This one is for the men. Specifically for the men around my age (early 40s) and older. Men who want to maintain not just their libido, but their muscle mass and health as we move forward into our Golden Years.
Guys, we have to maintain, or increase (if it's low) our testosterone levels if we want to maintain our health. Low testosterone levels will also make you a weak girly man who can't open jars. And we can't have that. Your testosterone level is the rate limiting factor for how much muscle mass you can keep. Your muscle mass dictates the amount of organ reserve you have. In other words, a little extra skeletal muscle influences how well your heart, kidneys, liver, and all the other organs work. I don't know about you, but I want that stuff to work really well.
One of the greatest problems that comes along with excess adipose tissue (fat) is the reduction of testosterone levels. This happens because adipose tissue leads to the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. This can lead to, among other things, a phenomenon known as gynecmastia--the development of female breasts on men. Not all that flattering. Increased estrogen leads to higher retention of body fat, and the vicious cycle continues until it's broken. My challenge: break it now.
The single best thing you can do to elevate your testosterone levels is resistance training with weights. Period. I know for some of you this conjures images of muscle bound bodybuilders who can't scratch their own backs. Let me clear that image up for you by saying that this just doesn't happen unless performance enhancing drugs are used. Resistance exercise can literally be the fountain of youth for men with waning testosterone levels, but you have to be smart about it. The more muscle groups stimulated simultaneously, the more testosterone production is enhanced. What that means is that the "big three" compound exercises--squats, dead lifts, and bench press--are the most bang for your buck movements. It also means that walking aimlessly around in the gym doing curls and other isolation exercises won't get you nearly as far. Increasing your testosterone will lead to increased muscle mass which leads to greater potential for elevating testosterone, so there's another cycle. Unlike the "extra fat leading to enhanced estrogen production cycle," this one is good.
You may be thinking that you don't have hours to spend in the gym, even though the payoff is potentially huge. Let me just say right now: you're wrong. It's a matter of priorities. If your health and well being mean anything to you, you can figure out how to do this. I have a busy clinical practice that closes at 6:30 every night, two small children at home, and I pull this off. You can too. The preceding paragraph gives you the key: do the big compound movements and get out. My workouts last no more than 45 minutes. Often no more than 30 minutes. I'm not some huge bodybuilder looking dude (as you can see in the picture below), but I've greatly enhanced my testosterone production potential. Most of my patients and friends would never look at me and think under the shirt and tie is the kind of weight lifter's body that they see on muscle magazines with the spray on tans and all that nonsense. And I can still reach my back just fine, thank you.
Me. Still Able to Scratch.
Some resources for how to get started with a resistance program can be found with a quick trip to Amazon--Starting Strength by renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe (also a Texan--bonus!) will teach you everything you need to know about correct form and a basic routine set up. Another well known resource is Beyond Brawn, by Stuart McRobert. Read these two books and you'll know more than 99% of the gym rats out there when it comes to working smarter to build muscle. You'll still have to work hard, but having a plan is essential to doing this well. There are plenty of guys piddling around in gyms who have been doing the same thing for years and are not really progressing. Don't be that guy.
Of course, there are some diet related changes to be made--you've got to have the raw materials to make testosterone. The good news is that the raw materials for all the sex hormones are cholesterol and saturated fat. I'd advise most men to decrease their carbohydrate intake to around 150 grams a day and replace the lost calories with fat from grass fed beef, fish, coconut oil, butter, and avocado. Grass fed beef isn't that hard to find these days--go to eat wild and check your state. It takes some getting used to as grass fed beef is leaner than corn fed, but grass fed beef has a much better ratio of omega fatty acids, and the farms treat their animals as humanely as possible. Indeed, grass fed cattle live like kings compared to their feed lot brethren, and the end result is better for them, the environment, and you.
The one supplement I'll mention when it comes to elevating your testosterone levels is our old friend, magnesium. I've written about magnesium here before, so I won't belabor the point too much except to mention that some studies have shown that magnesium even helps increase testosterone in the elderly/sedentary population, so 400mgs a day for a 50 year old man who pushes some iron three times a week can make a world of difference.
A very important addition to this list is to get adequate sleep. Your body does its healing and rebuilding when you sleep, and inadequate sleep doesn't give your internal construction crew enough time to get the job done. You know, technically speaking and all. Magnesium supplementation is often helpful if you have a tough time getting to sleep (just in case you didn't click the link in the preceding paragraph), and getting your eyes off blinking lights such as television, computer, and cell phone screens at least 30 minutes before turning in can be huge when it comes to letting your brain power down. Incidentally, e-readers that have the gray background screen like the Kindle won't over-stimulate your brain like the color screens found on an iPad or Kindle Fire. Sorry. Paper books (remember those?) are also fine for power down activity.
There are blood tests that can tell you where you are with your testosterone levels, but if you're over 35, you can count on your levels declining a few percentage points each year if you don't fight back. Low levels of testosterone has been linked to higher levels of clinical depression, and general malaise. A few hours a week is worth the time and trouble to keep your levels up, or even get them higher than they have been in years. You'll look better and feel better, and hey, this is the only body you have--treat it well for many happy returns.