Moving men into the driver’s seat to better health

Men who bury their head in the sand and steer clear of sound preventative health measures are taking a gamble on their health. It is advisable for all men to get into the “driver’s seat” when it comes to their health. Be proactive and take preventative measures to reduce health risks. Put yourself on the road to better health.

Watch your wellness dashboard

No matter what your age, one of the most important things any man should do to stay healthy is to know his numbers. Knowing and tracking your key health numbers, and keeping them in the healthy range will reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many types of cancer. Key health numbers include:

  • Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference;
  • HDL cholesterol (healthy cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (unhealthy cholesterol);
  • Blood glucose (sugar); and
  • Blood pressure.

Why does BMI matter? 

BMI indicates whether you are overweight or obese, and therefore at a greater risk of developing weight-related health problems. The formula to calculate BMI is: Your weight (in kilograms) ÷ your height2 (in metres).  A healthy BMI range is 19 to 24.9. You are overweight if your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, and a BMI higher than 30 indicates obesity. Being overweight and obese poses a major risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke and certain cancers.

Has your waist become a boep?

It’s not just about weight but also how your weight is distributed. We affectionately refer to our belly fat as our boep, but too much belly fat is a serious health issue. Visceral fat, the fat surrounding the abdominal organs, is not simply passive padding, but is considered an active organ, churning out hormones and inflammatory substances. These substances trigger a chain reaction, which can increase cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose, which in turn increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The best way to attack visceral fat is calorie-burning physical exercise and healthy eating.

Do you know your cholesterol levels?

A high level of LDL (known as bad cholesterol) in your blood causes sticky plaque to build up in your artery walls, increasing your risk of heart disease. Men should have their cholesterol checked every two years in their twenties and thirties, especially if there’s a family history of heart disease. Anyone over 40 should have their cholesterol tested at every health check. Your cholesterol test results will tell you if you need to make lifestyle changes and/or takemedication to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

How high are your blood glucose (sugar) levels?

Regardless of your age, everyone should test their blood glucose at least once every three years, especially if they are overweight, have high cholesterol or blood pressure, or if there is a family history of diabetes. High, unmanaged blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications such as blindness, kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure and nerve damage. Keep your blood sugar levels healthy by following a healthy eating plan and exercising regularly.

Beware of hypertension – the silent killer

About 53 South African men die every day from hypertension. Have your blood pressure tested at least every two years when you are in your twenties and thirties, and once a year if you are in your forties, fifties and sixties. Known as the silent killer, hypertension (high blood pressure) can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

There are many accessible places to have these important tests done. Apart from visiting your doctor, you may have access to screening tests in your workplace. Metropolitan Wellness, the wellness division of Metropolitan Health, regularly conducts screening services at the workplace wellness events they run for their client companies. You could also visit one of the nation-wide Metropolitan Health Alpha Pharm clinics, which offer these tests at very affordable rates.

Early detection and management saves lives

There are also some essential tests that can pick up diseases at an early stage. Early detection and treatment significantly improves the effectiveness of treating and managing many conditions.  South African men have a one in 23 lifetime risk for prostate cancer. If you are in your forties, you should have a prostate test at least once a year if there is a family history. You should also go once a year if you are 50 or older, because one in eight men in this group will develop prostate cancer. 

There are examinations you can do yourself. Testicular cancer is most common in men between the ages 15 and 39. It is highly treatable with a very good cure rate if found and treated early. Regular self-examination of testicles is important for young men. Being familiar with the size, shape and usual level of lumpiness will alert you if something is not right. Another healthy habit is regular skin examinations. Skin cancers that are found and removed early are almost always curable. Look out for any changes in marks on your skin, including shape, colour and size.

Know your HIV status

According to Siraaj Adams, executive manager for the HIV YourLife Programme at Metropolitan Health Risk Management, a critical weapon in effective HIV treatment is early management. 

If you are HIV positive, but still feel healthy, have no opportunistic infections and don’t require antiretroviral medication, don’t ignore your status. Rather, seek early treatment and consult regularly with healthcare professionals who will help you maintain your state of wellness. Early management of HIV makes such a difference that Metropolitan Health created a confidential web tool to streamline the process for doctors enrolling patients on HIV programmes. 

If your status is negative, make sure you keep it that way. Be monogamous. Use condoms consistently and correctly. Another key area Siraaj urges men to seriously consider is voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). 

VMMC is the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis by trained medical personnel under aseptic conditions. VMMC has been shown to reduce HIV acquisition in heterosexual men by up to 60%. It also decreases the transmission of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs).

Recent research by the HIV YourLife programme across the 1.5-million male beneficiaries on medical schemes administered by Metropolitan Health showed that medical scheme members are largely unaware of the value VMMC offers in terms of preventing HIV and STI infection. Siraaj strongly encourages all men, as well as their doctors and employers, to improve awareness levels so that more men proactively take this important preventative step.

Work-life balance

Just like cars do not perform well when wheels are out of alignment or unbalanced, when your life is unbalanced and you neglect one aspect of life for another, your health, relationships and productivity suffer. Work–life balance is about how we combine work with other areas of our lives, such as family, children, friends and other responsibilities and areas of interest. 

Mannini Radebe, employment assistance programmes manager at Metropolitan Wellness, points out that many men struggle to sustain a healthy work-life balance. This makes them more vulnerable to stress, depression, anxiety, burnout and physical ailments, such as heart disease.

Focus on achieving a healthy work-life balance. Manage your time carefully. Learn to delegate whenever appropriate. Remember that it is okay to say no or negotiate dates. 

Work smart, not long. Prioritise and avoid less productive activities, such as long, unstructured meetings.  Build downtime into your schedule. Take proper breaks during working hours. These are just some of the many steps towards achieving a healthier work-life balance.

It’s more than just physical wellbeing

Although mental health is just as important as physical health, many South African men battle to come forward with mental health problems, often due to the stigma attached to mental health. 

Mental health conditions such as depression, are not only life-threatening in their own right but may also increase your risk for developing common medical conditions such as heart disease. 

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, rates of depression among South African men are at an all time high. Research shows that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression and die by suicide at four times the rate of women. 

Instead of seeking help, many depressed men turn to alcohol or drugs, or become discouraged, angry, irritable or frustrated. Some become completely absorbed in their work or a hobby, and try to hide from their depression. 

The professional counselors on the employee assistance programmes (EAPs) that Metropolitan Wellness establishes for various companies offer guidance and assistance on various issues, including depression, stress and work-life balance. Talk to the counselors on your company’s EAP for completely confidential, professional assistance. If you don’t have access to a company EAP, talk to your doctor. 

Are you ready for change?

What is your attitude to your health? The way you think about your health plays a big part in how healthy you are. Are you already in the driver’s seat, taking personal and proactive responsibility for your wellness? Or are you drifting along, making and breaking ‘healthy lifestyle’ New Year resolutions and never really taking charge of your health destination? Don’t wait for a nasty wake-up call. Move into the driver’s seat and along the road to better health.

This lifestyle health supplement is made possible by advertising support from Metropolitan Health, with agreed monthly themes. Contents and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G’s supplements editorial team.

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