Simple lifestyle changes help men live longer and healthier lives
Last year, the Office for National Statistics reported that the life expectancy at birth for males in Northern Ireland had declined by 0.1 years - the 2014-16 figure dropped from 78.5 years to 78.4 years for 2015-17. The big killers are: circulatory diseases including strokes and heart attacks, cancer in its various forms and respiratory diseases such as COPD. All these conditions are influenced by lifestyle choices, which can delay onset and reduce the impact on healthy living.
Here are key steps that men can take to better health...
Future generations will look back in disbelief at the lives lost and maimed by the convergence of nicotine addiction and capitalism. Some 22% of adult men spend £4,000 a year to continue to smoke. They have a 50% chance of dying from a smoking-related disease before the age of 65.
All of the major killers of men are caused or worsened by smoking. It is a cliched male trope that you are too old to quit. Benefits of cessation occur within days as carbon monoxide falls and oxygen levels increase by 10%. Heart attack risks fall in the initial months and cancer rates likewise in subsequent years.
Smoking reduces life expectancy by 10 years. The earlier you stop, the more years you recover, but even stopping aged 80 can produce some survival benefit. Stopping smoking aged 50 can reduce your chance of dying by 50%.
Sleep it off
The 2017 book Why We Sleep cheerily informs us that men who sleep less than five hours per night have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep for eight hours or more. Worse still are lower testosterone levels, poorer cognitive function, more cancers and more obesity during shorter lives. Long working hours, gruelling commutes and pervasive evening screen exposure all contribute to shrinking sleep times. Obstructive sleep apnoea is particularly prevalent in middle-aged males. If you have a shirt collar of 17 inches or more, snore prodigiously and are tired all the time, then you may wish to discuss this condition with your GP.
Regular reliance on sleeping tablets in older men is paradoxically associated with poor sleep quality and even an increase in death rates in some studies.
Take regular exercise
Regular physical exercise of any type, duration and frequency improves health and prolongs life. Increasing benefits occur with greater intensity; 72% of 20- to 24-year-olds report regular sport participation. Unfortunately, this falls off with age. Health experts recommend 150 minutes of moderately intensive activity per week; 40% of men meet this target. It's advisable to pick an activity you enjoy and are likely to stick with and increase effort over time to achieve a training effect. Benefits have been reported for simple tasks such as brisk walking and even, dare I say it, vacuuming.
Prolonged sitting is associated with early death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Regular exercise can mitigate this. Moderate physical activity in men over 50 in the Framingham Heart Study increased life expectancy by 1.3 years. More intensive exercise increased survival by 3.5 years. Exercise needs to include resistance training. With age, a man's muscle mass decreases, facilitated by declining testosterone levels and an increase in body fat and frailty. Muscle mass predicts survival at all ages. Amongst men aged 24 and over, there is a 30% decrease in mortality for those with the strongest hand-grip scores. Benefits are seen throughout life with weight training for 90-year-olds reporting benefit.
Take action if you are obese
Obesity is associated with circulatory disease, diabetes, cancer and death. The World Health Organisation predicted that Ireland will lead Europe in obesity prevalence by 2030; 43% of Irishmen are overweight, while 25% are obese.
Fewer obese men than women actively try to control their weight. Set targets and manage diet and exercise. Every man should know their body mass index (BMI) and act to keep their score within the recommended 20-25. Simple BMI calculators are readily available online.
Watch your diet
Processed foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats are a less healthy alternative to a diet rich in plant protein, carbohydrate and fat. Flavonoids rich in antioxidants and responsible for vibrant colours in fruit and vegetables significantly reduce cardiovascular risks.
Omega-3 fatty acid from two portions of oily fish such as mackerel or salmon (above) per week has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health and reduces inflammation. A daily handful (30g) of nuts or seeds will reduce the risk of death from heart disease by 20%.
Develop a healthy relationship with alcohol
The contribution of moderate alcohol intake to longevity is frequently reported and a source of comfort to those who imbibe. Irish men have yet to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol. They frequently and dangerously underestimate annual consumption and levels of binge drinking.
And remember, two-and-a-half bottles of wine or eight-and-a-half pints of beer spread out over a week are maximum recommended allowances and not targets to be met.
Social networks provide purpose in our lives. Older men with two or three social networks live longer than those with no regular interactions. Altruism has an even greater effect, with those volunteering or providing support within their social network doubling their survival.
Take stock of your mental health
Optimism and resilience are both associated with longevity, particularly for older men. Self-care and attention to mental health issues can be underappreciated by men. Taking time to review goals and acknowledge successes fosters positive mental health.
Practised breathing provided by disciplines such as yoga have a calming effect on stress and blood pressure. As a quick exercise, try five deep purposeful breaths once or twice per day. Seeking help where appropriate is vital.
Don't put off seeing a doctor
Studies of men's health behaviour demonstrate that men present later and less frequently to doctors and other healthcare professionals. General health screening for diabetes, blood pressure and high cholesterol delays or reduces the severity of chronic diseases and their effect on health and long life. The national screening service offers bowel cancer screening to men over 60 and retinal screening for those with diabetes. Lung cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer kill far greater numbers and can be detected early in the appropriate setting. Oral health is important too, with poor oral hygiene increasing the risk of heart disease and inflammation.
We can all live longer, healthier and happier lives by taking positive actions now.
Dr Seamus Linnane (51) is a consultant respiratory and general physician. He practises at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin
25 ways to put years on you
1. Stop smoking, or better yet never start
2. Sleep well
3. Avoid sleeping tablets
4. Treat sleep apnoea
5. Exercise regularly
6. Maintain muscle mass
7. Avoid prolonged sitting
8. Combat frailty
9. Watch your weight
10. Eat real food
11. Avoid saturated fats
12. Eat colourful flavonoids in fruit and vegetables
13. Eat nuts daily
14. Eat fish oils twice weekly
15. Avoid alcohol
16. Engage in social networks
17. Help others
18. Foster a positive attitude
19. Mind your mind
20. Don't forget to breathe
21. Screen for cancers
22. Be health aware
23. Manage chronic conditions
24. Tackle your teeth
25. Live long and prosper