Stop kidding yourself chaps and take a good look at your own health
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Technology changes mean it’s never been easier to speak to your doctor, which is something plenty of men need to do, says Christine Webber
‘Let’s talk about men’s health.’
And before all you guys mutter, ‘No, let’s not,’ and turn to the sport pages, can I ask you please to give me five minutes of your time, because it’s important.
Most men are very private about their health. That’s just how it is. You have an inbuilt sense that you should be strong, and that being strong means you must solve difficulties alone. As a result, you often don’t talk to your partner, or see a doctor. But that doesn’t stop you worrying, does it? And worries concerning your weight, drinking, sun damage on the scalp, lack of energy, a lump, your potency, or how many times a day you have to pee, keep bubbling away at the back of your mind. So, let me ask you this: is your strong, silent approach actually working for you?
Sorry to be brutal, but every doctor can relate horror stories of men who ignored symptoms of diabetes and ended up having several toes amputated. And there are similar tales for a wide range of other terminal illnesses.
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This is tragic. And now there’s a new concern. The UK Research and Innovation website says bluntly that though women and men in the UK have the same risk of getting COVID-19, ‘men are more likely to need intensive care and they are more likely to die.’
This doesn’t seem fair, and it’s not very cheery, but it’s a fact.
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Now, I know you’re aware of current health messages. But I also know that it’s hard to adopt them when they all seem to be about depriving yourself of what you most like. So maybe it would help if you thought of them differently. Could you perhaps start focusing on the benefits you’d achieve if you were fitter, and draw up some plans for a ‘new healthy you’ to enjoy?
In my years as a psychotherapist treating men with sex and relationship problems, I quickly realised that they mostly weren’t keen on talking about their feelings. Instead, they wanted specific strategies, time scales and projected results for their recovery. In other words, they wanted to sort themselves out by deploying the skills they would use in the workplace.
So, my suggestion is that you play to your strengths in dealing with any health problem you suspect you have. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. You’re not likely to make changes if you haven’t made a thorough assessment of your own situation. So, write down everything you eat or drink for a week. Don’t try and cut down during that period, just record it, accurately. If you smoke, keep a tally of that too. Then look at your account. Your habits will leap out at you. Are they good ones? And are they likely to help you live healthily into old age?
2. If you decide you need to make lifestyle changes, stop making vague pronouncements such as: ‘I ought to drink less.’ That’s not going to get results.
Instead make specific goals such as: ‘I plan to reduce my alcohol intake to 10 units per week.’
3. Establish once and for all if you have a weight problem. How many times have you stepped on the scales, winced, but then reassured yourself that it’s not fat weighing heavily but muscle? Has this solved anything? No. Instead, measure your waist. Medics tell us that if it’s 40 inches or more, you’re in a danger zone that will make all sorts of illnesses more likely, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia and various cancers.
4. Find interesting ways of addressing your health problems. For example, if you’re lacking in energy, investigate how much protein you eat daily. If you enjoy lots of pizzas and pies, you may not be getting enough. Basically, you need a minimum
of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your weight. So, what percentage of your intake is protein? Is it sufficient? If not, start learning about good sources of protein, such as tuna, chicken, nuts and seeds, and work them into your diet. If you inform yourself about nutrition, you’ll find that becoming leaner and fitter is less of a chore and more of a project. You might even find you want to talk about it with your partner!
Finally, there’s a huge change in how GPs are working. 90% of them are now conducting appointments by email, Zoom, Skype or phone. And doctors are finding that what started as a necessity because of the virus has become a real positive. They get through far more appointments, patients don’t have to sit in crowded waiting rooms, or take a day off work for their consultation, or worry about childcare, or parking. So, if you’ve been putting off a visit to your GP because it’s always inconvenient, and you’re a busy man, a virtual appointment could be right up your street.