
Step #4: Snooze You Like Mean It
Losing sleep means losing testosterone—and it happens fast, even in healthy, young men. A study from the University of Chicago found that after just one week of sleeping five hours per night, men’s testosterone levels fell 10 to 15 percent compared to when those same men slept for 10 hours per night.
“There’s no better testosterone booster than weight loss and getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night,” Vergel says. If you’re not doing those things, you probably shouldn’t consider hormone replacement therapies yet, he says.
Healthy sleep habits may also help with fat loss. Another University of Chicago study found that dieters who slept for five hours per night lost just as much weight—but 55 percent less fat—as when they slept seven hours or more. This might be because sleep deficit increases levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone associated with increased food intake and retention of fat.
One easy way to get better sleep: Put your phone away, Vergel says. Multiple studies have found that smartphone use before bed is associated with insomnia. Click here for five more simple ways to fall and stay asleep, starting tonight!
Step #5: Lift Heavy Objects
Cardiovascular exercise is vital to heart, lung, and overall health. But for boosting testosterone, strength training is the winner.
The keys, according to a review in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, are to:
- Perform exercises that engage large or multiple muscle groups, such as squats.
- Use heavier weights for fewer reps (five to 10) rather than lighter weights for more reps.
- Do multiple sets with shorter rest intervals (30 to 60 seconds).
As with any exercise, safety and proper form are key. If you’re new to strength training or have taken a long break from it, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely. Once you get clearance, don’t be afraid to start without weights to learn proper form first, or to modify exercises so they’re easier.
On the other hand, if you’ve been strength training regularly, don’t get stuck in the same routine. Get more out of every workout by breaking these bad habits.
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