Many of us take our health for granted. But if we really want to be honest, we should just come out and say it: men are notorious for ignoring or not being proactive about their health.
Instead of making an annual health appointment with a trusted healthcare provider, men tend to hang back—and worry. In particular, men might say, “If it isn’t broken, why fix it.” Yet they’ll diligently check the tire pressure on their car while failing to check their own blood pressure.
Reluctance about health and illness prevention is part of the reason behind the creation of National Men’s Health Month (June) . Men often need a series of subtle and not-so-subtle reminders—along with some well-timed encouragement—to think about and prioritize their health. That’s what Men’s Health Month is really all about.
Unfortunately, due to the media, people often think of men’s health just in terms of men’s sexual health, with issues like erectile dysfunction and prostate problems topping the list of concerns. In truth, men’s health is so much more than that. Prior to the age of 60, men are more likely to develop hypertension and stroke than women. Heart attacks are twice as likely in men (regardless of cholesterol levels), and men are more than 3 times as likely to commit suicide.
That’s why a good place for all men to start is with a routine annual health checkup. This gives men and their trusted healthcare providers a chance to touch base and keep tabs on important health-related issues such as weight, blood pressure, exercise tolerance, and cholesterol levels. Illness prevention is like checking the air in your tires; it’s safer to be proactive AND it saves money!
Countless advertising dollars are spent on promoting treatments for erectile dysfunction. Yet we aren’t reaching out successfully to catch heart disease, the leading killer of American men, particularly men who smoke.
Keeping your heart strong and healthy should be a top priority for all of us, particularly men. Yes, it requires weekly exercise and some strength training—but not as much as you’d think. Just thirty minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week coupled with two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities (weight lifting or yoga, for example) is great for both your physical and mental health.
Weight and diet are essential to men’s health and illness prevention. Know your waist size? Most men with a waist size of 40 or more are at higher risk for problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Your healthcare provider will be thrilled to work with you on developing a diet and creative exercise plan that’s safe and effective.
When it comes to cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, we know that smoking—including exposure to second hand tobacco smoke—is disastrous for your health, doubling the risk for heart attack and stroke. So is excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.
Fortunately, your healthcare provider can help you develop a plan to quit or cut down on your use of unhealthy substances with treatments and strategies including medication, therapy, self-help, or (most effectively) a combination of the three.
Ultimately, we’re all at some risk for the same diseases regardless of gender: heart disease, stroke, cancer, depression, etc. That said, concerns specific to men such as prostate health should be discussed with a provider who can outline the timing, options, and the pros and cons of screenings and treatment.
And last, men are less likely to discuss their emotional health than women. Yet more than 6 million American men suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts each year. In spite of advances in our understanding and treatment of clinical depression, suicide is one of the top nine causes of death among men.
Healthcare professionals now accept the fact that emotional health and physical health are equally important. We know that intense emotional stressors are linked to flare ups of numerous conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and chronic low back pain.
Most providers now understand the need and value in treating physical and emotional health with equal care and concern. A first step is learning how to talk about health and emotions in the same way men and boys talk readily about maintaining their favorite machines.
Please allow the opportunity and initiative of National Men’s Health Month to help the men in your lives get on board with regular checkups, open discussions with their health team, and healthier lifestyle choices.