Themed days, weeks and months are a dime a dozen; but one the male contingent should not overlook is Men’s Health Month in June.
After all, it largely focuses on raising awareness for preventable health issues and encouraging screenings for both early detection and treatment of problems common to the Y chromosome.
Men, as health experts suggest, can too often be the biggest obstacle to their own well-being. They may refuse to see doctors, fail to keep up with preventative screenings and live (and sometimes die) by outdated notions of masculinity.
The overwhelming message of the June effort is simply: seek medical advice and address health issues. As with the old Chicago voting joke, do it early and do it often.
Among the major areas of concern for men is prostate cancer. ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer — a nonprofit focused on education and support — notes that while age, family history, ethnicity and diet can increase the risk factor for the disease, no one is immune, with 1 in 9 men touched by it. Vice president of patient programs and advocacy Patrice Brown says screenings are not happening as much as they should be.
“What we do know is that prostate examinations tend to get skipped due to both patients’ reluctance or miseducation, and lack of physician clarity of screening guidelines,” Brown says.
African Americans, those with a family history of prostate or related cancers and those who have served in the military have a higher risk for the disease.
“For those at a higher risk due to the above factors, conversations about prostate cancer risk and screening should start at an early age to normalize this disease and its testing process,” Brown says.
Nutritionist and author of “The Candida Diet” Lisa Richards says men also need to watch their weight, especially as they get older.
“As men age, they are more prone to unwanted weight gain and must also pay more attention to their diet than they may have in previous years,” Richards says. “It is best to build a foundation early in life of healthy eating and physical activity, but it's never too late to implement changes to improve your health now.”
She suggests men include weight training in their routine, as muscle can help burn calories. But they also should be careful to find protein in sources other than meat to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Seafood and plant-based sources (such as beans, quinoa and soy) are a good start, she says.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends men integrate more fruits and vegetables into their daily diets, while reducing foods high in calories, sugar, salt, fat and alcohol. They recommend two and a half hours of physical activity a week, as well as a non-smoking lifestyle.
CDC officials encourage regular checkups and learning one’s family history. They also suggest learning the signs of a heart attack, which are pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back; feeling weak, light-headed or faint; chest pain or discomfort; pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder; and shortness of breath.
Men are encouraged to recognize and reduce stress with support and the aforementioned lifestyle habits. The CDC says males should seek help for sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, tiredness and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide — signs of depression.
Katie Leikam — a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, relationship stress and gender identity in Georgia and South Carolina — says men too often overlook their mental health.
“Men need to know that they are not alone in experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, depression or suicidal thoughts,” she says. “It’s important for men to seek out help from a mental health professional without shame in their lives.”
Leikam says the lack of self-care stems from a false belief some men have “to figure out things for themselves.”
“This can make it take longer for men to seek out therapy, and that can be dangerous when men are having feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts,” she says. “Men should know that seeking help is quite possibly the strongest thing they can do for themselves.”