Save our men
Men's health Irish men have a reputation for taking a cavalier attitude to their health and well-being, and eating and drinking all the wrong things. Dr Ciara Kelly advises our men on how to look after themselves and have a healthier and longer life.
In a bold move I've decided to become a staunch meninist this week and make this all about the men. The current life expectancy of an Irish man is 78 years, a full five years less than their female counterpart - completely unacceptable and sexist! So here we're going to look at what Irish men can do to narrow that gap.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men in Ireland and can strike from your 30s. Men are at significantly increased risk of heart disease as compared to women, but luckily the risk of developing it can be significantly decreased by changing your lifestyle. So what can and should you do to add back those extra years of life?
It may sound obvious, but because half of all smokers will die from the habit - stopping smoking is the easiest way to live longer. Smokers on average live a full ten years less than their non-smoking counterparts, so binning the fags - the earlier the better - can add back ten years to your life expectancy and allow you to stick around to enjoy your retirement. It reduces your risk of heart disease but also stroke, cancer, vascular disease, COPD and Alzheimer's to mention but a few.
And there are lots of ways to help you quit. Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of patches, gum, and inhalers almost double your chances of success, as do eCigarettes. There're also other tablets available on prescription that lessen cravings. And alternatives such as acupuncture, hypnosis and addiction counselling help too. 70pc of smokers want to quit but many don't until they get that awful diagnosis of lung cancer. So don't long-finger it - there's no time like now.
Lower your cholesterol
Most Irish men have high cholesterol, which is strongly linked to heart disease, vascular disease and stroke. A healthy diet is low in bad cholesterol - like fried foods and fatty meats. And diets containing good cholesterol - like oily fish, avocados and rapeseed oil, help bring your cholesterol under control. Porridge oats and plant sterols also help. So ditch the breakfast rolls and think salmon salads. Keeping your cholesterol below five, slashes your risk of heart disease by a third.
Blood pressure (BP) tends to rise with age, but for optimum health it should be below 140/90 and ideally closer to 120/80. High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels which cause them to wear out more quickly than you want. To lower your BP reduce salt, caffeine and alcohol in your diet. Take regular exercise - which reduces your heart rate - and so lowers your B P. And maintain a healthy BMI - body mass index - to stop your heart from working so hard.
BMI is definitely harder on men than on women - but the fact that big muscly professional rugby players have BMIs over 30 doesn't mean that's the reason why most people do! BMI is a measure of your weight for your height - and, although, imperfect, is still the best measure we have of whether or not you are a healthy weight. Your BMI should be between 20 and 25 for a man.
Two thirds of Irishmen are either overweight or obese, and that's climbing. Irish males are on track to be the fattest in the world! Obesity puts you at significant risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes of course, but also puts you at increased risks of all cancers, causes early arthritis and affects your breathing, mobility, mood and confidence.
Our increasing levels of obesity mean the next generation may be the first one to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. To live a longer life get your weight under control. One of the big issues men have is portion sizes - they are too big! And a healthy plate should have one quarter protein, one quarter carbs and half vegetables. Does your dinner plate look like that?
Men should have a waist circumference below 37 inches - that's because central obesity, 'the apple shape', means there's fat deposited around your heart and organs. You measure your waist at your belly button so even if you wear 36 inch trousers - if you've a belly hanging down over them - 36 isn't your true waist!
Exercise is brilliant for men. I can't say that enough. Aside from the huge benefits in terms of fitness, heart health, maintaining a healthy BMI, mobility and increased energy levels, exercise is as effective at treating moderate depression as medication. That's huge. I prescribe exercise to my male patients as firstline treatment - it's that powerful. Men need exercise. It helps them manage their mood, let off steam and feel good about themselves. Exercise can also allow men to socialise with their mates without it revolving around alcohol, something that's not easy in Ireland.
Which brings me onto alcohol. Alcohol is the single biggest risk factor for death in Irish men under 30 - through accidents, assaults and suicides. The majority of Irish men engage in harmful drinking. Which, apart from causing weight gain - also causes huge harm to their health and personal lives. Alcohol is a depressant. It affects relationships, careers, finances and your ability to function. We've one of the highest rates of male suicides in the world. Excessive alcohol makes you eight times more likely to commit suicide. Two thirds of Irish men drink excessively. Work it out.
The maximum recommended weekly limit of alcohol for men is 17 units or eight and a half pints. Six units/three pints or more at a sitting is binge drinking and adversely affects your health.
Depression and Stress
Irish men suffer with depression - you only have to look at our rates of male suicide to know that. In fact, Irish men over 55 have a higher rate of depression than women. They also have a huge disadvantage over women when it comes to mental health issues, in that it's traditionally been more difficult for them to talk about it culturally.
Alcohol plays a huge role in Irish men's mental health, and if you are suffering from stress, anxiety or low mood you should avoid it. Exercise has enormous positive benefits - but when that's not enough - you should speak to someone about counselling and/or medication. Mental health issues are fixable but you need to seek help and do something about them.
Sex, Marriage and your prostate
Sex is great for men. (And women, but we're not talking about them). It releases hormones that make you feel happy and calm and it fosters intimacy, which is important. The feeling of connectedness to another person is something we all crave, and sex has a role in that. It also burns 300 kcals an hour - so is a good form of exercise. Regular ejaculation is also thought to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer - the commonest male cancer. That may not sound very sexy, but it's another good reason to enjoy an active sex life.
Married men live longer than singletons - so that's another way to add years to your life. Their stress levels and blood pressure are lower but it also seems that those in a relationship take better care of themselves, eat better, exercise more, are likely to be economically secure and also have the benefit of a sense of social connection and inclusion. Our mental health is strongly linked to having supportive relationships.
Basic hygiene to avoid contracting infections that can lead to serious complications that can affect the heart, or other body systems, is a cornerstone of good health.
Men often aren't that great at looking after their health or indeed seeking help if they think they have a problem. This is usually a combination of having their focus elsewhere but also being nervous at the idea of going to the doctor which can feel threatening or dis-empowering. The thing is, getting problems sorted early and also having occasional check-ups especially from middle age can prevent problems from arising or getting worse. Lifestyle tweaks and occasional visits to your GP for a check-up can maximise your life expectancy, so you can give those older ladies a run for their money.