Help the men in your life change their habits toward healthy living.
There are a million excuses for why men don’t get regular checkups: not enough money, don’t have time, will work through the pain, there’s probably nothing wrong.
A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic in 2016 shows how men’s attitudes about health and wellness are rooted in those excuses:
- About 55 percent of the men surveyed thought men should start being tested for cardiovascular or coronary artery disease at 40 or older. The American Heart Association recommends that regular testing begins at age 20
- 42 percent of men go to the doctor when they fear they have a serious illness
- 19 percent admitted going to the doctor to stop a nagging loved one
- 40 percent don’t get annual checkups
- 28 percent knew that 50 was the age to start being tested for colon cancer
- 53 percent said their health isn’t something they talk about with other men
“My research has shown, in people who haven’t seen a doctor in over five years, three out of four of those people are men. In many cases, those people don’t even have a primary care physician,” says Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist in Oakland, California, who is recognized internationally as an expert in men’s health. “It’s definitely more of an issue with men than women.”
Courtenay, who has served on the clinical faculty in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the author of Dying to Be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental and Behavioral Direction in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys, says the male perspective toward personal health has a lot to do with how they were raised as boys.
“Despite boys actually being at a greater risk for injury, parents tend to be less concerned about the safety of their sons than that of their daughters,” Courtenay says. “Sometimes, boys are discouraged from seeking help, and are exposed to more violence, both of which contribute in a way for those boys to mature into unhealthy men.”
The statistics that support his claims are impactful. Last year, the National Center for Health Statistics showed that women outlive men by five years, on average. Men also have higher death rates in all 15 leading causes of death, except Alzheimer’s disease. Courtenay says men are also one-and-a-half times more likely to die from heart disease and cancer as women.
“Studies have shown that boys and young men perceive themselves to be at less risk for things like skin cancer, when in fact they are at much greater risk. They’ve been indoctrinated to this idea they are invulnerable. It’s one of the attitudes we cultivate in boys. In turn, adult men see themselves as being at much less of a risk for heart disease and especially skin cancer, when in fact they are at much greater risk for all of them,” Courtenay says.
Research by the Journal of Periodontology provides an excellent example of men being less active in their health. Their findings show women are almost twice as likely to receive dental checkups; schedule recommended treatment following those checkups; and have better indicators of periodontal health including lower incidences of dental plaque, tartar and bleeding than men.
A study by the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network also found that men were significantly more likely to eat meats and certain shellfish and women were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Men were also more likely to eat undercooked hamburger and runny eggs. The USDA recommends not consuming raw or undercooked ground beef (internal temperature of 160 F) or eggs, due to risk of bacterial infections like e-coli or salmonella.
With a world of information in the literal palm of most everyone’s hand, it’s hard to believe there are excuses for not knowing about personal health issues. Courtenay believes it takes more than information to motivate average males to take their health more seriously.
“Men are strongly influenced by how they see other men,” Courtenay says. “That’s partly why things like fatherhood have changed for the better. There has been a social pressure to be more involved as dads. My personal research has shown that while men are concerned about their health they often think other men aren’t, leading them to dismiss their personal health issues. This is a misplaced perception about what the norm is.”
A partner’s guide to wellness
Courtenay’s 25 years of research and work centers on men’s health, and he uses this six-point plan to help bring about positive change in men’s lives:
Humanizing means telling them that health concerns are normal. Men are taught to be self-reliant and to conceal weakness, so they think that they shouldn’t need help or feel pain. Humanizing develops trust and increases your effectiveness. Let them know that asking for help, acknowledging pain, expressing fear, crying or needing bed rest are normal, human experiences — they are not unmanly.
Educate them about self-screenings, early detection, diet, nutrition and their personal risks. Make your advice clear, simple, direct and use statistics — many people respond well to hard data. They may also need alternatives to poor health behaviors, like healthy snack options and ideas for fitting fitness into their work day.
Assume the worst
Men tend to ignore their symptoms — they’re not likely to tell you when they’re in pain. Assuming the worst compensates for the tendency to overlook men’s susceptibility — among men and health professionals alike. They are also more likely to minimize their risks. He must perceive the risks are real if he’s going to practice good health habits.
Tailor a plan
Men often fail to maintain routine care, to comply with regimens, to buy prescribed medicines, to attend follow-up appointments, or to contact referrals. Talk to them about this. Help them create realistic health maintenance plans that include regular physicals, a screening and self-care schedule, and specific ways to improve nutrition, reduce risks, use medicines correctly and to stick to treatments.
There is strong evidence linking social relationships with health and longevity. But society teaches men to be self-sufficient. Help them identify the social supports and find social activities and support groups as well. Encourage them to reach out to others — because often they won’t. Wives and partners are an important source of support too — and men may hesitate to ask you for help when they need it. Follow-up phone contact is an effective, low-cost way to offer support that also fosters behavioral change.
Many of the attitudes and behaviors that hurt men can be turned into health advantages. A need to win can make them risk their lives or in turn provide an incentive to give up smoking. Men are often taught to approach tasks rationally, so emphasize the intellectual aspects of learning about health. Reason with them about the logic of changing unhealthy behaviors. Goal setting is an appealing and effective way to modify behavior. Frame health goals as a target to shoot for. When they are recuperating, make the goal recovery or encourage them to use their love of keeping score to track blood pressure.
“Our research has shown that convincing men to think about going, not telling them to go, doubles the chances they’ll actually do it. It’s a hard thing to grasp,” Courtenay says. “The best thing is lots of information and education. Cutting out articles, providing links to stories — high information and low pressure is the key. And this is true for most people, not just men. When we are pushed or nagged, we resist.
Chad Eiler is the senior copywriter for Healthy Living Made Simple.