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Man up and take a positive grip on improving health

Published 04/06/2015

Feel better: men can improve their lives by taking basic steps. Picture posed
Feel better: men can improve their lives by taking basic steps. Picture posed

A fifth of men die before they reach retirement age, but it doesn't have to be that way. Ahead of Men's Health Week, Lisa Salmon outlines the simple lifestyle tweaks that could make a big difference.

Scientists believe that with one careful owner, the male body could last for as long as 120 years. Yet instead, one man in five will die before he reaches the age of 65.

A huge proportion of these deaths are preventable, and that's why this year's Men's Health Week (June 15-21) is focusing on healthy living.

The Men's Health Forum (MHF), which organises the week, points out that men are less likely to lead a healthy lifestyle than women and more inclined to smoke, drink alcohol to hazardous levels and be overweight, or obese.

This can lead to serious diseases, including certain cancers, heart disease and stroke (three-quarters of those who die from heart disease under 75 are men, for example) and blokes are 30% more likely to die from cancer than women.

As research highlights, however, leading a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of these conditions, along with going for your NHS Health Check if you're over 40, and keeping up with screenings (figures shows men are less likely to go to health checks than women).

In fact, between 2001 and 2013, more than 60% of all potentially avoidable deaths each year were in men, and MHF chief executive Martin Tod warns: "Men are far more likely to die young and to die from preventable conditions,

"Lots of men aren't even living to their 70s, and a lot of the causes come down to lifestyle choices and things they can do something about. Everyone thinks it's not going to happen to them, but the statistic of one in five men not living to retirement age shows that it could do.

"That's why Men's Health Week is challenging men to look after themselves."

Of course, adopting a healthy lifestyle isn't always as easy as it sounds - but small changes can make a big difference. Here are the simple lifestyle changes the MHF thinks men should make if they want to boost their chances of a longer, healthier life.

Don't smoke

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, but it can still be really tough to quit. The MHF suggests listing all your reasons for quitting and setting your quit day in advance, before getting rid of all your smoking paraphernalia.

Try quitting with a friend, and avoid smokers and places or circumstances in which you usually smoke.

When you get a craving, distract yourself or nibble on a healthy snack and don't be tempted to have "just one" cigarette. You could also try the NHS Stop Smoking Service (www.smokefree.nhs.uk) - you're four times more likely to quit with help.

"Men do smoke slightly more than women, which is a big contributor to why historically, men's health has been worse than women's," says Tod.

Drink sensibly

Too much alcohol damages nearly every organ in the body, and it's linked to heart disease, nerve damage, liver disease, depression, erectile dysfunction, cancer and digestive problems.

The MHF suggests that to cut down on drinking, men could try making their first drink a soft one and then reduce the strength of what they're drinking.

The health service advises men to not regularly drink more than three to four units a day (a pint of 5.2% lager is three units) and not to binge drink.

Be active

People who do regular physical activity have a 35% lower risk of heart disease and stroke and a 50% lower risk of diabetes and bowel cancer. It also leads to a 30% lower risk of depression and dementia.

The health service recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as jogging, cycling, mowing the lawn or swimming.

But anything's better than nothing. Try walking, which reduces the risk of heart disease by a third. The further and faster you walk, the better, but even slowly walking just five to six miles a week will help.

"It's not necessarily about going for a run or going to the gym - just getting up and about and walking is an improvement on doing nothing at all," explains Tod. "And with so many men now being overweight or obese, we've all got to improve what we're doing. Building it into your day can often be the approach that works."

Watch your weight

Being overweight or obese is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers. Yet the World Health Organisation predicts three-quarters of UK men (74%) will be overweight in 15 years, compared with 70% five years ago.

But it's not always easy to lose weight and stick to healthy eating for life. The MHF suggests starting with a decent breakfast, and then for main meals, fill half your plate with salad or vegetables, a quarter with protein (like lean meat, fish, eggs or beans), and a quarter with starchy carbs (like brown rice, wholewheat pasta, baked potato or noodles).

Aim for your five fruit and veg portions a day, and make sure you get some dairy to keep calcium levels up.

"Men are more likely to work full-time, and they commute longer distances so they're eating away from home, which makes it harder to eat healthily," says Tod.

"Sometimes it can be harder to have a healthy lifestyle, particularly if you're stuck behind a desk, commuting and eating on the go.

"But if you look after your health, you'll feel better and fitter and have better sex."

  • For more information on Men's Health Week, visit www.mens healthforum.org.uk. The Man Manual: Men's Health Made Easy by Jim Pollard (£4.95) is a great source of health tips for men

Belfast Telegraph

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