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Once, reaching middle age was an excuse for men to finally acquiesce to a more relaxed, better-upholstered existence (or an excuse to buy a sports car). Increasingly, though, it is something to be resisted, delayed as long as possible, a problem to be tackled. The International Spa Association reports a surge in male interest in spas – men now make up 47 per cent of spa visits in the US – and, in Portugal’s Monchique mountains, the Longevity Wellness Resort is targeting middle age with a newly launched “male midlife rebalance” programme.
I check in for the five-day course with some suspicion and not a little smugness. A commitment to endurance sport means that as I approach my 40th year, my waist size is the same as it was 20 years ago. What can these white-coated doctors teach me that decades of long-distance cycling have not? I will enjoy these sumptuous facilities, I resolve, in my usual holiday fashion – sleeping, reading and drinking to excess – and let their “midlife rebalancing” mantra wash past me.
After the initial biophysical assessment – two hours of measuring, injecting and scanning – Manuela Figini, the lead doctor, reports with good news and bad. My fitness is admirable – she has calculated that my metabolic age is just 32! I prepare for an instant discharge and letter of congratulation. Neither is forthcoming. My flexibility, apparently, is appalling. My body fat is unevenly distributed. My right arm is 1.5 per cent fatter than my left.
It is only the start of the forensic detail. Each morning before breakfast, every man on the course must report for blood tests. Concerned at my levels of stress and complaints of intermittent insomnia, Dr Figini instigates a full brain screen. She will examine neurotransmitters, profile hormones, scrutinise thyroid function. The possible reward is a tantalising one: a palliative for middle-aged weariness, the supercharging of a deadbeat mind, the transformation into someone capable of juggling many complex tasks rather than procrastinating about a dismal few. That the price is the twice-daily collection of urine and stool samples is disagreeable yet unavoidable.
The spa itself is a stark yet luxurious delight: two large pools, a sauna and Turkish baths. There are footpaths to follow through the forested hills all around, big sofas and flatscreen televisions in each suite for when legs grow weary.
There is also delightful food to go with the views from the terrace restaurant. Regrettably, you are allowed very little of it. Lunch of smoked tofu with rocket salad, broccoli florets and soy sprouts sounds delicious. It is delicious, all four mouthfuls of it.
It does not help that each plate is delivered under a silver dome the size of St Paul’s – no matter how good the food, the crushing anticlimax that follows the waiter’s dramatic removal of the lid is hard to bear.
One morning, in a treatment suite off one of the cool, tiled corridors, I am given intravenous nutrient therapy, on another, ozone therapy to boost the immune system, destroy free radicals and batter latent viruses. Each afternoon a personal trainer takes me into the woods for an al fresco workout before an osteopath straightens out the kinks back at the spa. One evening, a package is left on the bed: a mysterious pot of pills labelled 5-HTP, with the instruction to take one each night before sleep.
Four days in, massaged daily, now blasé about needles and plasma bags, I am certainly unwound. I find myself moving more slowly through the verdant grounds, although whether this is the years falling away or an immense lassitude brought about by a lack of carbohydrates is hard to say.
The low point is being reduced to filching oranges from a fruit bowl in the lobby. The high point is the miraculously long and deep sleep each night brings. Increasingly, Dr Figini’s 5-HTP is taking on the qualities of Aldous Huxley’s soma, an elixir of wellbeing and restfulness.
On the final morning comes another assessment. The hunger pangs have paid off: I have lost half a kilogramme. More excitingly, my metabolic age has fallen still further, to a frankly unrealistic 29. If Dorian Gray had only discovered quinoa and miso broth, he could have saved himself so much Gothic torment.
It is far from the end. A few weeks after returning home, I receive the full results of the various tests, in 30 pages of remarkable detail. It is the most comprehensive medical appraisal I have ever seen, and several serious deficiencies have been uncovered. Each day, says the report, I must take eight different pills to remedy the shortfalls.
For a man who considers himself in admirable physical shape, it is something of a shock. Some of the recommended medications are familiar (cod liver oil, vitamin D3); others – tribulus terrestris, DHEA – are not. There are so many that I have to purchase a multicompartment pillbox to keep them all in order.
Has it made a difference? Have the five days spawned a lifestyle? First, the food. While quinoa is now a permanent if underused presence in the kitchen cupboards, portion sizes returned almost immediately to normal. Stilton enjoyed a sizeable comeback but potatoes make fewer appearances at evening meals.
And the pills? I’m sleeping better. I feel less stressed, except on the occasions when I can’t remember which pill I’m supposed to take. Come back to me in six months. In the meantime, buy shares in 5-HTP.
The writer was a guest of the Healthy Holiday Company (www.thehealthyholiday company.com). Its four-night Male Mid-Life Rebalance costs from £2,055, including transfers and flights from London