Sunday 24 June 2018

10 little things you can do to mind yourself

Julia Molony charts small steps you can take for better health

These are big problems. But small changes can make a dramatic difference.
These are big problems. But small changes can make a dramatic difference.
'Small changes can make a dramatic difference'

Every year, in the run up to Father's Day, International Men's Health week takes place in a bid to encourage men all around the world to attend to their physical and emotional health. And for good reason. In Ireland, men have a life expectancy four-and-a-half years shorter than women, and higher death rates for all leading causes of death. According to the Institute of Public Health, adult men are at higher risk than women of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer. They are also more likely to be admitted to hospital with psychiatric symptoms.

These are big problems. But small changes can make a dramatic difference. The theme of Men's Health Week in Ireland this year is "small steps". Here, we've put together our top ten small steps for men.

1 Don't delude yourself

Irish men are inclined to be over-confident when it comes to their health. Optimism is a healthy trait, but complacency is not, especially when it is an impediment to taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle. According to a report published by the Health Promotion Department, South Eastern Health Board, "Despite their relative lower life expectancy and higher rate of mortality, men see themselves as having better health than women". They are also "less likely to have recently consulted a doctor. Indeed in a comparative study of 15 European countries, Irish men had the second-highest level of perceived 'good health', despite having the lowest life expectancy of all countries surveyed."

2 Don't Grin and Bear it

Men are more likely than women to ignore symptoms or put that GP appointment on the long finger. According to the Health Promotion Department report, behavioural studies have demonstrated that "men are slower to notice signs of illness, and when they do, they are less likely to consult their doctor". This is why men often don't do as well as women after being diagnosed with a health condition. "Late presentation can result in poorer health outcomes, and has been widely implicated in unnecessary premature mortality for men," the authors conclude.

3 Beat the binge

No amount of alcohol is risk-free, but dose matters a lot when it comes to alcohol's impact on health. Some 30pc of Irish men regularly consume more than the recommended weekly limits for alcohol and Irish men drink about three times as much alcohol as women. Irish men are also more likely to binge drink than their European counterparts. Recently, the idea of developing a healthier relationship with alcohol by drinking "mindfully" is gaining traction amongst those who want to cut down. A study from University College London demonstrated that just a few minutes of mindfulness training can help heavy drinkers reduce their intake. But drinking mindfully is also about carefully tracking how much you drink, choosing high-quality drinks and savouring them, and stopping before the tipping point where inhibitions are lowered and you are likely to throw all caution to the wind.

4 Get up from your chair

Modern life requires us to spend the bulk of hours in any given day sitting down. No wonder 45pc of men on the island of Ireland don't take adequate exercise. And inactivity, according to the WHO, is the cause of 5pc of all deaths worldwide. The answer, according to British GP and health writer Dr Rangan Chatterjee, is not another underused gym membership, but rather to "make the world your gym."

Instead of punishing work outs, he advocates a simple change of attitude in his book The 4 Pillar Plan. Instead of seeing exercise as something you do in a designated space at a designated time, "it's much better for us to see our whole lives as a potential workout." He suggests thinking about "movement" rather than exercise. Walk to work, take the stairs. Do a set of squats, lunges or press ups while you're waiting for the kettle to boil. Incorporating regular short bursts of activity into daily life can have a big health impact.

5 Invest in relationships

We are currently living through an epidemic of loneliness. A recent survey carried out in the UK found that over one in eight men say they have no friends to discuss serious topics with, and that figure rises to one in four in the 65-69 age group. Loneliness is a big problem in Ireland too, and there is a growing body of evidence which suggest that loneliness can be as damaging to health as obesity and smoking, and it is linked to depression, dementia, inflammation and higher all-cause mortality.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the risk of illness is higher for single men than those who are married, so it pays to invest time and energy in building a happy home life. But for those who are divorced, widowed or bachelors, there are simple ways to seek out and benefit from companionship, such as joining a men's group, participating in a sports club, or inviting a neighbour for coffee.

6 Head to the Shed

"Men don't talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder". So says the Irish Men's Sheds Association, which was formed in 2011 to promote health and well-being in Irish men. Top of their remit is to reduce social isolation in males and help them connect with their communities and peers, through skills, activities and open conversation. All men are welcome to join the culture of trust and respect that flourishes in a shed.

"Becoming a member of a Community Men's Shed gives a man that safe and busy environment where he can find many of these things in an atmosphere of friendship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a chat and a cuppa if that is all they're looking for," says the association.

7 Quit the cigs

You've heard it time and time again, but for good reason. According to the Irish Cancer society, "more men in Ireland die from lung cancer than any other cancer, but it goes so much further than that. Cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, kidney, oesophagus, stomach and bowel are also heavily linked with smoking."

Every day in Ireland, 100 people die from smoking-related conditions, and smokers under 40 are five times more likely to die of a heart attack than non-smokers. Still not convinced? Smoking is also a cause of erectile dysfunction, and fertility problems in men.

8 Don't forget the sunscreen

Rates of melanoma skin cancer are on the rise amongst Irish men, and are increasing at a faster rate than those diagnosed in women, according to a report published last year. Mortality rates are also growing faster in men than women, and "male melanoma patients tended to be diagnosed at a later stage than females," according to the report. Experts unanimously advise covering up in the sun with hat, clothing and liberally applied, broad-spectrum SPF, even in Ireland. And if you notice any skin changes, consult your GP.

9 Tackle job stress

A new study just published in The Lancet identified that men who have pre-existing health conditions are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of job-related stress. Researchers from University College London found that those who suffer cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or who have previously had a stroke were 68pc more likely to die during the duration of the 14-year study. Stress did not impact the mortality of healthy participants or women. The key take-home message? Stress management strategies are extremely important for men with health conditions.

10 Don't let stigma stop you seeking help

Irish men are four times more likely to commit suicide than Irish women, and men of middle-age are at the highest risk of taking their own life. Stigma plays a huge role in why men avoid accessing mental health services when they are suffering. Mental illness is very common, say the people from Mental Health Ireland. One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. But the good news is that "most people who experience mental health problems recover fully, or are able to live with and manage them, especially if they get help early on".

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