As a man over fifty whose life experiences have proven that a sensible diet and exercise can go a long way to coping with life’s challenges and providing a springboard to happiness, I’ve become passionate about finding the source of motivation for healthy behavior. See, I believe that the secret to our health is found far upstream from the gym memberships, diet fads and pills that purport to be the magic bullet to a man’s health. What I found is that no diet, fitness center, or pill will be effective in the long run without powerful and sustained motivation. If a man doesn’t have a firm grip on his personal “why” for positive behavior, he will fail. In my book Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50, I offer a new approach to health and fitness by arguing that the anchor for any successful diet and exercise regimen is found in our social relationships. And while I’ve suggested that this is especially true in men over fifty, my findings are just as applicable to men of all ages.
Finding My Motivation
In my case, healthy behavior became the antidote that got me through two divorces, 10-years as a single dad and a tough career in the public fishbowl. Today, two great sons, a grandson and a gorgeous wife bless my life. When my boys were growing up and living with me, I wanted to make sure I was always there for them. They supplied the daily incentive to live healthy. By the time they’d gone off to college and lives of their own, my daily rituals had been so ingrained and enjoyable that I just continued my routine. I’m sure there are many dads who understand what I mean.
By my mid 50’s when I found myself on the executive team of a major health care system, I realized the significant influence our own behavior has on our health and, in the case of men over 50, just how badly we drop the ball. Understanding first-hand just how much a healthy lifestyle had meant in my life, I embarked on a mission to find the source of motivation in other healthy-behaving men over fifty. I wanted to know if there were common attributes and practices among men over 50 who lived healthy that formed a model that could reverse the horrible track record that men of all ages could adopt. Yes, what started as a coping mechanism for an ambitious twenty-something kid grew into a devotion that drives this sixty-something man to share my experience, promote socially-based motivation models and advocate for a new culture of men’s health.
The Failure of Our Current Model
There are 50 million men age 50 and over in the US, most have a lot to live for, relationships, graduations, grandchildren, hobbies, travel, perhaps a second or third career. Yet, despite circumstances that should create plenty of inspiration for healthy behavior, men over 50 fail miserably.
In general, men are less healthy than women are and have a shorter life expectancy. Twice as many men as women die each year from heart attacks and the rates of other major diseases such as stroke, diabetes, and chronic lung disease are all higher in men. Finally, men visit their doctor for preventative care half as often as women do and all these differences become more acute as men pass the 50-year mark.
Worse, while most men think of themselves as in good, very good, or even excellent health, less than 3% of Americans (men and women) live healthy. Who are we kidding?
All this despite the fact that the bookstores are filled with books on diet and exercise, infomercials for the latest equipment dominate the airwaves, gym memberships are constantly in our faces, and it seems like every day there’s another supplement that will make men feel like they’re teenagers. What’s wrong with this picture?
My Search for a New Model
So, what’s a man supposed to do? I went to the ultimate experts, men who are 50 and over that buck the trends by leading a healthy lifestyle. I surveyed 1,000 nationwide and personally conducted 30 interviews. Their answers reveal some of the key strategies and tactics that these healthy guys use to maintain their healthy lifestyle. Irrespective of the circumstances that triggered their commitment to healthy living, they all agree that their social and emotional relationships, those that are of most important in their lives, provide the drive to sustain positive behavior.
By “connecting the dots” between their life’s priorities and their behavior, I mean really understanding how one’s health is fundamental to being there for the people they love and enjoying the precious moments life provides, the men I studied offered hope and a new pathway for men to follow. Here’s what they had to say:
- Men’s priorities play a major role in providing motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. More than half of men consider their priorities as very motivating and think about them at least once a week.
- Spending time with their wives and/or significant others is their number one life priority. Traveling is a distant second, along with spending time with their children and hobbies.
There it is. The healthy-behaving men have their priorities top-of-mind and keep them there. On average, the men I surveyed had maintained their behaviors for an average of eleven years! No short-timers here.
Healthy Behavior Tips from the 50+ Men
The men I researched provide a clear pathway to a healthy lifestyle that can be summarized in three basic steps anchored by their social and emotional relationships and incorporating positive behaviors.
- Assess & Evaluate
Take a close look at your priorities in life and consider, really consider what’s ahead, what you want in life and the fulfillment you seek. Whether it’s quality time with your spouse, travel, grandchildren or a second career, clarify your aspirations in the most specific and detailed terms possible. Its all about knowing where you want to be.
- Design Your Personal Lifestyle Architecture
With your goals established you can identify your social agenda, milestones and health behaviors that will provide the continuous motivation and health enabling you to sustain the behaviors over the long haul.
Now that you know where you want to go and how you’re going to get there it’s time to carry out the plan on a day-to-day basis. The key is to use routines, habits and rituals as guardrails to keep you in track. Here are some of the tips I offer in Crack The Code:
- Talk to your doctor about your life’s priorities. Of the men who discussed their personal priories with their physicians, most said it worked well or very well.
- Develop partnerships. More than half of men developed partnerships. Almost all stated that this is somewhat helpful for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and many combine their social and fitness agendas by walking with their wives, competing in races with their children or grandchildren and sharing healthy means with buddies that also aspire to live healthy.
- Build an inventory of healthy habits and rituals. Among the men with healthy habits and rituals, top routines included meal planning, maintaining the same schedule for exercise or hobbies, and building exercise and physical activity into vacations and business trips.
- Focus on your diet. Most men engage in some type of dietary measure: avoiding certain food groups (like junk food), and controlling portions were the two leading actions.
Happiness and Healthiness
If this isn’t enough to convince you of the power of social motivation, let me share one final reference. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. For over 75 years, researchers have tracked the lives of 724 men and examined the factors that influence their health. According to its Director, Dr. Robert Waldinger, “the clearest message that we get from this study is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier” and that “social connections are really good for us.”
The Model: Social Motivation
So, whether it’s my experience as a single dad raising two boys, the opinions of 1,000 plus healthy behaving men over 50, or a 75-year study of men’s health, the messages are the same. Social motivation is key to keeping men committed to their health. The bottom line, health behavior is a means to the end. The end game, the motivation, is our social relationships. Looked at from the highest of levels, our health is a means to the end game and that end game is where we find the drive and persistence to sustain our behaviors. So, this Spring, before you sign that gym membership, buy your running shoes or embark on a new diet, consider your life’s priorities and how being healthy goes a long way to a happy and fulfilling life.
LOUIS BEZICH, author of Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50, is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances with Cooper University Heath Care. As a passionate men’s health advocate, he uses his devotion to health and fitness to motivate men over 50 to establish their own healthy lifestyles.