Men’s health topics often consist of building muscle or shedding fat, but with a greater mortality rate than women, there are other important factors to consider for the optimal health and well-being of the male population. Matthew Ruscigno, M.P.H., RD, a plant-based dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition and co-author of “No Meat Athlete,” explains, “The big health risks are cardiovascular diseases like heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, stroke and others like cancer and Alzheimer’s. Much of the risk for these is related to lifestyle; mainly smoking, diet and exercise, yet we don’t prioritize prevention.” June has been declared Men’s Health Month in an effort to heighten awareness of detection, treatment and prevention of preventable health problems in men and boys. Read on to learn more about the health issues men face, including mental illness, sexual health and cancer, and what actions you can take to help yourself or any of the men in your life.
1. Mental Health
Men are more likely to focus on physical symptoms while underestimating how physical problems can have underlying mental or emotional causation. Studies show that depression is underdiagnosed in men and that suicide is the third leading cause of death for young men 15 to 24 years old. Mental health can have far-reaching negative effects. For example, a recent study found an association between long-term depressive symptoms and an increased risk of having a stroke. It is important for men to seek help for mental health issues. Gary Libretti Jr., M.S., RDN, LDN, CSCS, a Chicago-based dietitian, suggests utilizing mindfulness when managing stress to increase health and well-being. ACTION: Discuss emotions, including stress, depression or anxiety, with your health care provider at every checkup and regularly check in with yourself about your mood and stress levels.
Related: 8 Warning Signs of Depression
2. Sexual Health
Did you know that sexual health screening should be part of a regular physical exam? Though it can be a difficult topic to breach, start a conversation with your doctor about your sexual health. Research has shown that it’s uncommon for men to discuss prevention of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections with their health providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year, so it is important to get screened. Men may also need help with infertility, family planning, urinary tract infections, erectile dysfunction or other sexual concerns. Some medications, including heart medications like diuretics and beta-blockers, can also cause sexual health problems. And with one in three American men affected by cardiovascular disease, these prescriptions are commonplace. ACTION: Request screening for sexually transmitted infections yearly. Discuss any sexual issues you are having, including erectile dysfunction or fertility questions.
Read more: Top 9 Foods for Men's Sexual Health
3. Eating Disorders
The National Eating Disorders Association highlights the fact that disordered eating behavior should not be assigned to women only; eating disorders do not discriminate on gender. Men are especially at risk when they participate in professions or athletic activities that have weight requirements -- wrestling, rowing, bodybuilding, dancing, gymnastics, swimming or even track. An estimated 10 percent of individuals with eating disorders are male, and studies show that rates of eating disorders are likely being underestimated in this population. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that many men also struggle to gain weight or muscle, and in an effort to enhance their physique they use potentially unhealthy products. The use of anabolic steroids or overuse of physical activity may be signs of disordered behavior. ACTION: Be aware that men do struggle with disordered eating too. It is important to seek treatment if you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder.
4. Substance Abuse
In the U.S., alcohol, drug or tobacco use among men is statistically higher than in women. Men were twice as likely to have consumed five or more drinks in one day, and they lead in smoking by five percent. The CDC estimates that smoking is considered the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. -- six Americans die each day from alcohol poisoning, and more than 76 percent of those cases are male. Given the evidence of how substance abuse affects the male population at a higher rate than women, men should be proactive about speaking with their health care providers about behavior and risk factors for substance abuse. ACTION: Commit to quitting smoking today! Enlist friends and family for support or speak with your doctor to get more information on helpful aids during the process. Talk to your medical provider about tobacco, alcohol and drug use and seek information and support for help quitting or getting the treatment you need.
Read more: Top 9 Foods for Men's Sexual Health
5. Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and 2014 statistics from the American Heart Association state that more than 39 million American men suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD) -- that’s one in three men. One in four male deaths each year is caused by cardiovascular disease, which is more than cancer and diabetes combined! Cardiovascular disease ranges from such issues as atrial fibrillation and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) to coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure to heart attack and stroke. Even high blood pressure is a type of CVD. When visiting the doctor, discuss your family history of heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol levels at each yearly visit. Be sure you know which medications you are prescribed and why, and take them exactly as the doctor instructs. ACTION: Schedule a physical and ask your doctor if measuring blood pressure and cholesterol levels are appropriate tests for you.
