We take a look at the simple lifestyle changes that all men can make to improve their health and wellbeing.
🕒 7 min read
It probably won't surprise you to discover fewer men than women go to the doctors for check-ups or with potential problems.
By raising awareness of the risks and making a few strategic lifestyle changes, most men could significantly improve their health. Here's what is helpful to know...
- More than 140 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every day in the UK. It is the most common cancer in men in the UK.
- Experts estimate one in 11 cases of advanced prostate cancers could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.
- In England, around one in eight men has a mental health condition, including anxiety, depression or OCD (obsessive, compulsive disorder). Figures from the Mental Health Foundation also reveal that men are less likely to access help for psychological or mental health problems, and only 36 per cent of referrals to NHS talking therapies are male.
Take up the free tests
If you're aged between 40 and 74, you should be invited for a routine NHS Health Check every five years.
These checks not only measure your health risks, but are also there to offer advice on how to prevent problems.
The health checks can pick up on early signs of conditions including heart disease, strokes, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia – the risk of which all increase with age.
Once you have had your check-up, a health professional will talk you through any potential treatments or lifestyle measures you should make.
Eat a more varied diet
"While no single food is going to reduce the risk of disease, there are five key ones that men should regularly include in their diet", advises Rob Hobson, Registered Nutritionist.
- Salmon. Omega-3 fats in oily fish can help reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of premature death in men in the UK. Factors affecting the risk of heart disease are also closely associated with erectile dysfunction. Eat one or two servings a week, and if you are not getting enough from your diet take an omega-3 supplement.
- Pulses – like red kidney beans and lentils – are one of the richest sources of fibre, essential for good digestion, and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. Fibre can also help you feel fuller for longer, so less likely to overeat.
- Nuts. The mineral selenium, which is found in nuts, is particularly beneficial to men, as it is involved in making proteins found in sperm. Blood levels have been seen to be lower in men with low sperm counts. Boost your intake by including a small handful of nuts (especially Brazil nuts) in your daily diet.
- Steak. Lean beef steak is rich in zinc – a mineral that is vital for immunity, cell growth and male fertility, and that has also been associated with good prostate health. A steak will provide you with most of your daily recommended intake of zinc. Other good zinc sources include seeds, green vegetables, pulses, nuts, mushrooms and shellfish.
- Red peppers. These are one of the richest sources of vitamin C and also include lycopene (an antioxidant pigment that can help reduce cell damage). Lycopene and vitamin C have been associated with good prostate health.
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Watch that middle-aged middle
One condition that is important to check for – particularly as you hit your 40s – is type 2 diabetes, diagnosed cases of which have doubled in the last 15 years.
If identified early and correctly managed, however, people can go on to live a perfectly healthy life – and in some cases even reverse the condition.
One of the factors that puts men at increased risk is a waist measurement of 37 inches or above, so keep an eye on that beer belly.
Losing just 4cm from your waist can significantly help, and many cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by eating healthier, losing weight and exercising more often.
You can check out your risk of developing type 2 diabetes using the free Know Your Risk online tool from Diabetes UK.
There are certain foods that are particularly important to men's health. These include salmon, pulses and nuts, the latter of which contain the mineral selenium, which is vital for sperm production.
Get your head around mental health issues
Research from 2016 carried out by the Men's Health Forum revealed that fewer than one in five men would go to their GP to report a mental health problem.
That was worrying then, but now we also have the fallout from COVID-19, which is predicted to contribute to a large increase in mental health problems triggered by social isolation, grief, loss of earnings, job insecurity and possible ill health like long COVID.
Attitudes to mental health do seem to be changing slowly, and it helps that more high-profile men are speaking out about their struggles. There are also more campaigns to raise awareness, and online tools to help.
Keeping physically healthy will also go some way to help protect mental health – eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, doing some regular exercise and keeping a lid on the booze will all help.Some men find it easier to confide in their partner or family, and for others talking to someone they don't know can be more comfortable.
Damien Ridge, Professor of Health Studies and Research Director from the University of Westminster, says the one piece of advice he would give men it is: "Reach out to others and build connections, even if this seems difficult.
"Together we are stronger; in isolation, problems get magnified in our heads. There are lots of sports, hobby or voluntary organisations to join as a beginning."
We can also practically support the men in our lives – whether that is a partner, parent, work colleague or friend – if we suspect they might be in emotional distress.
The more we open up about mental health issues, the more likely we are to de-stigmatise and normalise them.
Take care of your bone health
It's often seen as primarily a 'women's issue', but bone health and osteoporosis really isn't. As Professor David Reid, Consultant Rheumatologist and Osteoporosis Specialist, says: "Men over 50 who have had a fracture or have a family history of osteoporosis should consider having their bone density measured to assess their risk.
"If bone density is found to be low there are self-help measures men can take, which include stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, getting enough calcium in their diet (good sources include dairy products like milk and cheese, green leafy vegetables like broccoli and kale and some fortified foods including some breads) and keep vitamin D levels topped up with around 20 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight if possible. If not, take a vitamin D supplement."
Do these things in conjunction with regular bone-building and strengthening, weight-bearing exercise like walking and jogging.
And the good news...
You can get healthier and fitter pretty quickly and easily. If you don't already do any regular exercise, start by walking and walk every day. Build up from 10 minutes a day to three slots of 10 minutes daily to 30 continuous minutes.
When you can do this comfortably, try incorporating more flexibility and strengthening exercises like squats and the plank, which can be done easily at home.
Make small but strategic tweaks to your diet – for example, aim to have a couple of meat-free evening meals or use pulses such as lentils to bulk out and add more fibre to meat dishes, and try to get at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
This should not only provide you with a broader range of nutrients, but the roughage in the vegetables should also make you feel fuller and less likely to overeat.
As we get older, the aim is to eat more healthy food but fewer calories. Aim for at least two or three alcohol-free nights a week, which will not only reduce your calorie intake and protect your liver, but should also help you sleep better.