How to Man-tain your Health

We’re currently celebrating Men’s Health Week from June 14 to 20. It’s an important initiative that shines the spotlight on men’s health issues and encourages men to take charge of their health and wellbeing. 

Men’s health encapsulates physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. It’s not purely the absence of disease. It’s also clear that men face different health issues than women, and we also have different needs. 

Yet, men are less proactive about their health than women and are less likely to visit their doctor to discuss their health or worries. The macho-man mentality may be at play here. However, subscribing to outdated views about masculinity is just not cutting it. Our lives depend on it.

So, let’s talk about men’s health and discuss some of the issues facing men and explore how diet may play a role in improving our health outcomes to ensure we lead happier and healthier lives. 

Here are some things to consider. 

Prostate cancer. It is the second most common cancer in men and the fifth leading cause of death globally. While detection rates and treatments are improving, the burden of prostate cancer remains high. Men in Italy and Greece have lower rates of prostate cancer than men in other countries. This outcome may be in part related to improved diet quality—more on that later. 

Overweight and obesity. A large number of men worldwide are fighting the battle of the bulge. Being overweight can predispose us to heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Carrying extra weight can also result in reductions in testosterone levels in men. Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males. It plays a role in promoting secondary sexual characteristics, bone health, and muscle mass. Low testosterone levels can result in reduced sex drive and poor energy levels

Mental health. The statistics on mental health issues in men are staggering. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men die by suicide 3.6 times more often than women. Data shows that men are less likely to turn to help when their mental health reaches a critical point, and this, according to Mindwise, may be one reason for this significant difference.  

Starting a conversation about mental health and other issues can be a difficult first step. The stigma of a mental health disorder can be crippling for many men, and this alone may prevent them from seeking help. Yet, research shows that there are some helpful and targeted support services for men that can lead to improved outcomes. So, it’s best to speak up. 

Eating disorders. Boys and men also experience anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders. The prevalence of eating disorders among men appears to be increasing. It is clear that this is no longer solely a “girl’s or women’s issue.”

The risk factors for both men and women appear to be similar. These include low self-esteem, perfectionism, and bullying. Gay men also seem to be more at risk. Plus, the perceived social pressures to attain the “perfect body” is incredibly high, thanks to the rise of social media

It’s important to remember that support is available. Best practice recognises the need for a multidisciplinary team of medical and other health professionals to support someone with an eating disorder. 

While there is no single solution to any of these serious issues, diet and lifestyle can help improve health, which in turn may impact outcomes. The key is not cutting out entire food groups or resorting to other drastic measures; it’s simply a matter of getting the balance right.

Go Mediterranean. New research has shined the light on how diet can impact our mood and mental health. Data from the PREDIMED study showed that the adoption of a Mediterranean Diet protected participants’ hearts and reduced the incidence of depression. 

New research has identified a “cause and effect” relationship between our diet quality and our mental health. This relationship was previously seen to be one of an association rather than something more conclusive. 

The Mediterranean diet has emerged from countries around the Mediterranean Sea—namely Greece, Italy and Spain. It emphasises fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and moderate amounts of seafood, while extra virgin olive oil is the predominant fat source. 

Studies also show that the Mediterranean diet can be protective against prostate cancer. There is also evidence that the dietary pattern can positively influence heart health and improve sleep quality and may help with sexual health and erectile dysfunction.  

Get cooking. Research shows that while many men are interested in cooking, the women in the household are often tasked with this responsibility. One Australian study revealed that out of 800 men surveyed, only 24 per cent cooked at home less than twice a week. Yet, several studies suggest that when we cook at home, we eat fewer calories and less sugar, fat, and salt compared to eating out or ordering take-out. Plus, you might save a dollar or two in the process. It’s a win-win. 

Limit alcohol. It packs an energy punch that may impact your weight. Research also shows that an excessive alcohol intake can impact testosterone production causing erectile dysfunction and fertility issues. Further, the risk of prostate cancer is higher in men who drink regularly. 

The revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend men should not exceed two alcoholic beverages a day. 

Make time to see your doctor. Men should have annual health checks. Just like we take our car to get regularly serviced, we should give our bodies a regular once-over too. Heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers can often be detected in their early stages when treatment is almost always more effective.  

Men can profoundly change their health outcomes when they modify their dietary and lifestyle behaviours. Making better and more informed choices should be the order of the day. 

The question is, are we brave enough to accept the challenge?

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