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THE DECLINE AND FALL OF MANLINESS
Okay, guys, it's time to take an honest look at yourself. Make sure the shades are down and you have privacy in the house. Stand in front of the mirror in your underwear. Do you like what you see? How does it compare to what you looked like a few years ago, or when you were in your mid 20s? Somewhere in the tornado of stress and obligations, between finishing school and today's hard look in the mirror, your body probably changed. If you're like most guys, tight became loose; hard became soft.
Your body may not only look different but may also perform less impressively as the years go by. Endurance, strength, and power all diminish. The knees, shoulders, and lower back all begin voicing complaints. The kinetic energy you radiated back when you could burn the candle at both ends is increasingly difficult to find. Your engine has stalled. The only thing moving fast and furious may be your hairline.
You've likely changed on the inside, too. Not surprisingly, there's a direct relationship between your appearance and your attitude--how you feel about yourself and your place in the world around you. Are you past your peak or just hitting your stride? Do you have the confident edge of a winner? Are you a strong leader and capable protector of your loved ones? Are you in charge of your life and in control of your destiny?
If you're not at the very top of your game, physically and mentally, you're not alone. Although modern American life is more "comfortable" than it was in generations past, many men are fatter, sicker, more stressed, and less rested than ever before. They're less rugged, less robust, and more likely to have a "muffin-top" spilling over their belts. It doesn't help that we live in a changing social environment in which it's harder than ever to figure out what a man is supposed to be and act like in order to be his best. Men are supposed to be "manly," aren't they? But somewhere along the way, "manliness" went from a virtue to a memory.
You are holding in your hands the key to a revolutionary transformation of your body and mind. Only 70 days from today, you can reclaim the muscular, masculine glory of being the best man you can be. Everything you need you'll find within these pages. The 10-week Challenge that begins on page 126 is the assembly manual for constructing the true Alpha Male--the ideal of masculine excellence.
So much of modern life is a challenge; we face daily struggles of so many kinds. Our use of the term Challenge is both a positive and empowering call to action and a recognition that nothing worthwhile typically occurs without hard work and sacrifice. And so, we challenge you to take control of your life by taking control of your health, your body, and even your thoughts and behaviors.
If you think conventional weight lifting is boring, we agree. That's why few guys stick with it. But we created a program to excite you! If you think "diets" involve bland, tasteless foods, we hear you. But our food plan--the perfect fuel for true Alpha Males--is both nutritious and absolutely mouthwatering! And if you're walking around with the same old attitude as the rest of the empty suits around you, prepare for a shock of inspiration that will change everything! If you accept this Challenge and follow it faithfully with us for the next 10 weeks, we promise you will reach a paradise of rich rewards.
But before we get you there, let's look at how you got where you are now.
NO TIME TO SPARE
Today's society is always on the go, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Many of us work long hours, and our schedules are often irregular and unpredictable. We seem to be working harder than ever even though many guys have less and less confidence in their financial forecasts. A good night's sleep is a rare luxury for many guys.
Long work hours don't leave much time for anything else. Add on social expectations within the dating scene, and not much spare time is left for single guys. For married men, shared household responsibilities dip even further into the pool of disposable minutes. Between 1965 and 1995, men's average weekly housework time doubled--from 4.9 to 10 hours--based on a survey of four national studies published in 2000 by University of Maryland researchers. And for guys with families, like us, the joys of parenting are offset by an ever-lengthening list of responsibilities and seemingly impossible time pressures. Each stage of child rearing carries its own unique demands, from the bottle and diaper days to the endless chauffeur duties of the parents of socially active teens.
Our collective pool of available time sometimes seems to have dried to a puddle. Despite ubiquitous television and newspaper reports urging us to get more exercise, less than half of guys age 35 meet the American College of Sports Medicine's recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days and preferably on all days. More than 70 percent of guys ages 25 to 34 don't do regular resistance training. If there's any spare time at the end of the day there's no energy left to do anything but vegetate in front of the TV or computer screen. The result? A metabolic and psychological vicious cycle that becomes ever more difficult to break out of with each passing year.
FAST TIMES AT STRESSFUL HIGH
The 24-hour television news cycle provides a never-ending stream of stressful visual and auditory information. Danger and risk, real or imagined, seem to be all around us. It's taking a toll on us. A few years ago, researchers led by an associate professor of psychology at Merrimack College studied the effects of 9/11-linked television viewing on dream content, concluding that each additional hour of viewing raised a viewer's stress level by 6 percent.
Meanwhile, it's not uncommon in many professions to be expected to be available at any and all times. Cell phones and PDAs are nagging, insistent companions demanding our constant attention. Business travel has its own menu of pressures and uncertainties, with canceled flights, lost luggage, and missed appointments. Perhaps even more sadly, we seem to have come to think that this is how life should be, and to expect this kind of lifestyle.
Research shows that stress affects our hormones. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and the biological marker for maleness--and manliness--itself. The right amount of it in the womb makes a fetus a boy. A surge of it during adolescence makes a boy a man. For the rest of your life, testosterone has profound effects on both your body and your brain, impacting your performance virtually everywhere--in the gym, on the job, and in the bedroom. We all know that testosterone is essential for building muscles. Higher testosterone levels are associated with more lean muscle. But testosterone also influences psychological factors, including mood, memory, libido, assertiveness, and confidence, and physiological factors, such as cholesterol levels, sperm production, and blood sugar. Healthy testosterone levels are essential to male health, and low testosterone is associated with a number of maladies and decreased quality of life.
