Looking around you might have noticed the annual addition of facial hair to some of your male acquaintances as men's health hits the spotlight this month. The Movember campaign has been around since 2003 and focuses on the health issues that men face most often: Prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. So what can we do to improve the outcomes for men in these areas?
Mental Health and Isolation
While there has been a lot of work done to bring mental health issues into the light, there are still taboos about talking about mental health. And quite simply, if we don't talk about it, we are much less likely to get the help we need. Depression is an isolating condition even without the taboos associated with talking about it. A common symptom of depression includes withdrawal from enjoyable activities, which is a double-edged sword, as this can also isolate us from our social and support networks.
Being well has a lot to do with the strength of our social networks and it is these people who are often there for us when something goes wrong. If you notice someone in your social network who has dropped off the radar, it's worth checking in with them to see what's going on. Sure, you might find they have this amazing new hobby that is keeping them busy, but it's worth ruling out a case of the blues that will likely only get worse with continued isolation. If it is a new hobby, consider it a bonus for your own mental health and see if you can get in on the action!
Exercise and Getting Moving
Exercise is the best medicine when it comes to just about everything. It improves sleep, mood, reduces your risk of disease and can get you out and about socialising as well. Living in Australia, we think of ourselves as a sporty country, great weather, it's easy to be active outdoors. However, with challenging jobs and family responsibilities topping the excuse list, the stat's seem to say that by the time most men reach 25 they are less likely to be doing the minimum recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days.
Reduced physical activity is associated with a bigger waistline and a bigger waistline is linked to heart disease. Whatever way you look at it, getting moving is protective for your health. No point working hard to have the good life if you don't live long enough to enjoy it! If it's been some time since you've been active, take it slow and steady with a walk around the block, or to the mailbox if your block seems extra challenging. The important thing is regularity and small improvements day by day. If you keep your eye on the prize you'll soon be reaping the benefits of:
- Better quality cholesterol – more of the good and less of the bad.
- Healthy triglyceride readings and reduced risk of heart disease.
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure as you get older.
- Reduced inflammation of blood vessels and lower risk of artery plaques.
- Healthier, more responsive blood vessels.
- Lower risk of colon cancer.
- Lower risk of diabetes.
- Strong bones – it's not just women who get osteoporosis!
- Slimmer physique.
- Longer lifespan.
Top that all off with the added benefits to your mental health and exercise is the one pill you want to be taking every day.
Early detection and treatment of prostate cancer, which is the most diagnosed cancer in Australia, significantly improves the survival rate of men with this cancer. The issue of detection is complex and the Cancer Council Australia suggests that existing screening methods, such as blood tests and digital rectal examinations can both under and over diagnose cases of prostate cancer. If you have a family history of prostate cancer this is something to be extra cautious about. Paying attention to your body and noticing any changes, particularly the following early symptoms, which are similar in cases of both benign prostate hypertrophy and prostate cancer can be life-saving:
- difficulty passing urine
- a slow interrupted flow of urine
- frequent passing of urine, including at night
This is the other big issue that Movember highlights as a problem for men. While prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer overall, testicular cancer is the second most common cancer for young men aged 18-39. This said, treatment for testicular cancer is very successful and the mortality rates are relatively low for this type of cancer. However, as there are few common symptoms for testicular cancer apart from a non-painful lump, it is wise to keep an eye on your general health and another eye on your testicles, particularly if you have family members with a history of this disease.
Prevention is the best medicine
In Australia, more men die of health problems, are more likely to have a serious illness and are less likely to see a doctor until the problem becomes serious. See a pattern here? Seeking help for the small changes, reduces the risk that you'll get something serious. Having an annual health check is a good start. If the only time you see your doctor is for the occasional medical certificate for the flu, chances are you are not utilising your Medicare privileges adequately for preventative medicine. Book yourself in for a check up today! If you haven't been in for a while or have a couple of things to talk about, book a longer session, this gives you more time with your GP for a full check up.