June is the quintessential summer month, brimming with backyard barbecues and Father’s Day celebrations. It’s also Men’s Health Month, and a good time to ponder the ways that men can improve the way they feel and function. In doing so, it’s important to be aware of the gender gap that exists between men and women’s health. Let’s have a look at the numbers.
First, there’s life expectancy. On average, women live five years longer than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men are also more likely than women to get heart disease (at age 65 and older) and suffer from Parkinson’s disease, autism, kidney stones and pancreatitis, according to Rush University. Complicating matters, according to Harvard University, men are also more likely to engage in risky behavior, they smoke and struggle with addiction more frequently, they eat poorer diets, and they’re less likely to see their doctor regularly.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This month, make a commitment to yourself and your family to take charge of your health and strengthen your health habits. Here are seven ways to start.
If you haven’t made an appointment to get your Covid-19 vaccine yet, now is the time. Immunization can protect you from getting—and spreading—Covid-19; it can also help prevent serious illness if you do become infected. If you know other men who’ve yet to be vaccinated, encourage them to do it, too, as a way of protecting their health, and the health of others. In addition to the Covid vaccine, talk to your health care provider about other immunizations could benefit you.
Exercise is the holy grail of health. It can help reduce stress, improve sleep, burn calories, strengthen muscles and decrease your risk for a number of different chronic diseases. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, with a mix of cardiovascular and strengthening workouts, as well as exercises that improve your flexibility. When you start to feel the benefits—including an improved mood—it becomes easier to make working out a part of your routine.
Eat with the seasons
June is one of the best eating months of the entire year! You can snack on food straight from the garden—or farmer’s market—and relish all the vitamins, nutrients and flavors of fresh strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, watermelon and so much more. Focus on eating a diet filled with lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and minimize processed foods, sugars and alcohol. Try it for a month and see how it makes you feel!
Choose activities that bring you joy and relieve stress
Mental health is as important as physical health. Find ways to stay connected to people and activities you love. Plan outings with friends, participate in team activities, schedule date nights with your partner, plan active endeavors with your kids. And check in with yourself. If you find that you’re struggling to enjoy life, consider making an appointment with a psychologist or mental health professional and ask for help.
Reconsider your risky behaviors
Knowing that men are more likely to take risks is only part of the battle. Taking action is the most important step. Consider which of your actions might be considered risky—unsafe sex, drug and alcohol use, consuming tobacco products, dangerous driving, access to firearms, extreme sports—and make changes that will help you feel your best now, and for years to come.
Find ways to make an impact
When you focus on helping others, you often reap the benefits, yourself. Consider ways that you could assist other people in your community. Perhaps it’s an informal activity (taking a friend’s kids to a ball game) or a formal one (handing out food at a free pantry or teaching a class at a local nonprofit). Think about one thing you can contribute to brighten someone’s day, and do it.
Schedule a check-up
Even if you’re feeling fine, regular medical check-ups are good for your health. When you have a physical, complete with blood work, your health care provider can screen you for any irregularities, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, and also establish a baseline for comparison in the future. This appointment is also an opportunity to share your health history with your provider and ask about any tests recommended for men of a certain age. For example, American Cancer Society recommends that men of average risk for colorectal cancer should be screened regularly beginning at age 45; and men at average risk for prostate cancer should be screened regularly beginning at age 50.
Establish a good rapport with your doctor through regular visits, and you can help change the statistics and narrow the gender health gap, all while strengthening your own health—during Men’s Health Month and beyond.