The primary and vital goal of Men’s Health Week is to spread awareness about the real and preventable problems plaguing men’s health. A staggering 1 in 5 men die prematurely before the age of 65, whilst 67% of all men are obese. Because of this, the theme of this year’s campaign is belly fat. Belly fat affects men disproportionately, increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. If you’re a man who feels a little out of shape, is suffering from stress or just needs a few tips, the following guide will help you on your way to good health.
A great way to combat unhealthy weight gain and keep in good shape is, of course, through exercise. To remain healthy adults should try and be active daily, but don’t be dismayed, this doesn’t mean exhaustive sessions at the gym or 10 mile runs everyday. Rather it means keeping on the move by walking to the shops, taking the stairs and, if your job is sedentary, making sure you stretch your legs by going on a small walk at lunch and taking regular breaks.
Men should total either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week (such as fast walking, cycling or tennis) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week (such as jogging or running, swimming, or hockey). As well as this, men should do two or more days of strength or weight training that works the major muscle groups (shoulders, arms, hips, legs, back, abdomen and chest). For more information on what counts as moderate and vigorous activity as well as how to go about strength training visit the NHS website.
There are many health benefits to regular exercise including decreased stress, which means better mental health, and reduced risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, type 2-diabetes cancer and premature death. If this is your first foray into exercise remember that being out of breath is good, it is not a sign that you are ‘bad’ at exercise but simply means your body is working properly. Ensure that you allow yourself regular rest days from vigorous activity and join a team sport or switch your choice of activity often to keep it interesting.
Bad Habits Die Hard
To improve your health it’s important to recognize bad habits that feed unhealthy cravings or exacerbate stress, replacing them with positive, less harmful alternatives. As the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, one of the more obvious bad habits is smoking. Smokers are more susceptible to strokes, cancers, heart disease and impotence, to name a few. So how to go about quitting? There are a number of methods ranging from hypnotherapy to going cold turkey, but one of the more effective approaches is replacing cigarettes with a nicotine alternative. Public Health England recently did a survey that found E-cigarettes to be 95% less harmful than smoking, whilst the NHS endorses E-cigarettes as a healthier alternative which successfully helps smokers quit. Following quitting, health improvements are rapid. Only two weeks after your last cigarette the risk of heart attack falls, lung capacity improves and your cravings should have all but disappeared.
Binge drinking is another habit that can cause health problems. After a stressful week at work it is understandable that you want to let loose, but binge drinking can lead to serious mental health problems. In the long run there is a higher likelihood of liver disease, liver cancer and dementia. In the short, binge drinkers are at risk from death by accidents and poor sexual health. To avoid binge drinking try alternating between alcoholic and soft beverages on a night out, it’s also worth talking to friends and colleagues about doing alternative activities such as bowling, going to the cinema or cooking dinner together.
To help kick the aforesaid habits, as well as others such as binge eating, it’s necessary to get to the bottom of what triggers them. This could be any number of emotional pressures including stress at work or feelings of isolation. Stress can cause and exacerbate a lot of health problems such as depression, anxiety, digestive problems, and skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Stress is sparked by both internal problems (pessimism, unrealistic expectations or negative thinking) and external problems (major life changes, overworking, or financial problems).
Having identified these problems there are a number of ways to manage them. A great way is reconnecting with your family and friends. Support networks are extremely important to health and happiness so don’t be afraid to give your friend a call to catch up and talk about what’s bothering you. It’s also a good idea to set some time aside for socializing. To avoid stress at work, preparation and organization are good preventatives. Timetable your days so that each task seems manageable and speak to your manager if you’re feeling under pressure. If you have a stressful but deskbound job try going for a walk after work. This will release some of the stress causing chemicals that will have built up in your body throughout the day. The Men’s Health website has more useful tips.
Although taking care of your mental health may seem the most immaterial and least relevant aspect of your health, suicide is the main cause of death for men under the age of 35, whilst four in five of all suicides are male. Your mental and physical health are therefore both as important as each other.
Listen to your Body
Men are a third less likely to visit a doctor than women, this may be because a lot of men view asking for help as a sign of vulnerability or weakness, traits which are not compatible with traditional ideas of masculinity. This means that a significant proportion of men rely on their female partners for support and do not access professional services for their general health concerns. This can be dangerous mentally and physically, as symptoms that go unaddressed often get worse.
Some men may not even realize that they are experiencing symptoms. If you are feeling more tired in the mornings, distancing yourself from your peers, feeling less satisfied with sex, or craving alcohol and food it could mean that you are experiencing depression. In which case you should speak to your doctor and loved ones to discuss how this can be improved.
Testicular cancer is the number one cancer for men aged 15-35. Doctors advise that all men should do a self-examination once a month. Choose a day and set a reminder. If you do feel a swelling or lump go and see your doctor. For more information on how to do self-examinations visit the teenage cancer trust website.
Men are also less likely to attend regular health check-ups than women, but these are fundamental to maintaining health and really help to nip any problems in the bud early on. You should get your eyes tested every two years and attend the dentist every six months. You should be honest with your doctor so that they can give you the best and most accurate health care.
To summarise, Men’s Health Awareness Week is still so important because the idea that “real men don’t need help” persists. Seeking professional help and guidance as well as looking after yourself, are not signs of weakness but part and parcel of being human. There are many ways to keep yourself in good shape including regular exercise, frequent check-ups, and sharing your emotional burdens. To participate in Men’s Health week get the tape measure out and get measuring that belly fat. You can download posters to put in your work place from the website where you’ll also find some great suggestions on how to take part.