Young men tend to ignore their health, so it’s often not until their 40s that the results of unhealthy habits become apparent. Here’s how to empower yourself or the men in your life to stay on top of the game.
As reflected in the latest life expectancy rates, women seem to do a better job of taking care of their health, globally living, on average, six years longer than men. The reason for this?
While individual health risks and issues are a factor, it’s mainly lifestyle choices — what men eat and drink, whether they smoke and how often they exercise — coupled with a tendency not to seek professional health advice, that contribute to men’s lower rate of longevity.
It’s never too late to start making ‘better for you’ choices and develop positive habits that foster a healthy lifestyle. Some may find this daunting at first but, now more than ever, men need to take their health seriously. Consider these simple and effective steps to start on
the journey to good health.
Step 1: work out regularly
Being active helps us stay physically and mentally well — the more we move, the more we benefit. For men, regular physical activity can maintain or improve blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels; prevent unhealthy weight gain; maintain strong muscles and bones; and reduce the risk of developing or help manage type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
If you haven’t been active for a while or have never exercised before, getting started can be the most challenging part. Since any amount of exercise is better than none, start by doing a little every day, then slowly build up to the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days. Include muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days of the week to make it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight — a leaner body with more muscle is more metabolically active, meaning it burns more kilojoules all day long.
Step 2: tweak meals
Sure, it’s nice to enjoy a round (or two) of beers and pizza occasionally, but when it comes to everyday meals, men should opt for a heart-healthy diet rich in nutrients. This can help with the management of blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, and boost overall good health.
Fill up on fibre
Many men still think meat is the ultimate ‘man food’, but fibre — one of the unspoken heroes of good nutrition — is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. And if you think fibre just keeps the bowels regular, think again. Fibre is linked to protection against various diseases, lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It’s also incredibly filling.
Typically, in the West, both men and women are not doing too well with their fibre intake. The latest National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found adults, on average, eat just 20g per day, well short of the suggested dietary target (28g for women and 38g for men) for reducing their risk of chronic disease.
Fibre is found naturally in plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. To meet their daily fibre needs, men should include two serves of fruit, at least five serves of veg and six serves of grain foods, mostly from wholegrain sources like brown rice, wholegrain bread, rolled oats and wholemeal pasta, into their daily meals.
Choose healthy fats
Gone are the days of fearing fat. Consuming heart-healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and extra-virgin olive oil is now recognised as being important for overall good health. Limit saturated or trans fats (in butter and commercially baked, deep-fried and takeaway foods), as well as ultra-processed foods that contain excess amounts of added sugar and salt.
Pack a protein punch
Let’s be honest, men rarely struggle to meet their protein needs. It’s okay to enjoy a regular T-bone or rump steak because they’re rich in zinc, iron and B vitamins. But keep the serve to about the size of your palm — it should take up only a quarter of the space on your dinner plate, leaving one half for high-nutrient vegetables and the remaining quarter for quality, wholegrain carbs like brown rice or wholemeal pasta. Other good-quality sources of protein include lean pork, chicken, fish, beans, eggs, tofu and nuts.
Step 3: prioritise mental health
Men in their 40s tend to ignore their emotional needs, which can lead to an increase in stress and stress-related illness like anxiety and depression. They tend to avoid having a chat with their mates when they’re feeling down, put off going to the GP, and not talk to their partner about how they’re feeling because of the still prevalent notion that ‘being a man’ means being silent and strong!
Mind over matter
There’s no joy in being physically fit but mentally miserable! It’s important to acknowledge when you need support and when to seek out the right mental health counselling for your needs.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good
If you can’t get together physically, chat on the phone or arrange a Zoom call. Just checking in and being there for your mates can make all the difference in terms of providing support.
- Seek support
Going it alone when you’re down increases the risk of depression or anxiety going unrecognised and untreated. If you’re feeling low or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out for help or support.
- Get advice and information
The good news is the spotlight on men’s mental health is bigger than ever. Check out Movember (www.movember.com) or Beyond Blue (www.beyondblue.org.au) for details.
Step 4: chat with your GP
In addition to having a shorter life expectancy, men between the ages of 45 and 54 are twice as likely to develop heart disease and cancer.
As you get older, it’s always a good idea to visit your GP for a regular health check-up to prevent any niggles turning into problems that become more common as you hit your 40s. Screening tests will also depend on your overall health and family history. Refer to the box (see right) and also talk to your GP about the kind of tests you’ll need.
Fit after 40
Physical activity doesn’t have to be structured. Small changes to your daily routine can make a big difference. You could:
- Walk or ride your bike for short trips instead of driving
- Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator
- Park further away from your destination and walk
- Kick a ball around at the local park with your kids
- Work out at home instead of at a gym. Do push-ups, squats and lunges or household tasks that involve lifting or digging.
1 in 8 men will experience depression and one in five will experience anxiety at some stage in their life
What to test, when
Every 2 years…
have a heart disease risk assessment (blood pressure, cholesterol level, waistline) have an eye test
Every 3 years…
have a fasting blood glucose test
Every 5 years…
have your cholesterol and lipids tested
At regular intervals…
have skin cancer checks and dental check-ups
start regular bowel cancer screening (every two years). Talk to your doctor about prostate health.
Article sources and references
- ABS. 2020. Life expectancy continues to increase in Australia. Accessed August 2021https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/life-expectancy-hits-new-high
- Australian Government Department of Health. 2015. Serve sizes. Accessed August 2021https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/recommended-number-serves-adults
- Australian Government Department of Health. 2021. Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians. Accessed August 2021https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2020. Causes of death. Accessed August 2021https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/causes-death/causes-death-australia/latest-release
- Bayram et al. 2016. General practice encounters with men. Australian Family Physician. 45(4): 171–74.https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2016/april/general-practice-encounters-with-men
- Beyond Blue. 2021. Men. Accessed August 2021https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/men