Men's Health

It is understood that men are less likely to seek medical assistance for managing their health. Research also suggests they are less likely to follow medical prescriptions and sometimes refuse long-term therapy.1 Therefore, encouraging men to prioritise their health and seek medical advice when needed (rather than viewing this as a sign of weakness) could potentially improve their health outcomes. Below we have outlined some tips focussing on men’s health and wellbeing.


Vary your workouts

A variety of workout types keeps the body adapting and improving, rather than sticking to the same exercises over and over again.2 A combination of different aerobic, muscle training and stretching activities appears to provide  greater benefit, and reduces boredom.3 Finding an activity that you enjoy doing, whether it be sport, weight resistance, aerobic training, group exercise or otherwise is likely to help with motivation. When we are slogging away doing exercises that we think ‘are good for us’ it isn’t as effective compared to when we enjoy the activity, and a recent study has shown that enjoying the exercise results in lower perceived fatigue.4 We are well aware that physical activity is good for our health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular and neurovascular diseases and some cancers, but unfortunately less than 20% of the population actually take part in exercise.5 The difference between taking part in physical activity and feeling like we ought to take part depends on how we enjoy it. So do some research, find a local sports team to join or small group exercise classes in a gym or park (following social distancing guidelines).

Our different personality traits also reflect choices in our mode of exercise, for example, those who enjoy group exercises and sports tend to be more extroverted, whilst more introverted personalities might prefer aerobic and resistance training. We each have a blend of personality traits, therefore it could be worthwhile to explore a variety of exercise modes. Matching an activity to our personality has been found to improve motivation, frequency and therefore improved physical health.5


Check your head

Differences in assessing mental health between men and women may be to the disadvantage of men. Generally speaking, women may show more ‘internalising’ symptoms such as anxiety and depression, whereas men may suffer with more ‘externalising’ symptoms.6 These could include violence, alcohol and drug use. Having said this, it can be problematic to make assumptions based on sex when it comes to mental health issues,6 as we are all vulnerable. Worryingly, in the UK, men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide.7

Take a check on how you’re feeling. Reflection based practice is something that is necessary and required in many professions, yet we could do well to reflect personally on our own feelings. This can allow us to objectively identify elements that are making us feel low, and possibly make change for the better. This is of particular importance in recent times, as we are still being advised to socially distance and move our socialising online. With over 3.8 million men living alone in the UK,8 taking proactive steps to keep in touch with friends and family is wise. Online therapy and mind health apps are widely available. Mindfulness podcasts mentalhealth.org.uk/podcasts-and-videos and apps such as Self-help Anxiety Management (SAM) sam-app.org.uk are worth checking out.


Lifestyle

Men have a lower life expectancy than women throughout the world and higher rates of coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer (traditionally seen as male-specific illnesses) compared to women.  However these conditions share many preventable common risk factors regardless of gender, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and high-risk behaviors.9 Therefore social factors and men’s attitudes towards their health appear to play a significant role in the lower life expectancy.

Try swapping out the end of day alcoholic drink for something different, such as kombucha. It’s great for gut health and now readily available in most food stores. Or walk to the local shop once more than usual, instead of driving.  Gradually introducing a new activity or health habit is the key. It can take on average 66 days to establish a new habit.10 So don’t get put off if it’s proving difficult initially. “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” wasn’t just about eating apples!


Diet

Although generally a diet that is high in fibre, low in processed foods and refined sugar with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is good for both men and women,11 there are a few additional nutrients that could be of particular benefit to men.

For fertility, diets high in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc and lycopene), vitamin D and folate, and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids are associated with higher semen quality.12 Zinc appears to play a particularly crucial role in men due to its antioxidant properties, role in sperm formation and hormone modulation.13 There is evidence that children may have a higher risk of metabolic diseases and type 2 diabetes if their father ate a poor diet prior to conception.14 So increase the variety of nutrient rich food, such as brightly coloured fruit and veg, oily fish, nuts and seeds.

Many studies are indicating that the health of the gut microbiome is an important factor not only in digestive issues,15 but also cardiovascular health,16 mental health,17 and male conditions such as prostate health18 and fertility.19 Regularly eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt and kefir may help to encourage a healthy microbial balance in the gut.  


