Men, It’s Time to Take Control of Your Health
June is National Men’s Health Month, a great time to encourage the men in your life to take care of their bodies by exercising, eating right, and taking other steps to prevent disease. Even though men seem to be paying more attention to their health these days, their life expectancy as of 2021 is still significantly shorter than that of women—73 years compared to 79 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By focusing on a few key areas of their health, men can increase their chances of living longer, more fulfilling lives.
Heart disease: the number one killer
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States and is responsible for one in every four male deaths, according to the CDC. Heart disease refers to several conditions that affect the heart, all of which share common risk factors. The good news is that we, as men, can do something about almost all of them.
The risk factors we can control include smoking, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy diet. The ones we cannot control include family history and being male.
Heart disease is scary, but lifestyle changes can make a huge difference.
Simplify your exercise routine
I like to keep exercise as simple as possible. If you’re sweating, you’re exercising, and you should be sweating for about 150 minutes every week. You can spread that exercise out however you like, and you don’t have to do it at the gym. Gardening, yard work, and playing basketball are all exercise—as long as you’re moving and sweating!
I like to wake up early and start my day with a few miles on the stationary bike, followed by some stretching. When I exercise first thing in the morning, I can check it off my list and go about my day. If I wait until the evening, who knows if I’ll feel like exercising? Whether you choose to exercise before or after work, getting into a routine is critical to being consistent.
It’s time to quit smoking
Smoking is extremely addictive and harmful to your health—all for a little nicotine buzz. If you don’t smoke, keep it that way. If you do smoke or know somebody who does, consider urging them to quit.
In addition to being a major risk factor for heart disease, smoking causes lung cancer, erectile dysfunction, and infertility. It’s no wonder nearly 70 percent of smokers want to quit, according to the Truth Project. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor who can direct you to the proper support and resources.
Don’t ignore preventative care
If you don’t already have an established medical provider, finding one can feel overwhelming, but it’s important. A primary care doctor can help you stay on top of your health and address problems while they are still in the early stages.
When it comes to prevention, start by getting familiar with your family history, including major diseases and chronic health problems that run in the family. Your medical provider will adjust your care based on this history.
Regardless of your health history, I recommend getting your skin checked by your primary care provider if you’re out in the sun a lot. (We’re seeing a lot more skin cancer these days, and if you catch it early, the outcomes are generally good.) You should also keep up with your immunizations, including COVID, tetanus, pneumonia, and shingles, and get a colonoscopy or some other form of colon cancer screening when you turn 45.
Mental health is important
Sometimes I see men who don’t want to admit that they’re depressed. I tell them that being healthy is not just the absence of disease, it’s feeling good emotionally and spiritually. Taking care of your mental health is one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing. Depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health issues increase the risk for major diseases and lower life expectancy. Every single person can benefit from counseling.
Bad habits can be hard to kick, so be kind to yourself. If you’re a smoker or someone who could use a little more exercise, don’t try to change everything in a week. You’ll likely burn out and go back to your old ways. Instead, focus on making one small change after another, changes you can easily incorporate into your routine. Before you know it, you’ll be living a happier and healthier life.
Thomas Bertolli, MD, is a primary care provider at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.