Personal trainer Matt Roberts had to come up with a new fitness plan when he realised his metabolism had changed in his 40s, writes Marjorie Brennan
PERSONAL trainer Matt Roberts is on the top of his game, counting a long list of celebrities and well-known names, including fashion designer Tom Ford and former British prime minister David Cameron among his clients. But even he wasn’t immune to the effects of middle age, noticing that when he hit his 40s, his demanding exercise routine wasn’t having the same effect as it used to.
“It’s not that there was a great deal going wrong, but you do slow down a bit and you definitely start to have more aching joints and stiffness in the wrong places,” says the London-based, 45-year-old. “The training I did in my teens and 20s, which was super high-intensity, doing that in my 40s, there was a fear of slower recovery, more tenderness, so to stop that from happening was the key driver in trying to ensure I could stay in performance terms as well at 45 as I was at 25.”
In his pursuit of a fitness regimen for his clients, Roberts discovered more about the impact of decreasing levels of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) on men’s health in general.
He formulated an eight-week hormone-boosting health and fitness programme which he has now shared in a book,
Younger, Fitter, Stronger.
One Danish study cited by Roberts found that men born in the 1960s — those in their 50s now — had experienced a double-digit drop in hormone levels compared with those born in the 1920s. Many experts believe stress, poor diet, and low levels of physical activity are contributing to this decline, which can also result in fatigue, poor sleep, low sex drive, penis shrinkage, and even genital numbness. While we are all familiar with the grumpy old men stereotype, it turns out that low mood can also be a result of plummeting testosterone.
Roberts refers to studies that show older men with depression tend to have testosterone levels nearly 20% lower than normal. He says while the hormonal changes that hit women in middle-age have been well-chronicled, we tend to hear less about the effects similar changes can have on men’s overall health and wellbeing.
“Guys don’t talk about that stuff in the same way, though there’s a natural link between low testosterone and male health. It’s been bypassed totally — there’s no natural menopause moment for a guy, there isn’t a point as in a woman’s life when periods stop — a guy doesn’t get that, all they have is gradual dilapidation and slowdown. The effects and symptoms of that are quite dramatic, but they’re not spoken about and they should be because from the age of about 35 testosterone production is slowing down and that affects key things which are important to a guy — but we don’t speak about that because it’s too embarrassing.”
There has been a notable increase in the number of middle-aged men taking to the roads on foot or on bikes to improve their fitness levels but Roberts says that men need more than cardio exercise for all-round good health.
“It’s good exercise, it’s something positive, and that’s great for your heart and lungs, they’re getting fitter and stronger. But if your aim is to maintain good hormone health, strength, good posture, energy levels, then you need high-intensity exercise, like lifting heavy weights, moving heavy objects, going to a level of overload that’s significant for short periods, and then appropriate rest before doing it again.
While the book provides a comprehensive guide to the best hormone-boosting foods to eat (see panel), Roberts also recommends intermittent fasting.
“It’s phenomenally important to do this from time to time — how frequently differs from person to person. It’s not that difficult, it’s a 16:8 approach, 16 hours eating nothing then you break the fast and have eight hours of relatively controlled eating. Research shows the human growth hormone is significantly higher if you train post-fast than if you do high-intensity on its own, so there’s a big response in cellular growth, muscle growth, strength growth, to get the body re-energised.”
Robert says that his targeted training and diet programme has resulted in dramatic results among some of his clients, with many looking and feeling ten years younger.
“We’ve done testosterone testing on people throughout the process and seen in all cases gains in testosterone, and gains in wellbeing and energy, with more focused thinking and improved sleep patterns — all these things effectively mirror a decrease in your personal age.”
He says men who are concerned about testosterone levels should go to their GP to get tested.
There is no hesitation in Roberts’ response when I suggest that he has particularly high levels of energy. “God, yeah, absolutely,” he replies. He also displays the ‘tough love’ approach that has made him so successful when I ask him about men who might lack motivation and struggle to follow his programme.
“This is interesting because it requires an attitude shift, which isn’t always palatable. The problem is when you work hard, and have commitments, time is limited, but I make time to exercise because if I don’t then I won’t be as productive in all those other things. Also, the problem is we are mentally tired, but we need to physically do something to give ourselves a mental break.
“You’re not looking for hours and hours, it’s just a few hours per week. If you sit someone down and ask them how many hours of
Game of Thrones
they watch in a week, there’s some time right there. So your choice is to sit down and watch a box set or to get off your arse and do something, because ultimately it is worthwhile. That’s a difficult choice to make because we value our social and personal time highly. We have to keep on remembering the bad outcome from not doing anything good for yourself.
Matt Roberts’ Younger, Fitter, Stronger: The Revolutionary 8-week Fitness Plan for Men, €23.79, is published by Bloomsbury
– Matt Roberts
MOBILITY and flexibility are hugely important, but often overlooked, aspects of fitness. They matter because they enable us to move more freely and to avoid the postural problems that inhibit our fitness progress. As we get older, our flexibility declines by quite a rapid rate, but we can stem that deterioration with regular stretching. I’m not saying that you need to do all of these stretches every day. But by incorporating them into your routine — make them a habit when you are sitting in front of the TV, for example — you will reap the benefits.
Cobra to Child Pose
Lie face down on the floor with your hands underneath your shoulders, fingers pointing forwards. Lift your chest away from the floor by pressing your palms into the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body. Your elbows should be positioned directly under your shoulders. Hold this stretch for 4-5 seconds.
To transition to Child’s Pose, lift your hips off the ground, keeping your knees and forearms on the floor, and sit back until your bottom rests on your heels. Let your forehead come close to the floor. Hold this position for 4-5 seconds.
Lie on your left side with your knees bent and stacked on top of each other. Keep your left shoulder and hip rooted to the ground. Bring both of your arms straight out to your left side. Your arms should stack on top of each other.
Rotate the right arm up and over your head while trying to touch your fingers to the ground. Allow your eyes to follow your arm for as long as possible. Rotate fully around to the starting position. Pause briefly and start again.
90/90 Hip Stretch
Sitting on the floor, place your right leg out front. Bend your knee at 90 degrees so your outer thigh and outer lower leg are resting on the floor. Your thigh should be perpendicular to your body. Place your other leg out to the side with the inner thigh touching the floor and the knee bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands on the floor on each side of the front leg.
Slowly lower your chest towards your knee, keeping your shoulders squared to the floor. Don’t drop to the elbow unless both can be on the floor equally. With this stretch even just sitting in the initial position and moving around a little will really help mobilise your hips.
With your back to a bench or couch, kneel in front of it. Place your left foot up onto the edge or top of the couch behind you. The left knee should be close to the bottom of the bench or couch. Then place your right foot forward so your knee is bent at 90 degrees and gradually raise your body, by first moving your hands on to your front thigh and then lifting the chest up tall.
While doing this also try to push the hip of the bent back knee forward to increase the stretch in the top of the thigh and hip.
You will find the stretch varies day-to-day depending on what you have been doing. On days where you have sat for long periods, it will feel harder, showing how tight your body is. Relax into this stretch and really try to develop it. It can be particularly helpful for back problems, so practise regularly.
Start on your hands and knees, making sure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders, with fingers pointing forwards, and your knees directly underneath your hips. As you exhale, lift and straighten your knees, without locking them.Bring your body into the shape of an ‘A’, lifting through your pelvis.
As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling, pressing down through your heels and palms of your hands. your head, but do not let it dangle.
Focus between your legs or towards your navel and hold the position for as long as is comfortable.