Men are less likely than women to see a doctor or other health provider, suggesting they care less about their health, or that healthcare services aren’t as equipped to deal with men’s health issues.
Statistics show that more males die at every life stage than females of the same age. In Australia, suicide is the number one cause of death for men under the age of 44, with male suicide contributing to 80% of the national suicide rate. Additionally, men are more likely to die from heart disease, liver disease and diabetes at earlier ages.
Understanding the biological and psychological differences of men’s health is a crucial step in providing effective healthcare for men and boys.
Men’s Health Week was recently celebrated (12 – 18 June) to raise global awareness aimed at addressing key issues of men’s health, raising the profile of men’s health needs, and discussing the importance of early disease detection.
In support of Men’s Health Week, University of Sydney experts provide advice on how men can take better care of their physical and mental health.
1. Reframing psychological help and changing perceptions
There is a commonly held belief that men do not want to seek help for mental health issues or express their emotions, especially when it comes to psychological concerns such as anxiety or depression.
However, third year Master of Clinical Psychology and PhD candidate Zac Seidler, wants to challenge this belief. Through his research project, Man Island, Seidler explores what men like, dislike, and think needs changing about psychological treatment.
“What we have recently learned in our research is that men do want to seek help, and will engage in treatment, if they are given the type of help tailored to their needs.”
Seidler believes that the way forward is to reframe psychological help as a pathway towards empowerment rather than something shameful.
“Masculinity is not ‘one-size fits all’, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Psychologists and psychiatrists need to understand the importance of this breadth, focusing on the strengths men have, whether it be their independence, fathering, or mateship, will improve their mental health moving forward and the lives of those who love them,” Seidler says.
“Men do want to seek help, and will engage in treatment, if they are given the type of help tailored to their needs. If takes such effort to get a man to seek help, it makes sense we expend as much time ensuring they get something they want,” explains Seidler.
2. Moving and getting physical
Regular physical activity is associated with lower risks of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and has long been recommended to control weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity, or equivalent combinations.
Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Charles Perkins Centre and the School of Public Health says that even doing less frequent bouts of physical activity, which might fit more easily into a busy lifestyle, offer significant health benefits.
Being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death.
3. Loving your heart
According to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, twice as many men as women have an acute coronary event (heart attack) every year. Similar trends are observed with stroke, with twice as many men suffering stroke than women.
It is estimated that up to 75% of men will develop some form of cardiovascular disease throughout their lifetime.
“It is important for men to recognise warning symptoms and not ignore them. If a regular check up for a car is acceptable, even more so for one’s heart” says Associate Professor Thomas Buckley from Sydney Nursing School.
Buckley says there are several key areas that men can focus on to better take care of their heart:
- Regular check-ups to identify risk factors
- Maintain a healthy diet to prevent weight gain and metabolic diseases associated with risk of cardiovascular disease
- Regular exercise – in particular resistance training, which is shown to be associated with lower cardiovascular risk
- Adopt mental health strategies to ease intense states of emotion
- Follow medical advice and continue recommended medications.
4. Hitting the pillow
Not getting enough sleep does a disservice to both our brain and physical health. Expert in sleep health, Associate Professor Chin Moi Chow, explains how to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest.
- Silence the mind through strategies to shut down, such as meditation, praying, or listening to music.
- Refrain from drinking coffee for at least six hours before bed.
- Avoid using electronic devices that emit light in the period before sleep.
- Exercise to improve sleep and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
- Maintain a routine with a structured bedtime and rise time.
5. Understanding the links between oral health and overall health
Dentistry is about more than just teeth. In fact, our oral health is linked to our overall physical and mental health. Poor oral health can lead to major health issues such as heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
“The two-main oral diseases that affect our population are dental caries and periodontal disease, which are related directly to our lifestyles and habits, such as: diet, smoking, stress, and professional care,” says Rebecca Chen, Oral Health Therapist and researcher at the University of Sydney.
Research has indicated that the prevalence of oral diseases is higher in males than females. The 2004 – 2006 Australian National Survey in Adult Oral Health reported that men have higher prevalence of dental caries and periodontal disease than women.
Chair of Lifespan Oral Health at the University, Professor Joerg Eberhard, says that it’s important for men to maintain proper oral hygiene. Eberhard suggests men improve self-performed dental hygiene and “brush their teeth twice daily and use interdental cleaning devices like dental floss or interdental brushes.”
Both Chen and Eberhard also recommend regular dental check-ups to diagnose oral conditions that need therapy by a trained healthcare practitioner.
6. Rewiring the brain through brain training
Neuroplasticity is the science behind rewiring the brain, referring to the biological changes that occur in the brain in response to illness, injury or new life experiences.
Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela, Head of the Regenerative Neurosciences Group at the University’s Brain and Mind Centre says we see neuroplastic changes – often referred to as the brain ‘re-wiring’ or forming new connections – occurring from experiences as simple as practising yoga or learning a new language.
“It becomes important when the brain is under threat or stress from diseases like Alzheimer’s or a traumatic brain injury, because that’s when we can apply the principles of neuroplasticity to try and stimulate different parts of the brain to regain some of the functionality that has been lost.”
Neuroplasticity is being used to prevent or treat a range of brain disorders, for example dementia, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injuries, and even mental illness.
(Source: The University of Sydney)