Men's Health Month - Top 10 Tips on Men's Health & Wellbeing from Dr John Maclean
Last updated: 10.28am, Sunday 4th June 2023
With the summer weather encouraging us all to spend more time outdoors and in line with Mens Health Month there has never been a better time for men to think about their health and how to improve our overall wellbeing.
Despite major advances in recent years heart and circulatory diseases including stroke remain the biggest killer in Scotland especially in our most deprived areas. According to the British Heart Foundation this results in 1500 deaths each month in Scotland with currently 700,000 Scots living with heart and circulatory disease, 80% of which have at least one other health condition. Add the high rates of lung and bowel cancer in men to these stats and you can see that despite the recent positive trend there is still significant room for improvement.
So, what are our top 10 tips to look out for warning signs and allow men to make a real difference to their health and well-being?
- Stop smoking: cigarette smoking is still the single biggest risk factor for both heart and circulatory disease and lung disease including lung cancer and COPD. There has never been more advice and support available to help us to stop including access to smoking cessation clinics and nicotine replacement therapy. Check online to see your local services or speak to your GP or practice nurse.
- Get a blood pressure check: high blood pressure is a major risk factor for both heart disease and especially stroke. 29% of adults in Scotland have high blood pressure according to the British Heart Foundation and as many as 500,000 adults in the UK are undiagnosed. One “problem” is that for the vast majority high blood pressure has no symptoms so the only way to know is to get your blood pressure checked. You can use a home blood pressure machine or see your practice nurse.
- Get a diabetes check: Type 2 diabetes is the more common form in Scotland and unfortunately a reflection of our more sedentary, calorie consuming lifestyle. Key early warning symptoms include increased thirst, peeing a lot especially overnight, feeling more tired than usual and blurred vision. Diabetes can be diagnosed on a simple blood test with treatment a combination of medication and most importantly lifestyle changes including losing weight and changing what we eat. Diabetes UK have lots of advice and support including tips to lose weight and healthy meal plans.
- Get a cholesterol check: raised cholesterol is a significant risk factor for developing both heart and circulatory disease. While some of us may have a genetic condition the vast majority of Scots have raised cholesterol as a result of our poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyle. Like diabetes lifestyle change is key to cholesterol management and reducing risk with effective medication also beneficial.
- Are you overweight? While measurements such as BMI and body fat are helpful the easiest measurement to check if you are overweight is waist measurement – over 37” and you are overweight with over 40” indicating obesity and significantly increasing your risk of the diseases mentioned above. Losing weight is not about crash diets with rebound weight gain – it is about a lifestyle change in your eating habits in partnership with being more active.
- Check for warning signs: Most serious medical conditions including many cancers first present with symptoms that many of us ignore or assume are not important. These include:
- Unexplained lumps – including testicular lumps, swelling or irregularities. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men and if diagnosed early has an excellent outlook – so check your testicles regularly and see you doctor immediately if you find anything unusual.
- Unexplained shortness of breath, a persistent cough or blood in your spit are signs of potential significant lung disease including lung cancer.
- Skin moles changing shape, becoming bigger, darker or bleeding can be a sigh of skin cancer so see your GP for a check without delay.
- Changes in bowel habit such as new diarrhoea, constipation or blood in the stools are not only signs of bowel cancer but of other diseases of the bowel so get a GP check. Remember to take advantage of the NHS bowel sample check when you reach 60 – it can be a lifesaver.
- Getting older – think prostate: are you peeing more especially at night? Is the flow of your urine less powerful and more stop/start than it used to be? Prostate enlargement is usual as we get older and not necessarily a sign of cancer but it needs to be checked and remember these symptoms may also be a sign of diabetes.
- Erectile problems: We don’t talk about it do we, but erectile problems are common both in regularly getting and maintaining an erection. Your GP can help and remember erectile problems can be a sign of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression so don’t be embarrassed and see your GP.
- Reduce the stigma of mental Health: We all have mental health – both good and bad. The spectrum of mental health includes the more common anxiety and depression as well as such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. Poor mental health results in feelings and symptoms that affect our everyday lives and while these symptoms can be the result of life events such as bereavement they can occur with no obvious underlying cause. As a group men are less likely to be open about their mental health and share problem with family and friends and less likely to seek help from and engage with mental health professionals. The NHS website has excellent information and support for our mental health. Remember its ok to say when we are not ok.
- Physical inactivity: Despite this being the most important I’ve left this to last because if we wanted one scientifically proven intervention which would have a positive effect on almost all the issues above then we have found it – it costs nothing, is easy to do, has a quick and significant effect and does not need doctors, nurses, or blood tests.
Unlike some websites I don’t call it exercise which to me has a picture of gym subscriptions, expensive equipment and clothes and sweaty joggers. So how much should we try to do to be beneficial – the good news is that even raising our activity level a bit will have a beneficial result. Advice is to build in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity into our week – that’s 30 mins on 5 days of the week. Its important to chose activities that we like to maintain adherence so walking, swimming, an exercise class or just being more active in our normal day counts.
Why not plan your activity together with a friend which is more fun, and you are more likely to maintain. Ideally, we need to be active at a level where we feel that we are breathing a bit faster and feeling warm. More vigorous activity will give additional benefits, but the hardest step is starting – when you do you will find it will be both enjoyable and give you a sense of satisfaction.
So, there you go. Why not give take advantage of the summer weather and get out and about. Now’s the time for that overall health check so see what your GP surgery has to offer and remember the hardest part is making that first step...
NHS website Live Well - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
British Heart Foundation Welcome to British Heart Foundation - BHF