6. Prostate Health
Cancer is not the only disease affecting this gland: Many men experience other prostate issues that may need to be discussed with a doctor. Keep in mind that many of these problems are more common at age 50 years and above, but it is still important to speak with your doctor about any family history or risk factors. Men may experience a symptom called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland that can cause problems when urinating. The prostate can also experience acute or chronic bacterial infections, which may need to be treated with medication. Finally, the prostate gland can become chronically inflamed, which is called chronic prostatitis and is treatable if you get help. According to Harvard Health Publications, lifestyle factors like increasing physical activity and increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting meat, salt and sugar-sweetened beverages can be helpful for prostate health. ACTION: Speak with your doctor about any problems with pelvic pain, trouble urinating or blood in your urine to assess if the prostate could be the culprit.
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The American Cancer Society lists prostate, lung and colorectal as the top cancers amongst men. For any of these cancers, men can reduce their risk by following healthy-living guidelines, such as quitting smoking, choosing a plant-based diet, being physically active and increasing fiber and fresh produce in the diet. Gary Libretti Jr., M.S., RDN, LDN, CSCS, explains, “I think many men need to take the time to appreciate the work that goes into maintaining health. They should step back for a minute and think about daily routine, training plans, not what diet to go on but what our diet actually is as well as calming down enough in the evening to get the sleep needed to restore the body and prepare the mind for the next day’s tasks.” ACTION: Talk to your doctor about your family history of prostate cancer and inquire about specific testing needs starting at age 40. Colon cancer screening also starts at 50 for most people, and lung cancer screening is based on risk factors and family history.
According to the American Diabetes Association, fear of hearing bad news keeps men from seeking medical advice and checkups, but this fear comes at the risk of missing important interventions that can improve health and longevity over time. Because diabetes can lead to serious health consequences if left untreated (blindness, nerve damage, amputations, cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction, etc.), it is important to speak with your doctor about getting screened, especially if you have a family history of diabetes. ACTION: Talk to your doctor about assessing your diabetes risk. They may suggest a simple blood test to check your blood sugars. If you are on diabetic medications, take them exactly as the doctor prescribes. Family members can help remind diabetic men to check blood sugars if needed. Aim to maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a healthy diet. Request a meeting with a certified diabetes educator or dietitian for further support.
Read more: 17 Celebrities Who Have Battled Cancer
9. Weight and Obesity
Weight gain around the belly can be a particular problem for men, especially if their waist circumference measures more than 40 inches around. Matthew Ruscigno, M.P.H., RD, suggests a healthier diet to help with weight maintenance. He explains, “Everyone wants to focus on desserts or their Friday-night meal as the culprit for weight issues, but what matters most is what you do most often.” Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. They don’t have to be exotic or the latest local, raw organic versions -- just eat more plants. Start with the ones you like. Simply eat larger servings of them and eat them more often. Expand from there.” ACTION: Increase fiber in the diet by adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Increase physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes of movement or more each day. For more help with weight management, make an appointment with a registered dietitian, certified fitness professional or doctor who specializes in weight management and healthy lifestyles.
10. Healthy Aging
Getting older can mean major life changes for men, including a shift in family responsibility, retirement and finances. With risk factors for many diseases increasing with age, this is a time when annual health screenings become critical for longevity. Aging can be a time to include fun events like travel or exploring hobbies, so staying healthy and active is important. Healthy eating and activity can protect bone health, promote a healthy brain and cognition, achieve a desirable weight for optimal mobility and keep the immune system functioning properly. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that older men focus on getting adequate sources of calcium, vitamin D, fiber, potassium and healthy fats in the diet. ACTION: Meet with your doctor regularly (at least once a year), and be sure to discuss which screening tests are right for you. Make and keep the appointments and organize all labs and records you accrue.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you (or maybe someone you know) avoid going to the doctor or discussing health issues? Are there any actions you need to take or speak with your doctor about? Are there any other men’s health issues missing here? What challenges are men facing with their health today? Let us know in the comments!