Six simple steps to great men’s health

At the end of Men’s Health Awareness Month Ade Adeniyi, Care UK’s men’s health expert, looks at six simple ways all men, and the partners who support them, can help to improve their health.

“Men, and I speak as one, have a bad habit of ignoring their health. Some see it as vanity or hypochondria, while others fear that acknowledging the possibility of ill health somehow impacts on their mortality.

“What we men must do is learn the lessons women have learnt: that by keeping an eye on our health, taking care of our fitness and visiting healthcare professionals when we need to, we increase our life expectancy as well as our own, and our families’ wellbeing.”

“The good news is there are some simple things men can do that will have a profound effect on their health:

  • Is stress lingering? A little of the right stress is good. Healthy physical and mental challenges make us feel stronger and more alive. However, ongoing, draining, sleep-stealing stress has terrible consequences for our health including raising blood pressure, pounding our immune system and causing mental health problems. If you are having anxiety attacks, or you have depression or insomnia over more than two weeks, you should see your GP. You can also help yourself by taking regular exercise, whether joining a football (or walking football) team or joining a gym. Go into your library, check out some books on stress and look at the community board to see what groups are out there to make life a little more relaxed.
  • Stop smoking. If you do just one thing, do this. Smoking is disastrous for anyone’s health. As well as causing respiratory and coronary issues, it causes strokes, cancer and even problems with erections. The NHS offer lots of advice on how to quit, which you can find on the NHS Choices website. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone and you may be more successful with the various types of help to stop.
  • Remember that sooner is better than later. If you spot any changes in your body or mood, get an appointment with your GP. Whether it is your waterworks, erections, a persistent cough or breathlessness, we clinicians would always prefer to give you happy news on a false alarm rather than seeing you and making a late discovery. Just remember all GP appointments are confidential, you do not have to answer a question from the receptionist on what the appointment is for and you can ask for a male GP if you prefer.
  • Wear a condom if you are having sex with anyone that is not a long-term partner in a monogamous relationship, even if they are taking a contraceptive pill or are past the menopause. The same applies for male partners. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in people aged 50 to 70 have risen by more than one-third over the last decade and, according to one 2014 study, the most commonly diagnosed STIs in that age bracket were warts, chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhoea. A sobering thought for anyone who may be having unprotected sex is that there is a super-strain of gonorrhoea. Identified by the World Health Organisation from data collected in 77 countries, the strain is showing antibiotic resistance, which means it can be much harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat. All that, and a simple extra precaution could have saved you a whole lot of hassle.
  • Get more active. Remember, a little change may make a big difference (like taking the steps on the way down rather than the lift – and eventually on the way up!). While the government says 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart pounding (such as running, swimming or playing sport) is optimal, even small increases help. Getting out and going for a brisk walk at lunchtime, or getting off the bus one or two stops earlier, all help to get the blood pumping and the lungs working. From this you can build up to more activity. Buy a cheap pedometer – 10,000 steps a day will build your fitness. In September this year, a British Medical Journal article showed that men give up on sport too quickly and that if they played sports such as football for longer they would reap huge benefits in later life. If you feel your glory days are behind you, try short tennis, table tennis or walking football. Many sports centres have over-50s sessions including these sports and others such as badminton, all of which help to keep muscles toned and bones strong.
  • Finally, consider drinking alcohol only in moderation and eating fruit or vegetables with every meal. Not only will you see your waist line diminish; but also you may feel better rested, as alcohol interferes with sleep patterns and your immune system will receive a boost. The colours in fruit and vegetables provide powerful antioxidants that boost health and provide your bowels with fibre that will keep things moving.

“Some of these changes are quite simple to incorporate into your daily routine; others may be more fundamental to the way you live your life. What is certain, however, is that taking any or all of these steps will give you the best possible chance to enjoy that life for longer.”