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Boys to Men

Strategies for a lifetime of health

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Boys to Men

Is it hard to get the men in your life to go to the doctor? Our men’s health strategies provide advice for a man throughout his life.

Is it hard to get the men in your life to go to the doctor? Studies have shown that men access health services far less than women do, to the detriment of their health.

Men and women alike are enjoying longer lives than in years past. For every stage of the male lifespan, there are concrete strategies that men can implement to help make their extended lifetimes that much healthier and more enjoyable. Encourage the males in your life to read this article—the information it contains may prolong their lives.

Toddlers to teens

In the early years before puberty, helping boys to establish appropriate patterns of eating, self-care, and exercise will provide them with a solid foundation for a lifetime of good health.

Diet alert
The typical Canadian diet with its abundance of saturated fats, refined foods, and absence of vegetables has been linked to countless chronic illnesses.

Action plan:

  • Skip the drive-through, and expose your boys to diverse whole foods, while involving them in food preparation at home.
  • Keep highly sweetened snacks, drinks, and cereals out of the house completely to avoid temptation.
  • When buying convenience foods, select those with the highest fibre and protein content and the lowest levels of sugars, sodium, and saturated fats (avoid trans fats).

Food allergies
Skin, respiratory, and digestive problems can all be worsened by reactions to food. Even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generally more common in boys, has been shown to improve when gluten and casein are removed from the diet.

Action plan:

  • Consult a naturopathic doctor if food sensitivities and allergies are suspected.
  • Supplement with an EPA-containing fish oil and vitamin/mineral combination; these may improve ADHD symptoms.
  • Take a daily probiotic to improve immune function and to help ward off the side effects of antibiotic use.

Sex ed
In the years before puberty, boys may have many questions and misconceptions about their sexual development.

Action plan:

  • Encourage an open dialogue about sexual development.
  • Access supportive online educational resources for both parents and boys. Check out websites such as sexualityandu.ca to provide older teens with reliable, accurate information about sexually transmitted infections, sexual identity, and birth control.

20-somethings

Young men in this age range are challenged to maintain their own health care priorities as they leave home to pursue academic and career goals. While questionable dietary habits may keep parents up at night, other concerns present greater risks in this age group.

Testicular cancer
This disease strikes young men primarily between the ages of 15 to 49. Legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong was just 25 when his stage 3 cancer was diagnosed.

Action plan:
Undertake preventive strategies, including performing regular testicular self-exams (see sidebar, page 24), reducing alcohol use, and increasing fruit and vegetable intake.

Injuries
These surpass cancer and other illnesses as the leading cause of death in men ages 15 to 34. Every year lives are prematurely lost to traffic collisions, industrial accidents, and falls.

Action plan:

  • Drink alcohol responsibly.
  • Use safety equipment such as helmets, seatbelts, and harnesses to prevent injury and loss of life.

Mental health
Major depressive disorder, a contributor to the high suicide rate in this age group, is most commonly found in men during their early twenties and thirties.

Symptoms of depression in men may go unrecognized, as many experience anger and irritability rather than the sadness and hopelessness that is associated with this condition.

Action plan:

  • Speak to a counsellor when life’s problems seem overwhelming.
  • Take antidepressant supplements such as an EPA-rich fish oil and St. John’s wort (discuss potential interactions of St. John’s wort with your health care practitioner).

30-somethings

The thirties are a time of diverse activity. Career aspirations may be the focus of this decade, but thoughts about starting or caring for a family are also at the forefront, leading to possible concerns about fertility.

Fertility
Lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol have both been shown to decrease the quality and motility of sperm. Obesity can also compromise fertility. 

Action plan:

  • Take antioxidants such as zinc, carnitine, and selenium to improve sperm quality and motility.
  • Combine supplementation with weight loss, smoking cessation, and reduced alcohol intake.
  • Start regular screening tests for cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and diabetes to ensure that a healthy future is not left to chance.

40-somethings

Entering the forties can be traumatic for some. It’s the time when over-the-hill jokes run rampant, and psychological stresses from transitions in marriage, careers, and finances may be significant.

Stress
Stress can contribute to other health conditions such as heart disease. Learning to manage stress is a vitally important skill for finding peace of mind in the present and for preventing disease later in life.

Action plan:

  • Seek one-on-one counselling during any time of transition.
  • Use simple yet effective tools to manage stress daily, such as journalling, meditating, and deep breathing.
  • Exercise to keep stress levels in check.

Andropause
Male andropause, the natural decrease in testosterone levels over the lifespan, can cause changes in sexual function. Its symptoms may include sweating and hot flashes, fatigue, poor concentration and memory, disturbed sleep, depression, as well as decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.

Action plan:

  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and calcium.
  • Restrict alcohol consumption.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Consult your health care practitioner for additional support.

