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Growing Up and Growing Old

Men’s health across the life course

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Growing Up and Growing Old

Physicians, philosophers, and researchers have spent millennia trying to figure out how to grow older gracefully, to age successfully, and to be happy and healthy for as long as possible. As early as 44 BCE, Cicero wrote of this in his Discourse of Old Age: “… for a calm contemplative life, or a life well and virtuously spent in the just discharge of one’s immediate duty in any station, will ever be attended with a serenity of mind in old age …”

A more modern philosopher, Dr. Seuss, wrote an entire book about how to be healthy throughout one’s life in You’re Only Old Once (1986). Although his use of the “Dr.” prefix might be questionable and the details of his recommendations somewhat dubious, Dr. Seuss provides some interesting insight into environmental and dietary factors that lead to healthy aging: “In those green-pastured mountains of Fotta-fa-Zee everybody feels fine at a hundred and three ’cause the air that they breath is potassium-free and because they chew nuts from a Tutt-a-Tutt Tree. This gives strength to their teeth, it gives length to their hair, and they live without doctors, with nary a care.”

There is immense complexity inherent in the way in which men’s genes and environment interact, particularly when you look at this dynamic over the course of a lifetime and in the context of various external factors, such as socioeconomic or sociopolitical factors.

Although there is no “fountain of youth,” there are steps that can be taken for men to navigate the life course in the most positive trajectory possible.

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An ounce of prevention

Preventive medicine is becoming an increasingly important feature of the health care system. In contrast to traditional approaches in which severe symptoms present and the disorder is treated, if one can take steps to mitigate the risk of a disorder presenting in the first place (or to catch it early), everybody wins.

At an individual level, the person avoids becoming ill and avoids personal and professional costs associated with that illness. At a population level, the health care system avoids unnecessary burden and the general well-being of the population may be increased.

Even if one takes every preventive measure possible, there will likely be instances in which one may become ill. Being in tune with your body and recognizing when things have changed is an important way to be able to catch and treat things early.

If something doesn’t feel right or something has changed, particularly if it’s having a negative impact on your ability to do your job or is affecting personal relationships, reach out to a physical or mental health professional.

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A pound of implementation

Recommendations for living a long and healthy life are straightforward, but the implementation of those principles is less so. Eating a healthy and balanced diet, taking exercise, avoiding smoking, and drinking in moderation are things that most of us will have heard are good for one’s health.

Fewer of us have an easy time integrating this advice into our lives. Many people get bogged down in having the “perfect diet” or the “perfect exercise regimen.” It’s unclear what exactly these “perfect” protocols are.

What is clear is that doing something is better than doing nothing and that often the best diet and exercise program is the one to which you’ll actually adhere. As well, incrementally improving over time is an excellent way to continue to reap the benefits of diet and exercise.

By taking a proactive approach to health at any age, men can stack the odds in their favour that they’ll enjoy a long and fulfilling life.

Do childhood experiences predict mental health later in life?

The UK National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) recruited 5,362 babies born in March 1946, and researchers have been gathering data about them at regular intervals ever since.

In a study my colleagues and I conducted using NSHD data, we looked at the relationship between the mental distress experienced by study participants in their sixties and seventies and the degree of adversity they experienced in their lives before age 16.

We found that people who had tougher childhoods had poorer mental health some six decades later. We also found that people who had better social support had better mental health and that greater social support could offset some of the negative aspects of their challenging childhoods.

Check up frequently and often

As men grow older, their risk of developing a number of age-related disorders increases, so it’s critically important to ensure that any changes in your health are being monitored and that issues are being addressed as they arise. If you feel unwell, see a medical professional. If you haven’t had a regular checkup for a while, make it a priority to schedule one.

Take charge of your health

Take a proactive approach and keep yourself accountable for your own health. Watching for changes in your physical and mental health is a critical step in being able to promptly identify and address symptoms or disease.

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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD