In the last 100 years, life expectancy for men has increased nearly two-fold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1900, men lived until about age 46. By 2014, that age jumped to 76. There’s no question that men are redefining what it means to be 50, 60, and 70 years old or older.

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate rest all help maintain energy and vitality in men over 50. But men are also turning to one of the most advanced aging solutions available. Over the last decade, testosterone use among middle-aged and senior men has become popular.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the development of male external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics. It’s produced by the testicles. Testosterone is important for maintaining:

  • muscle bulk
  • bone density
  • red blood cells
  • sexual and reproductive function

Testosterone also contributes to vitality and well-being.

As men age, their bodies gradually produce less testosterone. This natural decline starts around age 30 and continues throughout the rest of a man’s life. According to Harvard Medical School, doctors still aren’t sure about the significance of this decline.

Some men have a testosterone deficiency called male hypogonadism. This is a condition in which the body doesn't produce enough testosterone. It may be caused by problems in the:

  • testicles
  • hypothalamus
  • pituitary gland

Men at risk for this condition include those who have had an injury to the testicles or have HIV/AIDS. If you’ve gone through chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or had undescended testicles as an infant you are also considered at risk for hypogonadism.

Symptoms of male hypogonadism in adulthood include:

Doctors can determine if you have male hypogonadism through physical exams and blood tests. If your doctor detects low testosterone they may perform additional tests to determine the cause.

Treatment typically includes testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in the form of:

  • injections
  • patches
  • gels

Many men experience changes as they age similar to the symptoms of hypogonadism. But their symptoms may not be related to any disease or injury. Some are considered a normal part of aging, such as:

  • changes in sleep patterns and sexual function
  • increased body fat
  • reduced muscle
  • decreased motivation or self-confidence

The Mayo Clinic reports that TRT can help men with hypogonadism. The results are not as clear with men who have normal levels of testosterone or older men with decreasing testosterone levels. More rigorous studies are needed, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Studies are mixed on whether TRT is beneficial for normal men as they age. Some research has brought up serious risks with the therapy, particularly when taken long term. This has led doctors to be cautious about recommending it.

A large meta-analysis of 51 studies published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at the safety of TRT. The report concluded that safety analysis of TRT is of low quality and fails to inform the public about potential long-term effects.

The Mayo Clinic cautions that TRT also may:

  • contribute to sleep apnea
  • cause acne or other skin reactions
  • limit sperm production
  • cause testicle shrinkage
  • enlarge the breasts
  • increase the risk of heart disease

There are also risks involved in having low testosterone levels, such as:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • hip fracture

If you have male hypogonadism or low testosterone, talk with your doctor about whether TRT may be a good option for you. Discuss the risks and benefits of TRT.

There is a treatment is known as testosterone therapy that’s a popular choice for increasing levels of testosterone. This type of therapy reportedly helps to:

  • boost energy levels
  • increase muscle mass
  • restore sexual function

However, there isn’t enough information to determine the safety of regular testosterone supplementation. For example, one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that testosterone combined with Viagra in otherwise healthy men worked no better in improving erectile dysfunction than a placebo combined with Viagra.

Scientists caution men and doctors about using testosterone therapy. They’re also undecided if this therapy is the best way to counteract a natural decline in testosterone.

Maybe you don’t have hypogonadism, but you’re interested in feeling more energetic and youthful. The following alternative methods may help increase your testosterone level without the use of hormone therapy.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight men are more likely to have low testosterone levels. Losing weight can bring testosterone back up.
  • Exercise regularly. Sedentary men tend to have reduced levels of testosterone, as the body doesn’t need as much. Weightlifting can stimulate testosterone production. The key is regularly moving your body and using your muscles.
  • Sleep 7 to 8 hours every night. Lack of sleep affects the hormones in your body.
  • Try vitamin D supplements. A 2011 study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research indicated that supplementing with about 3,300 IUs of vitamin D per day increased testosterone levels.
  • Get more zinc. Zinc deficiency in men has been associated with hypogonadism.
  • Eat more nuts and beans. They're rich in D-aspartic acid, which promotes the production of testosterone, according to research published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. Try adding these foods to your diet:
    • almonds
    • eggs
    • lentils
    • Enjoy your morning coffee. There is some evidence that caffeine may increase testosterone levels.

One way to increase your testosterone levels is through TRT. It’s especially effective if you have hypogonadism. Studies have not yet demonstrated the effectiveness of TRT in helping men with normal levels of testosterone or older men with decreasing testosterone levels due to aging.

Men who take TRT usually experience increased energy, a higher sex drive, and overall well-being. But its long-term safety hasn’t been established.

There are a variety of lifestyle treatments involving exercise, diet, and sleep that have been shown to increase testosterone levels. Talk to your doctor about what may be best for you.