A photograph of a footballer cavorting in a shower, lathering a lithe young body half his age, would barely elicit a rumble of disapproval nowadays, such are the low expectations of practitioners of the beautiful game.
Yet earlier this month, one such photograph sparked an outpouring of comment and general disbelief. The player in question was former Chelsea central midfielder Dennis Wise, 50. And the hoo-ha erupted because the lithe young body was his own.
Wise is a contestant on the ITV show, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. For the uninitiated, the annual television event – now in its 17th series – sees a group of minor celebrities living in the Australian jungle for three weeks where they are required to perform a range of challenges in order to earn food. These often involve humiliation and the ingestion of various animal genitalia.
One of the show’s traditions is the “shower shot”, whereby contestants are filmed washing in the camp’s fake waterfall. This year, boyish Wise stole the show with his unfeasibly youthful frame.
As every man nearing their sixth decade knows, it gets ever harder to stay physically on-point, though there do seem to be a growing number of members of the hot fiftysomething club, with standard-bearers from Hugh Jackman to Gary Lineker, Robert Downey Jr, Lenny Kravitz and Mark Ruffalo proving that passing the half-century mark doesn’t mean letting yourself go.
According to fitness experts, it takes more than good genes to ‘Wise up’ in your fifties – although, as HealthHub London’s Dr Mike Dilkes, who treated Wise in his playing days, admits, genetics do help.
“There are a number of things that men can do to stay youthful after 50 but, firstly, look at your dad,” says Dilkes. “If he still looks young, then you have a good chance of retaining your youthful look. Levels of collagen and elastin in skin vary according to genes. The same applies to hair. If your father has a good head of hair, you probably will, too.”
For those unlucky enough to have won the genetic lottery, the good news is there a number of cheats.
“Never go in the sun without any block at all,” Dilkes advises. “A tan is fine but always wear a medium factor protection to stop collagen damage. Some sun is great but don’t burn. And then of course you can go for active management of ageing with things like Botox, which increasing numbers of men are having and it really does work. I’m also keen on prescribing certain types of acid peels to keep the skin smooth.”
Men’s health consultant, Carlos Santos runs the Optiman programme for middle-aged men at The Light Touch Clinic in Surrey. Many of his clients are high net worth individuals over 50 who are determined to stay looking young for as long as possible.
He reveals that one of the best health investments a middle-aged man can make is a glucose monitor.
He explains: “The one secret I tell everyone is to keep blood sugar levels between 70 and 100 milligrams per decilitre. That is probably the most intelligent ageing secret. Keep your blood sugar controlled and your insulin levels balanced. It is the same advice doctors give to diabetics, but it should be followed by everyone – and men in their fifties especially.”
Santos maintains that if you are serious about fitness, by the time you have got to 50 you have probably tried all types of diets and fitness regimes and know what works for you. A diet rich in protein with a decent balance of good fats from foods such as avocados, nuts and eggs is particularly effective at keeping the middle-age spread at bay, as is plenty of water.
A high-protein, high-fat diet also helps boost testosterone levels; the hormone is vital for men’s health, controls sexual function and helps with the development of muscle and bone mass.
“As you age, your testosterone level goes down,” says Santos. “That’s nature – but you can do a lot to keep those hormone levels in balance. People freak out when they hear the word ‘cholesterol’, but there is good cholesterol and you need it to make hormones. Manage your stress levels, too, because stress affects testosterone production.”
He also advises embracing the current trend for mindfulness: “So many older guys are now doing yoga and meditation and they don’t feel stupid about it anymore. And prioritise sleep, because you make hormones when you sleep. Your testosterone levels are at their highest when you wake up.”
And while Wise has obviously spent time in the gym, according the experts, he’s unlikely to have been straining with heavy weights.
“When you’re older, your activity should be smarter,” advises Santos. “You should be doing intelligent resistance training such as squats, pushes and pulls. Heavier leg sets are good at promoting testosterone production, but don’t overdo it; if you are doing cardio, it should be high-intensity interval training (HIIT), such as little sprints.”
How to be a fittysomething
The aim should be to develop lean muscle, as Wise has done. The benefits are not solely aesthetic. Muscle depletes with age which in turn leads to loss of strength and a risk of falls, back problems and other skeleto-muscular problems.
When it comes to medical complaints, 50 is the gateway to a whole host of nasty potential conditions including depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, diabetes and obesity. These manifest for a range of reasons, largely lifestyle-based. Middle-aged men typically exercise less and drink more: weight becomes harder to shift, energy levels dip and sleep patterns become disrupted.
Dr Dilkes recommends pre-emptive medical intervention. “At the age of 50, every man should be on at least two drugs every day – a statin, no matter what their cholesterol levels are, and a low dose of aspirin. There is a lot of evidence that statins are good for a range of issues and very safe, even in men with normal cholesterol. They are used by millions.
“There is also another wonder drug called metformin, which is an anti-diabetic drug. It is protective against various metabolic diseases and statistics show that it reduces the incidence of bowel cancer.”
Also recommended for fiftysomethings along with standard tests such as blood pressure are regular chest scans, particularly for former smokers. Men concerned about testicular cancer can use home pregnancy tests to screen themselves – a positive result can be an indication of the condition.
And Dilkes also recommends periodic intrusive screening in the form of prostate check-ups and colonoscopies, to check for colon cancer.
“It’s not particularly pleasant,” he admits, “but colon cancer particularly is often diagnosed late, which makes it hard to treat.”
No one said being fit at 50 would be easy. But if the pay-off for time in the gym and the occasional rubber glove is a body like Dennis Wise, plenty of men will be willing to compromise.