It's not all in your control

As stated in many men's health reports, health-seeking behaviour is greatly influenced by society and culture. The concepts of masculinity differ between cultures, and are reflected in masculine health behaviours, such as being stoic, tough, in control, and being able to take care of themselves.9 Norms, attitudes and behaviours related to what it means to be a man in today's society might impact on our health seeking behaviour,9 and adherence to these specific masculine norms is associated with unhealthy behaviours.20 Some male-related health topics may be perceived as embarrassing to talk about, however concerns such as erectile dysfunction, can  actually be associated with cardiovascular risk factors and potentially predict cardiovascular-related diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, and angina.9 So don’t shy away from getting in touch with your GP or health care practitioner about health concerns.

Much like mental health, maintaining our physical health is a balancing act between taking steps to ensure we have the best foundation, but also taking note on when additional support is necessary. A broken down car is not a reflection of a bad driver.


Throughout recent months, there has been a shift in the way we live, work and socialise. Why not use this time as a way to introduce some new habits, such as calling friends and family more often, or trying new food and exercise routines. And remember to also reflect, taking a moment to evaluate what is going on around us. You may then be in a better position to support yourself and others.



References

1. Kim SW. Men’s Health: What Should We Know? World J Mens Health 2015; 33: 45–9.

2. Fyfe JJ, Loenneke JP. Interpreting Adaptation to Concurrent Compared with Single-Mode Exercise Training: Some Methodological Considerations. Sport. Med. 2018; 48: 289–97.

3. Baz-Valle E, Schoenfeld BJ, Torres-Unda J, Santos-Concejero J, Balsalobre-Fernández C. The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men. PLoS One 2019; 14. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0226989.

4. Chatfield SL, Gamble A, Hallam JS. Men’s Preferences for Physical Activity Interventions: An Exploratory Study Using a Factorial Survey Design Created With R Software. Am J Mens Health 2018; 12: 347–58.

5. Box AG, Feito Y, Brown C, Petruzzello SJ. Individual differences influence exercise behavior: how personality, motivation, and behavioral regulation vary among exercise mode preferences. Heliyon 2019; 5. DOI:10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e01459.

6. Smith DT, Mouzon DM, Elliott M. Reviewing the Assumptions About Men’s Mental Health: An Exploration of the Gender Binary. Am J Mens Health 2018; 12: 78–89.

7. Suicide facts and figures | Samaritans. https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/ (accessed June 4, 2020).

8. UK: people living alone 2019 | Statista.

9. Moon DG. Changing Men’s Health: Leading the Future. World J Mens Health 2018; 36: 1–3.

10. Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. Am. J. Lifestyle Med. 2019; 13: 142–4.

11. Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. Adv Nutr 2012; 3: 506–16.

12. Salas-Huetos A, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies. Hum Reprod Update 2017; 23: 371–89.

13. Fallah A, Mohammad-Hasani A, Colagar AH. Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization. J Reprod Infertil 2018; 19: 69–81.

14. Ferguson-Smith AC, Patti M-E. You Are What Your Dad Ate. Cell Metab 2011; 13: 115–7.

15. Ishaque SM, Khosruzzaman SM, Ahmed DS, Sah MP. A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial of a multi-strain probiotic formulation (Bio-Kult®) in the management of diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Gastroenterol 2018; 18: 71.

16. Thushara RM, Gangadaran S, Solati Z, Moghadasian MH. Cardiovascular benefits of probiotics: a review of experimental and clinical studies. Food Funct 2016; 7: 632–42.

17. Wallace CJK, Milev R. The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. Ann Gen Psychiatry 2017; 16: 14.

18. Vicari E, La Vignera S, Castiglione R, Condorelli RA, Vicari LO, Calogero AE. Chronic bacterial prostatitis and irritable bowel syndrome: effectiveness of treatment with rifaximin followed by the probiotic VSL#3. Asian J Androl 2014; 16: 735–9.

19. Valcarce DG, Genovés S, Riesco MF, et al. Probiotic administration improves sperm quality in asthenozoospermic human donors. Benef Microbes 2017; 8: 193–206.

20. Ragonese C, Barker G. Understanding masculinities to improve men’s health. Lancet. 2019; 394: 198–9.