By Barry Waldman
The biggest impediment to improving men’s health in the U.S. is not the Byzantine and catastrophically expensive health care system; it is not health care itself, which every day produces medical miracles; it is not environmental or genetic factors, though they can be determinative.
The evidence is clear: the biggest impediment to improving men’s health in the U.S. is: men.
The Sad Truth About Men’s Health
American men consume more calories than they need in a diet rich in fried foods, high fat desserts, sodium-heavy processed foods, refined grains and sugar-laden beverages, but not in nutrition. American men get more than an eighth of their calories from sugar. Fewer than 10% eat the recommended amount of vegetables.
Additionally, only a quarter of American men exercise enough – 150 minutes of moderate exertion, or 75 minutes of vigorous exertion, weekly. But they do spend 19 hours-a-week watching television. No wonder fully three-quarters of American men are overweight and 60% have at least one chronic disease.
Although American women generally eat better, they also don’t exercise. But they do one thing that their male counterparts rarely do: get regular health checkups.
June is Men’s Health Month
June is Men’s Health Month, and the lesson is clear for most men: there is nothing your physician can do for you that will be as effective in improving your health as your decision to live a healthy lifestyle.
Most men already know the ingredients: avoid tobacco; drink alcohol in moderation; eat a nutritional diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes; engage in regular exercise; and get regular health checkups. They just don’t do it.
The Dilemma for Physicians
“It’s a tremendous conundrum because adult behavior change is very challenging,” says Dr. Patrick Looser, a cardiologist with Lowcountry Cardiology Associates of Trident Health. “We counsel patients to start small and make gradual change over time. No one goes from couch potato to marathon runner over six months. If you don’t exercise at all, even exercising three times-a-week for 15 minutes is enough to realize a small benefit for cardio outcomes. Do what is enjoyable for you.”
The number one killer of men in the U.S. is heart disease, followed by cancer, accidents, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, pneumonia and suicide. Most of these have a lifestyle component or are largely determined by lifestyle.
This year, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has created Six Plays for Men’s Health that urges men to take care of their mental health and get vaccinated against Covid in addition to eating right, exercising, quitting smoking and getting regular checkups.
The Role of Technology in Men’s Health
Many Americans believe they can abuse their bodies and rely on medical care to fix them. But despite the incredible advances in medical technology and pharmacology, the CDC estimates that roughly a third of deaths from the five leading causes are preventable. That leaves physicians wondering how they can convince patients to take action in support of their own health.
Dr. Patrick Looser says physicians are learning to be less paternalistic about their approach to patients and work with their patients’ strengths. “We have to find out what patients are willing to do and what sacrifices they are willing to make and coach them to enact these behavioral changes a little at a time, so they develop healthy habits. If I could wave a magic wand, I would engage more men earlier to see their primary care doctors. By the time they see me their habits are so ingrained that it’s hard to change.”
If you’re a man and you want to improve your health, the prescription is as simple as it is hard: live right.
“The thing is,” says Looser about the number one killer of men, “heart disease is asymptomatic. Until it’s not.”