This week (15 – 21 June) is international Men’s Health Week. It’s an opportunity to discuss men’s health and focus on the gender gap between men’s and women’s health.
As doctors, we know the statistics: the suicide rate among men is 2.7 times higher than women. In New Zealand, the overall number of deaths between the ages of 50 and 75 years for men, is 30% higher than for women. A boy born in Australia in 2010 has a life expectancy of 78 – a girl born at the same time could expect to live to 82.3 years old.
From the very beginning, boys suffer more illness, more accidents and are likely to die earlier than their female counterparts. But cultural and gender stereotypes mean that men are expected to be ‘tough’, they’re less likely to visit their GP and they’re more likely to delay treatment when they need it.
The leading causes of death in men are heart disease and cancers which can be attributed to poor lifestyle choices like excessive alcohol intake, an inappropriate diet and a lack of exercise.
There’s another demographic that’s often guilty of some of these poor lifestyle choices – particularly the lack of exercise, the poor diet and the reluctance to visit their GP… yup, it’s doctors.
While this men’s health week is an opportunity to educate our patients, and to encourage non-medic men to take better care of their health and wellbeing, it’s also an opportunity to show leadership in this space.
We shouldn’t need a themed week to remind us to exercise a little more and eat a little better – but if you’ve been waiting for permission to prioritise your own health, this is it.
Prioritising your health
In 2016, the Declaration of Geneva was amended to include the need for doctors to attend to their own health and wellbeing. It makes sense: if you’re fit and healthy, you’ll have more time for yourself, your family and your patients.
Here’s six tips and tricks to help you on your way.
1. Get tracking
Fitness trackers are all the rage these days. Garmin watches, Apple watches and Fitbits can track your heart rate, the number of steps your done that day, and even measure your respiration rate. Using stats and data can help us track our health and work towards fitness goals.
2. Get competitive
Team up with colleagues to set daily step goals, or other manageable health challenges. A bit of competition can go a long way and if you’re competing against those with similar work schedules, there’s no excuse to tap out.
Yes, it’s got a reputation for being a bit ‘new age rah’, but a few minutes of mindfulness each day go a long way to improving your mental health, decreasing stress and improving coping skills. Try a guided meditation app like The Mindfulness App or Headspace. Find a method that works for you and do it regularly.
4. Do Dry July
We all know the score: drink more water and less alcohol.
5. Eat more nutritious food
Again, we know the research, we know the health benefits. But have you had enough fruit and vegetables today? Have you eaten plenty of grains and pulses and eaten a good amount of protein? Processed food has a habit of creeping into our diets; watch out for this and make healthy, nutritious choices wherever you can.
6. Check in on a mate
Doctors should look out for each other. Call a mate, check they’re okay and talk to them about your day.
It’s up to us to change the statistics. It can be frustrating advising patients to change their lifestyle habits, knowing they might not take our advice. But changing our own health habits? That’s (quite literally) in our hands.