Thursday 25 December 2014

What men in Ireland need to do about their health

The National Men's Health Policy 2008-2013 shows that men have a lower life expectancy than women and are more likely to die from the major causes of death in Ireland, says Muiris FitzGerald. Here are 10 tips to help Irish males deal with their health

There is a crisis in men's health in Ireland, but all too few seem to be aware of it. The National Men's Health Policy 2008-2013 from the Department of Health spells it out. Male life expectancy is 71 years -- five years lower than women. Worse again, of those men who make it to 65 years of age, many will suffer disease or disability. Not a pretty prospect.

Men are more likely to die from the leading causes of death in Ireland. Three quarters will die of the big three killers -- heart disease/stroke, cancer and respiratory disease. Many of these are preventable, or if diagnosed in time, treatable. Young men and boys have six to seven times the suicide rate of young women. Men in the poorest socio-economic groups are six times more likely to die from respiratory disease and 16 times more likely to die from alcohol abuse. Death rates in male unemployed, homeless, and Travellers are frighteningly high.

The authors of the National Men's Health Policy declared these issues a major public health concern. Why then, has there been so little debate about men's health? Maybe it's due to traditional male attitudes -- 'sure I'll go to a doctor when I'm sick', 'sure we all have to die sometime', 'sure we all have to die of something', 'worrying about health and attending doctors, that's women's stuff'. But recently men's health is forcing its way into the public consciousness, driven by suicide prevention groups, road accident campaigns and Irish Cancer Society publicity on male cancers. All of that is encouraging but how does the average Irish male deal practically with looking after their individual health? Here's a list of 10 things you should do right now.

1 Get to know the key facts about male health

What causes shorter life expectancy, greater infirmity, and leaves you old before your time?

Find out the facts about the killing and crippling diseases likely to affect you -- heart disease/stroke, smoker's lung, cancer and accidents, drug/alcohol abuse and suicide. Identify the ways that you can reduce your risk -- exercise, diet, not smoking or doing drugs, avoiding alcohol excess, reducing risky male behaviour (speeding, aggression and unsafe sex).

How do you start? Simple. Use Google and consult Irish websites.

2Get a general practitioner now -- even if you are well

Get a good local GP recommended by family or friends. Ideally in a group practice with a team of doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, counsellors.

Make an appointment now while your health is your focus. It might not last.

Ask for a health check-up tailored to your needs, age, medical and family history to identify your risks. Have a physical examination with blood pressure and breathing test measurements and necessary investigations, such as blood cholesterol, to establish a baseline.

Ask for a personalised preventive health plan. Then, act on the advice given about lifestyle modification, exercise and diet. Get a yearly review, stay with the programme.

3Diet and exercise -- strike a balance

A word about exercise. We are not talking about Jane Fonda gyrations or buying barbells. Just use the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of driving to the shop, take the kids and dog for walks, spread regular exercise throughout the day and increase it on active weekends. If you are a gym-bunny with all the gear, that's fine. Exercise in your own way and enjoy it.

4Smoking -- don't even think about it or cut it out -- now

This is an absolute -- one of the few -- and that includes marijuana. The reasons are self-evident but here goes. It is the biggest contributory factor to the main killer cancers, especially lung cancer, where it accounts for a whopping 95 per cent.

Sunday Indo Living

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