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Improving Men's Health

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Improving Men's Health

Many men avoid seeing their health care practitioner. It's time to take control of your health!

Perhaps, like me, you’ve always been a seasoned health care avoider. I went years without making a doctor’s appointment. I thought, “If I’m not sick, why strain the system?” Isn’t that the manly approach to health care?

As I entered my 60s, I was in reasonable shape from teaching fitness and being active, although as Leonard Cohen said, “I ache in the places where I used to play.”

That’s when my doctor said, “I want to see you once every six months at least, Mike. I can’t have you running around taking your health for granted anymore. You’re too old for that.” I was open to his criticism. Turns out I was in good company.

Self-neglect

Studies on the relationship between men and medicine show that men have been neglecting their health to their peril. A 2013 study followed 567 men for two years. Of those who had out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 53 percent had symptoms prior to the crises. Of the men who reported symptoms,

  • 56 percent had chest pain
  • 13 percent had shortness of breath
  • 4 percent had dizziness, fainting, or palpitations

The men surveyed experienced almost 80 percent of the symptoms between four weeks and one hour before the sudden cardiac arrest.

Shame and guilt

Men may feel shame and guilt about their health, especially when some avuncular advice from the doctor is not what they want to hear. (“You need to lose a little weight,” or “I would like you to cut back on your drinking, smoking,” et cetera.) Men may not want to give up on some aspects of the current lifestyle they enjoy, such as pulled pork and chicken skin. The shame and guilt they experience can motivate them to improve their behaviours, make them deny they have a problem, or reject the medical system altogether. (Interestingly, a study concluded that women experience more guilt and shame during visits to the doctor than men do.)

Men may be afraid that something may actually be discovered during a checkup, which means explaining the findings to friends and family.

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care released updated guidelines on prostate cancer screening in October 2014. With the Task Force stating that prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests don’t reduce mortality from prostate cancer, and groups like Prostate Cancer Canada saying that PSA tests do reduce prostate cancer deaths, no wonder men are confused.

A sensible strategy

Knowing men’s reluctance to take proper care of their health, the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation worked out a sensible strategy to help men live healthier lives. They offer answers to the shame by inspiring men to take an active interest in their health (see below).

If you’re a man and interested in making a few healthy tweaks to your lifestyle, follow these easy tips.

Exercise

It has been said that “sitting is the new smoking.” The prevailing message is to roll off the couch and get busy. It doesn’t have to be much. Recent studies show that as little as 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise six times a week will get you in better shape. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use the stairs.
  • Hold walking meetings at work.
  • Join a walking or hiking club.
  • Take an exercise class.

Some of the benefits of exercise include

  • weight loss
  • reduced LDL (“bad”) and elevated HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • protection from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
  • reduced risk of some cancers
  • protection from osteoporosis
  • decreased symptoms of mild to moderate depression
  • enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence
  • dementia prevention
  • pain management

Nutrition

Men, we should cut down on eating mainly processed food—opting instead for fresh whole foods that have more fibre, such as fruits and veggies. Making manly meals involves getting into the kitchen and controlling the ingredients we cook with. For example, trim the fat, limit the salt, and have kale with everything. Be creative. Make burgers with health-giving wild salmon.

Bonding

Many people think there’s something in the Y chromosome that causes men to be socially isolated, rugged individualists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Men willingly engage in groups—even if there are no women in them. A funny thing happens with men in groups: they tell secrets.

My male friends often get together for exciting games of broomball. Afterward, we start telling each other about our health concerns.

“My birthday is coming up,” says one. “That means another checkup. I always schedule my checkups on my birthday. That way I might not forget.”

Lights out!

Television screens emit blue light. During the daytime, blue light is crucial for keeping us alert to get stuff done, but it can be disastrous at night when our biological clocks say we should sleep. In the dark, the pineal gland produces melatonin that signals we should sleep. In the presence of blue light blasting out of our computer screens, melatonin is suppressed. This means deep sleep is also suppressed.

Suppressed melatonin in the evening has been linked to a variety of health problems including metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cancer, as well as mental disorders such as depression.

A doctor comes to one of my fitness classes. She tells me it’s important to get men to take small steps toward health, and that includes learning how to take proper care of their health. She says, “[Men] can get information, and information is power.”

Get in the know

Learn more about men’s health from these organizations, and increase your power:

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