Strategies for a lifetime of health
Gillian Flower, ND
Is it hard to get the men in your life to go to the doctor? Our mens 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.
The typical Canadian diet with its abundance of saturated fats, refined foods, and absence of vegetables has been linked to countless chronic illnesses.
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.
In the years before puberty, boys may have many questions and misconceptions about their sexual development.
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.
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.
Undertake preventive strategies, including performing regular testicular self-exams (see sidebar, page 24), reducing alcohol use, and increasing fruit and vegetable intake.
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.
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.
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.
Lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol have both been shown to decrease the quality and motility of sperm. Obesity can also compromise fertility.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is best to do this exam after a hot bath or shower when the skin of the scrotum
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.
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.