Living a healthy lifestyle presents challenges for everyone, but what are men, in particular, up against when it comes to being well? Stereotypes aside, let’s look at what we know about men’s health during Men’s Health Week 2020.
In January 2012 a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/17/u-s-obesity-rates-remain-stubbornly-high/), showed a disturbing trend for American males. “In the 1999-2000 survey, more women than men were obese, but by 2009-10, the rate of obesity was almost identical among the sexes. In 2010, 35.5% of men were obese, up from 27.5% in 2000. About 35.7% of women were also obese in 2010, roughly the same rate as in 2000. The rate of increase is startling, doubling in only twenty-five years.
What do obese men stand to lose? Plenty. In addition to greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, they also face the possibility of a lower sperm count, lower testosterone levels and those surveyed in some research reported lower ratings for sexual quality of life. Overweight and obese men, like women, face prejudice and discrimination socially and in the workplace.
One of those challenges is stress. As men experience more stress, and get older, their already decreasing testosterone levels are exacerbated by rising cortisol (stress hormone) levels. This seems to increase body fat, especially in the midsection, and decrease muscle mass. Stress management is one key, along with increased activity, including strength training, and healthier eating (better nutrition and portion control) to attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Men need the support of partners, families, employers and each other to succeed at being healthy. It’s so much easier to take the time to workout, to practice some form of relaxation practice, etc., when those who care about you can convey a sense of permission for self-care. Men are also three times more likely to carry out a suicide to a deadly end than women.
Despite all of these facts, the problem remains. Fear just isn’t enough to get the motivational job done. The few magazines that focus on men’s health also push unrealistic images of six-pack abs that probably discourage as much as they motivate. Relatively few programs exist for healthy weight loss that focus on men and their unique challenges.
The strategy of increasing movement throughout the workday and at home also pays off. Instead of sitting in the bleachers, walk constantly around the field during your kid’s sporting event. Get involved in “silent sports” like biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, paddling, etc. and leave the “noisy toys” at home.
Not all stress can be exercised away. Men need to process what’s going on for them, yet only 1 in 4 men (in a British study https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/only-one-four-men-feel-able-talk-friends-and-family-when-feeling-stressed) feel able to talk with friends and family when feeling stressed. The bottom line is that men need more societal permission to attend to their own mental/emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
Encourage your male friends to get in for their medical check ups and “know their numbers”, like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. Help each other out. As comedian Red-Green says “We’re all in this together!”
BONUS RESOURCE: https://twitter.com/Zer0Suicide