By Karen McElroy
Womens health issues have enjoyed more attention than mens health over recent years. However, Australian men are at a higher risk of developing many chronic diseases and have a lower life expectancy than women.
The leading health issues for men are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression and substance abuse including tobacco and alcohol. Young men have specific health concerns are at greater risk of depression and injury and death from accidents, suicide and self harm. Young men are almost three times more likely to die than young women. Men from indigenous or low socio-economic backgrounds are at greater risk of dying from a range of diseases including heart disease, respiratory problems and suicide than men from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
Given that men have a higher risk than women and are more likely to die from degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer one might expect men to be more conscious of their health than women. However, the opposite is true.
Many men are reluctant to visit health professionals for regular checkups and they often ignore signs of ill health until symptoms get quite bad. Thus men often present in medical clinics with quite advanced illness due to the long delay in seeking medical assistance. In contrast, women are far more likely to be concerned with their everyday health and regularly visit their doctors for routine tests such as PAP smears and breast screenings.
There is much debate and questioning from medical and social commentators about why gender plays such a role in predicting health outcomes. Obviously gender will play a role in the development of specific reproductive diseases. However, there are many more subtle differences in women and men from an environmental and social perspective.
Some of the environmental issues for men are occupational health and safety. Men often work in occupations that pose a greater risk to their health. In the professional sector, men are often working in excess of 48 hours a week, which will significantly impact on their physical health, family relationships and emotional wellbeing. With reduced leisure time, men are exercising less and getting more obese.
Many men that I see in my practice are there because their partner has recommended it. They are often uncomfortable talking about their complaints and reluctant to discuss their emotional wellbeing. Men are known to deny experiencing emotional stress and are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress. There is an unspoken expectation in our society for men to be stoic, strong and self reliant which often translates to not seeking help for physical or emotional problems. Interestingly, men who are in supportive relationships and have high job satisfaction are more likely to have positive attitudes and moods. Getting men to visit a health clinic is a good first step, however it is unfortunate that the compliance amongst men for continuing with medical or allied health treatments is quite poor. Men will often wait until things are worse or become more serious before following up again with health practitioners.
It is hard to know how we might change the habits of Australian men to allow them to take better care of their health. Positive life changes include exercise, healthy eating and developing work life balance and stress management techniques. Meditation is a tool that men can learn and employ to help deal with stress and emotional issues. There are many methods you can try and simple approaches such as the Calm Technique, popularised by Australian, Paul Wilson can be useful. See www.calmcentre.com for more information.
Common male health complaints that can be improved with holistic and preventative health strategies include heart disease, prostate enlargement, obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, digestive disorders and infertility. Male infertility is on the rise and poor sperm count can also be a symptom of other factors such as stress, alcohol, smoking and poor diet.
Many of the men that I see in my practice have poor diets and skipping meals is a common occurrence. A healthy diet is a basic preventative strategy, that is known to positively influence and prevent many diseases. Men, like many women, often do not realise what is healthy and can find changing their habits hard. Practical changes such as switching to a healthy breakfast option like porridge, muesli or eggs and taking a healthy packed lunch to work can often make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.