File this post under ‘Tough Love’. Even though it’s technically addressed to women, it really is about helping men to improve their health. If you’re a guy reading this and you really do some soul-searching, you may end up not only being healthier in the long-term, but also impressing the women in your life for being totally on the ball.
Ask any woman, men are quick to offer to fix things. Guys uniformly seem willing to tackle just about any sort of problem, whether it’s plumbing, electrical or automotive. Unfortunately, this can-do spirit doesn’t always extend to emotional or health-related concerns. Because healthcare often has an emotional aspect to it, it presents a double-whammy for guys who’d prefer to ignore both. And that ends up being a big problem for men.
The problem isn't restricted to certain kinds of health issues. It’s common in the event of preventable sickness and even risk-related diseases. From incidences of heart disease and certain kinds of cancer, men have significantly higher mortality rates. In terms of life expectancy, men also get the short end of the stick, with women living on average several years longer.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s a lesson some men still have yet to take to heart. So, ladies, we’re depending on you to give some urgency to what turns out to be a global problem. But don’t worry, we’re here to help talk to that important guy in your life. So put on your flak jackets, because it’s time to drop some truth bombs.
What’s the number one reason why people don’t like going to the doctor? Getting bad news. Here’s the shocker … when your doctor tells you that there’s a problem, it doesn’t begin in that moment. You had that problem already!
Is your significant other afraid of or angry at the scale because it revealed a specific number? Stepping on the scale does not cause weight gain! Powering through a bag of candy or a six-pack every few days is a much more likely culprit. Similarly, postponing a medical checkup to avoid getting bad news just doesn't make sense.
And yet, this widespread belief ends up creating the very problem people are trying to avoid! In that respect, it reinforces unhealthy behavior. "No bad news" does not translate as "I get to keep doing exactly what I'm doing." This unspoken notice can lead to other negative beliefs.
In hopes that we can change some of these unhelpful perspectives, we're offering up some simple strategies to help that special guy in your life, even if he’s incredibly resistant to change. We’ve tried to frame these positions in ways to minimize anxiety and keep the conversation moving in the right direction.
1. HAVE “THE TALK”. It starts with a simple and direct question. “Do you want to be around for your child’s high school graduation or for your grandchild’s college graduation?” If the fellow in question doesn’t have kids, then put it in terms he’ll understand. For the most part, everyone wants to live a long life, and even those who don’t think about it expect most of their future years will be healthy ones.
2. THE ATTITUDE. According to a comprehensive, global study by the World Health Organization, masculinity stereotypes play a critical role in the disparities of wellness between genders. Too often, men behave like their favorite fictional character, emulating risky behaviors that are perpetuated in film and television. As much as it might be enjoyable to watch heroic antics where nothing can stop the good guy from his noble task, the truth is that this ‘walk it off’ mentality is having a horribly negative effect on actual good guys.
3. THE HOMEWORK. In order to take preventative measures, you have to first know what might be wrong! Given the incredible advances in genetics and medicine over the last 50 years, it’s easy to make the case that by knowing something about your genetic background will go a long way to understanding yourself. Ask him to compile a comprehensive family medical history that includes parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents. This is something doctors routinely ask for and most people provide a halfhearted summary. Some even just leave that section blank!
Such a review will prove immensely helpful for doctors. And doesn't your fellow deserve the best possible healthcare? And remember to preserve this homework, because someday it could play a vital role in the healthcare of future generations.
4. BE GOOD TO YOURSELF. The bottom line is this … a huge amount of suffering can be prevented, alleviated or cured by doing things we all know we should be doing. Here are four simple steps to help jumpstart healthier living for men.
Commitment to annual wellness exams is a great way to establish a baseline and troubleshoot any developing problems. But to get the most out of these visits, he'll need to be forthright with his doctor. We say that because men are actually less likely to be honest with their physicians regarding the extent and severity of symptoms than women!
If he always says “no way, Jose” to fresh fruits and vegetables but “yeppers” to beef, butter, beer and Ben & Jerry’s, then he's asking for trouble. So much has been written on the topic, there’s hardly a reason to cover good dietary choices here other than to say, eat more fruits and veggies, and avoid fatty and processed foods.
Take a Pill, Dude
The issue for men here seems to hearken back to the ‘walk it off’ philosophy. If it hurts badly or just feels wrong, see a doctor and follow directions. And, yes, that means being open to prescriptions. But it’s not enough to obtain a prescription if it’s medically necessary … it needs to be taken following the directions. Men are much more likely to deviate from prescribed dosages of medication, whether it’s skipping a dose or doubling up. Both can be much more problematic than people generally think, and can result in severe consequences.
If it’s been years since he's gone for a run or rode a bike, stamina should gradually be built up. As we age, exercise has more and better benefits when it’s done carefully and appropriately to actual ability (not based on "what I used to do"). Bottom line, don’t go overboard! Walk if you don’t have too far to go. Or, if it’s too far to walk, ride a bike instead of driving. Twenty minutes of aerobic exercise daily can make a tremendous difference not only in his health, but also in how good he feels!
If at any point the conversation starts veering off-topic, be patient but firm. If you get an outsized negative reaction as a result of sharing these strategies, try and steer the conversation away from feelings and back to fact. Finally, if they’re just too overwhelmed by the topic at-hand, leave them a copy of this post to read and reflect on.
If you’re having trouble getting through, use an analogy. For instance, remind them that just like cars and trucks require routine maintenance to perform at peak efficiency, so too does the human body. Whatever tack you choose to try and reach him, come back to the same point as many times as you need, until you get the sense that they’re on the same page about why this conversation is necessary … because they’re loved. And that you would like to have them around for a long time!
This is a problem that affects men of all ages, races, demographics, financial standings, etc. It’s not your guy in particular, and it’s not all guys, but it’s so widespread that the benefits of cultivating a proactive mindset will be better for everyone ... each individual, each family, each community, and maybe even for the world as a whole.
“The men’s health gap: men must be included in the global health equity agenda.” Peter Baker, Shari L Dworkin, Sengfah Tong, Ian Banks, Tim Shand & Gavin Yamey. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2014;92:618-620. www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/8/13-132795/en/