Insight Hospital & Medical Center Chicago – We’ve all heard the statistics that women are more likely to live longer than men. From heart disease and cancer to diabetes and mental health, men die an average of five years sooner than women according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although this gap is slowly shrinking, many physicians consider men’s health to be a silent crisis. Consider these numbers from the UNC School of Medicine: one in three men have high blood pressure, three out of four men are overweight, men are twice as likely to die of ischemic heart disease, men are two times more likely to binge drink than women, and 17 out of 100 men smoke (compared to 13 out of 100 women). 

There are many factors that contribute to this disparity in men’s health, including genetics, behavior, and a lack of preventative care. Fortunately, it is never too late to get healthy. Making changes at any age can lead to meaningful results in quality of life, and even life expectancy. As we wrap up National Men’s Health Month, here are six ways we can make men’s health a priority year-round. 

Find a Primary Care Physician
One of the first steps in your healthcare journey is choosing a primary care physician. A PCP is a doctor that provides and coordinates healthcare services for patients, including preventative healthcare and cancer screenings. As you build your relationship, they will also work with you to understand your medical history and help you develop health and lifestyle goals. The ultimate objective is to find someone who understands your needs, answers your questions, and guides you through the healthcare system. Once you establish a PCP, schedule routine checkups every year and mention any health issues you may be experiencing before they progress into long term illness or death.  

Choosing the right primary care physician is a big decision, but there are a few things to consider to simplify the process. One of the best ways to find someone you can trust is by asking friends and family for recommendations. You will also want to verify that the physician is licensed and qualified. Board-certified primary care physicians have not only met the licensing requirements in their state, but they also have to pass comprehensive exams and keep up with the latest developments in their field. Finally, make sure your PCP works with your health plan. 

Improve Eating Habits & Review Unhealthy Behaviors
With the abundance and convenience of processed foods, many men struggle with maintaining a nutritious diet. But diet plays a key role in reducing the risk of chronic disease, lowering obesity, and keeping you feeling healthy. Choosing a nutritious diet with appropriate portions can improve your health and help you maintain a healthy weight. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy products are all healthy choices. Lean meats, fish, beans, and nuts are good options for protein. It is also important to choose foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. As we age, adults have different nutritional needs. For more information and resources on developing a healthy eating plan, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate website.

It is also important to break unhealthy habits. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health and can cause many types of cancer, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease. Excessive alcohol consumption and recreational drug use is also tied to many health conditions, including heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, many men spend time in the sun without wearing sunscreen and are at risk of developing melanoma, one of the deadliest cancers. 

Exercise Regularly
Exercising is one of the best ways to feel better, improve your health, and add years to your life. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, but even small amounts of physical activity can make a difference. Walking, jogging, playing sports, and even mowing the lawn are great ways to meet your fitness goals. Strength training for all major muscle groups is also recommended for men at least twice a week. 

For most people, following an exercise plan is easier said than done. If you’re just starting out or are struggling to stay on track, remember to be kind to yourself. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to experience the benefits of exercise. Start small and work your way up, find activities or routines you like, and keep realistic expectations. Results won’t happen overnight, but your efforts will pay off with consistency. 

Focus on Mental Health
Although our physical health usually takes precedence when we think about healthcare, mental health is equally important. In fact, the two are often linked. For example, depression can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Conversely, the same conditions can increase your risk of developing a mental health issue. Yet the men’s mental health crisis in the U.S. continues to escalate. Today, approximately ten percent of American men suffer from anxiety or depression, yet less than half seek treatment according to research from the National Center for Health Statistics. Men are also 3.7 times more likely than women to die by suicide in the U.S. 

So what can men do to address mental health? There is no one size fits all answer, but talking to your doctor is a good starting point. It can be difficult to open up, but healthcare professionals are here to help and can refer you to someone they trust who specializes in mental health. In addition to professional treatment, self-care can also make a big impact on mental health. From interacting with friends and eating well to enjoying something you’re passionate about, take time to nurture your body, mind, and social needs, and you may feel better and more balanced. 

Get Some Rest
Another way to improve your physical and mental health is to get more rest. For many men with demanding jobs and busy schedules, sleep is often at the bottom of their list of priorities. However, sleep is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Not only is this our time to relax and recharge, it also allows us to be alert and perform better the next day. 

The average adult requires about seven to eight hour of sleep each night, but if you have difficulty getting a full night’s rest, there are a number of tips that may work for you. Start by going to sleep at the same time each night and waking up at the same time every morning – even on weekends. Don’t take naps that last longer than 20 to 30 minutes, and never nap in the late afternoon or evening. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and screen usage later in the day. Finally, make sure your bedroom is comfortable and free from lights, screens, and other distractions. If you still have trouble sleeping, speak to your doctor. They may recommend lifestyle changes, medications, or specialists to diagnose sleep disorders. 

Spread the Word
You can play a big role in promoting men’s health by spreading the word! Whether it’s talking about eating well, exercise, or preventative health screenings, leading by example helps other men see the value in making healthy decisions. For more information on men’s health, the Men’s Health Network is a national non-profit organization with excellent information on everything from health awareness to disease prevention. As a multispecialty healthcare organization, Insight also offers a wide range of men’s health services. Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment in Chicago or Michigan