Disease prevention
Exercise has countless spin-off benefits for overall health and may even play a role in the prevention of some cancers. Exercise can reduce the pain of prostatitis (prostate inflammation), which most commonly occurs in men under 50.

Action plan:

  • Be active for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week, choosing enjoyable and varied activities.
  • Engage in sports activities with a friend or a group to help keep fitness goals on track.

Overweight
Men are more likely than women to be overweight, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Healthy, sustainable weight loss can be achieved by combining a regular exercise regime with a balanced, varied whole foods diet.

Action plan:

  • Consume 0.8 g of protein for every 1 kg of body weight and 30 to 40 g of fibre daily.
  • Add vegetables rather than grains to the plate to help reduce intake of high glycemic foods.
  • Strive to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less.

50-somethings

As men pass through their fifties, preventive health strategies may require more attention. Given that the incidence of most chronic illnesses increases with age, health care practitioners may suggest testing for certain conditions even if no symptoms are apparent.

Prostate cancer
Overall more men than women die annually from cancer. Prostate cancer is responsible for 27 percent of new cancers in men every year. Prostate health should be discussed at age 50, if this conversation hasn’t already taken place in the forties. Blood tests, physical exams, and ultrasounds can assess prostate health.

Colon cancer
Screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50. A noninvasive fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is done every one to two years to look for hidden sources of bleeding and may be followed by a colonoscopy or other tests if deemed necessary.

While the cure for cancer still eludes researchers, following healthy lifestyle choices will lower the risk for many cancers.

Action plan:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, cut back on red meat, and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
  • Lose weight and quit smoking to support cancer prevention.
  • Consume green tea and turmeric; these may help to prevent numerous cancers.

A recent study of men’s health in northern BC found that men may avoid complaining about pain, choosing the “grin and bear it” approach instead. One of the most health-preserving steps that men can take is to go to the doctor rather than putting it off. Ongoing symptoms such as weight loss, night sweats, pain, and fatigue can all be signs of serious illness and deserve to be properly evaluated.

Seniors: the golden sixties

The sixties are often the decade of retirement, one of the most significant changes in the life of any working person. Social activities follow new patterns as daily activities shift away from the workplace.

Sexual function
Physical changes are abundant as well, with perhaps the most disturbing being a possible change in sexual function. Erectile difficulties often result from disturbed blood flow to the penis and may be a sign of diabetes, hardening of the arteries, or high blood pressure. Rather than going for a quick fix in a pill, having a whole body examination may identify more generalized problems needing attention.

Action plan:

  • Don’t hesitate to discuss sexual problems with your health care practitioner—he or she has heard them all before.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil to decrease blood pressure.
  • Follow a low glycemic diet if diabetes is a concern.
  • Consume whole fibres such as oats and barley to maintain and/or lower cholesterol levels.
  • Take the B vitamin niacin to reduce the so-called bad (LDL) cholesterol. (Consult your health care practitioner for further information).
  • Lose weight if required, and continue to exercise daily.

Testicular self-exam

It is best to do this exam after a hot bath or shower when the skin of the scrotum
is relaxed. 

  • Gently roll testicles between the fingers. They should feel smooth, firm, and oval in shape. Become familiar with what is normal for your body.
  • The rope-like structure at the top and back of each testicle is the epididymis and should not be confused with an abnormality.
  • Lumps (possibly resembling a grain of rice or a pea) or swelling should be reported to your health care practitioner without delay.

Seventies and beyond

As men continue to live longer and healthier lives, the years after 70 have come to represent a significant portion of the lifespan. Continuing the healthy habits of the previous decades such as staying active, eating well, and taking a preventive approach to health care may ensure many more healthy years of life.

Strength and mobility
Decreases in physical activity as a result of pain conditions, depression, or changes to daily routines can lead to loss of muscle and bone mass, decreased flexibility, and poorer cardiovascular health. Continuing to prioritize movement and exercise will help to maintain independence and reduce the risk of falls.

Action plan:

  • Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Maintain a high intake of protein, and take 1,200 mg calcium and 800 IU vitamin D daily to help preserve muscle and bone mass.
  • Maintain good oral health for ease of eating to help meet nutritional requirements.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
This enlargement of the prostate affects up to 80 percent of men over the age of 80. While not cancerous, symptoms can be disturbing and include frequent urination, difficulty starting urinary stream, weak stream, dribbling after urination, and a feeling of incomplete voiding. If BPH has been diagnosed, botanical treatments may help to alleviate its symptoms.

Action plan:

  • Discuss these symptoms with a health care practitioner as they could also be linked to prostate cancer or a treatable infection of the urinary tract or prostate.
  • Ask your health care practitioner about saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and pygeum (Pygeum africanum). Both have demonstrated some effectiveness in reducing the symptoms of BPH and can often be found in combination products for prostate health.
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