Let’s take a deep breath here and say that we love men. We appreciate them. We cannot imagine a world without them. Thus, we can often overlook certain shenanigans that make us cringe a bit – unless such recklessness comes at the expense of their health. So in the interest of keeping men on the planet as long as possible – which is already, on average, five years shorter than for women – we’ve asked experts what they wish men knew, and would incorporate into their lives.
“Where do we start?” said Sid O’Bryant, associate professor of internal medicine at University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. “There are a lot of things I want to convey, not only for men to understand they’re not just important for the heart, but also for how your brain ages.”
One of the key things he finds frustrating is how men don’t think about brain health during aging.
“They wait till they’re in their 80s and then say, ‘I wish I would have done things differently,’ ” said O’Bryant, an Alzheimer’s researcher. “Women plan better. Women plan to age. They actually think about it. We men plan for a financial future for our family. We think how our wives will be taken care of when we’re gone, but not how we can be around longer.”
If men pay attention to these nine things the experts want them to know, who’s to say how much that life-span age gap can narrow?
1. No shame in depression
Depression is a real physiological event, said certified athletic trainer Ken Locker. But “most men don’t think they have depression because they don’t cry easily.” Men don’t talk about depression, O’Bryant said. “And if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t real.”
But, he said, “it’s this huge thing that’s impacting so many men across the age range. Men think we’ll tough it out because we don’t want to talk about it: ‘It might make things worse,’ or ‘I’m admitting weakness.’ That is a huge hurdle for men that couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “Strength is acknowledging the problem.”
Depression doesn’t just bring people down mentally; it hurts physically as well. “If you’re sick, depression makes it worse. If you have diabetes and depression, the diabetes is worse. It also increases the risk for Alzheimer’s, and most people don’t know that.” They also need to realize it’s treatable, he said. “When depression gets better, other things get better. Diabetes can get better. The risk for Alzheimer’s can go down.”
What to do: Don’t be ashamed to talk to your family doctor, who can recommend a professional counselor or prescribe medications.
2. Yoga isn’t just a girl thing
Men need to realize that bench-pressing three days a week isn’t going to cut it, workout-wise, Locker said. They need cardio, and another good choice is yoga. “As you age, yoga is really good because it helps balance,” he said. “It works against gravity. You have to stop, to concentrate when you’re doing it. It’s good for men, too, not just for women.”
What to do: Ask friends for recommendations, then try a class. Get there a few minutes early. If you don’t like it, talk to the instructor, or try another. Don’t give up after one class.
3. “No pain, no gain” is stupid
Even in less than a year of being a certified chiropractor, Logan Sherman has witnessed plenty of examples of this belief not taken seriously. “The big thing I see with a lot of male patients is that they potentially push past the minor things that could be caught at an earlier stage,” he said, “and are now related to an injury.”
Sherman, who is training for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the marathon, cites plantar fasciitis as an example. “That’s something that can really be avoided,” he said. “Men say, ‘Hey, I’ve experienced tightness in my calf the past couple of weeks.’ They’ve heard from a buddy how he worked through it but never followed the steps. It ends up being a full-blown problem.”
What to do: If you feel a twinge, rest. For plantar fasciitis, avoid going barefoot. Roll a tennis ball, golf ball or frozen water bottle under the foot several times a day. If the pain persists, check with your doctor.
4. Screenings matter
“Prostate cancer is “the easiest cancer to kill if it’s detected,” Locker said. But men, go figure, would happily skip that part of a physical, he said. “They’re afraid,” he said. “Most men are ego-driven as far as their ‘manlihood,’ but they need to take care of that manlihood part. I don’t know how much more gingerly we can put it.”
Another villain is colon cancer, which can be detected early, he said.
What to do: Schedule the screenings, for crying out loud.
5. You don’t need a gym
“Gravity,” Locker said, “was the first gym ever invented.”
What to do: Pushups, crunches and squats can be done anywhere. Ditto for walking.
6. Your job is not a workout
Even if you do manual labor for a living, “physical activity is above and beyond anything you do in daily life,” O’Bryant said. “It has to be extra.” You don’t need to work out as much as O’Bryant, a competitive amateur body builder. But you do need to raise your heart rate on a regular basis. “Physical activity has such broad-based benefits for men,” he said. “It can reduce depression, help your memory, help your brain at a basic biological level. It may actually reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.”
What to do: Move. And switch it up, Sherman said.
7. Variety counts
“If we don’t vary the stress or stimulus we put on the body, we become bored, the activity becomes mundane, and we don’t gain as much physiological benefit as we would with a varied activity,” Sherman said. “This is why I always encourage anyone to have faster, slower, longer, shorter, heaving, light, hard and easy days.”
You don’t automatically know what to do. “What men do that’s the biggest problem in exercise is not asking for help,” O’Bryant said. “It’s like that asking for directions thing. I go to the gym, and see people there for the first time and they think they automatically know what they’re doing. But they’re probably doing it wrong.”
What to do: Use a trainer. Most gyms offer a free session with membership. Or research the correct way to work out efficiently. “By getting better at the exercises themselves, the outcomes have been better for me,” O’Bryant said.
8. Sunscreen isn’t for wimps
Yes, men get skin cancer, too. “If you’re driving around a lot, you’re getting sun rays on your face,” Locker said. Ditto for your left arm, if you drive with your elbow out the window.
What to do: Use face cream with SPF of at least 15, Locker said. “It will keep your face looking younger and also prevent skin cancer.” Schedule a skin check at least once a year.
9. Exercising isn’t a free license to eat anything
“Men who are successful getting into physical activity often think that’s enough,” O’Bryant said. “‘I work out so I can eat what I want.’ ‘I work out so I can drink whatever I want.’ Instead, you’re negating the benefits,” he said.
What to do: Think moderation. Also remember that diet “is not only related to heart health, but intimately related to brain health,” O’Bryant said. “It’s very, very powerful.”