In a 2002 article examining stress and hormones, Swedish researchers concluded that repeated exposure to stress can harm a man's testosterone production both in the short term and the long term. The result: depressed spirits and increased fatigue.
GETTING FATTER ...
Many guys feel crushed by the stress and time demands of 21st-century life and start doing away with activities that seem nonessential. Studies show that physical exercise is one of the first things to go. For 2 years, researcher Ethan Hull and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh tracked the habits of 525 physically active subjects. At the start of the study, the childless male subjects averaged almost 8 hours of weekly exercise. Men who remained childless lost only a half hour of physical activity per week over the course of the study. Those who became parents cut back a whopping 41/2 hours per week. Yes, the demands of those adorable little bundles of joy have a powerful reducing effect on our exercise habits. If guys who are hard-core enough to spend almost 8 hours per week exercising cut back by more than half when they become parents, you can only guess what happens to less-active guys.
Make no mistake: Lack of regular exercise is devastating to our health. According to a November 2007 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three American men over age 20 is obese, and approximately 40 percent of men ages 40 to 59 are obese. Since 1999, the percentage of obese men has increased faster than the percentage of obese women. No doubt, lack of exercise and poor diet are major contributing factors, although, as we'll see, there's a hormonal factor as well.
Yes, the American male "couch potato" population is getting fatter, and having way too much body fat is no friend to manliness. With enough flab, the pectorals can take on an alarmingly feminine look. And getting fatter means getting sicker. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Lack of exercise contributes to the prevalence of strokes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blood clots, cognitive decline and dementia, diminished strength and muscle mass, osteoporosis, and depression. Men ages 45 to 64 today are three times more likely to suffer fatal heart attacks than they were 30 years ago. The price for being a couch potato can be very steep indeed, for the potatoes themselves and for those who depend on them. The burning question for women: What kind of shape is your husband in?
TESTOSTERONE: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE MANLY"
Testosterone, for all the good and bad publicity about it, is the hormone that makes males what they are. It not only changes us physically, but affects us psychologically as well and, contrary to much publicity, those changes are pretty much all for the better when it comes to men; they relate to better cognitive function as we age as well as our dominant (not aggressive) attitude. It is the 'take charge and get things done' hormone, and who doesn't need that kind of approach sometimes?"
--Jack Darkes, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of South Florida
GETTING OLDER ...
Even for guys who aren't carrying excess adipose baggage, the simple process of getting older can undermine your virility. Eugene Shippen, MD, a renowned expert on male health and hormones and the coauthor of The Testosterone Syndrome, introduces the problem this way:
Think back to when you were young. If you were like most people, you reached your physical peak in your late teens or early twenties. It was a time of rambunctious energy that resisted every effort to squander it away. Late nights, too much work and too much play, and, for many of us, far too much eating and drinking--all this produced very little in the way of untoward effects. For many twenty-year-olds, burning the candle at both ends is not a danger; it's an art form. Pushing past every reasonable limit, we recharged our cellular batteries as fast as we drained them. How were our organ systems and, indeed, every cell in our bodies able to keep up with the brutal pace? Hormones! We were in hormone heaven.
Ah, hormone heaven. Those were the days. But as the years start to slip away, so do those hormones. According to Mark Gordon, MD, a medical hormone expert, and owner of Millennium Health Centers in Encino, California, male testosterone levels decline at an average rate of 1 to 2 percent a year, starting at around 35 years of age. By the time you hit 40, your testosterone levels can be down by 5 to 10 percent. From the purely hormonal standpoint, you may become less and less "manly" every year.
Research published in 2006 in the International Journal of Clinical Practice suggests that more than one-third of men over 45 may have clinically low testosterone levels, and that the odds of having low testosterone are 2.4 times higher for obese men. So, as our testosterone levels wane with age, our energy, muscle mass, and strength go down, our sex drive peters out, our body fat level rises, our good cholesterol goes down, our bad cholesterol goes up, and we have an increased susceptibility to depression and disease.
Testosterone improves muscle metabolism, which helps your body reduce blood sugar levels. With less sugar in the blood, the body doesn't need to release as much insulin, a storage hormone that moves glucose from the blood and stores it as body fat. Less testosterone means more body fat; conversely, more natural, healthy testosterone means less body fat. In fact, research led by Dr. Jean-Marc Kaufman at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium and published in a 2008 edition of Clinical Endocrinology shows that a man's percentage of body fat and circulating levels of testosterone are partly controlled by the very same set of genes.
Interestingly, not only does testosterone decrease as we age, but estrogen, the primary female hormone, increases as we age. Too much estrogen feminizes a man. Now, it's natural for certain enzymes in your body to convert some of your testosterone into estrogen at any age. However, as you get older, changes in enzyme and trace nutrients lead your body to convert a higher and higher proportion of your testosterone into estrogen. So, you can have a higher proportion of female hormone to male hormone than you did when you were younger. That's the age-related double whammy to your manliness, says Will Brink, health, fitness, and medical writer (www.BrinkZone.com).
So being fat and getting older both adversely affect the hormone responsible for your manliness. And get what else: According to studies published in Social Forces and in Evolution and Human Behavior, testosterone levels decline when you get married, and decline even further when you become a father. Why? "Testosterone is about competition, for dominance, and for mates," suggests Jack Darkes, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. "Married men are no longer 'competing' for mates, and are even less so when they have children." Of course, testosterone isn't the be-all and end-all of manliness. It's just the biochemical marker for it--one physical standard for measuring it. At least as important are the social markers and standards. And that's where things get even more interesting.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD