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Men’s health matters

A healthier dad means a healthier family. So come on, guys, man up to these small lifestyle changes

According to a recent survey of Canadian men, a shocking 72 per cent of our husbands and fathers have unhealthy lifestyles based on behaviours including smoking, problem drinking, lack of exercise, and poor diet.

The survey of 2,000 men from across the country was conducted on behalf of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF). This organization is plowing new ground using lifestyle for disease prevention, says Joe Rachert, CMHF program manager. The national, not-for-profit organization was founded by Dr. Larry Goldenberg in 2014 with a mission to inspire Canadian men to live healthier lives.

The study carried out earlier this year by Intensions Consulting was validated by the University of British Columbia and was representative of the Canadian population. Men were asked to report their habits in five categories of behaviours including cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, sleep, exercise, and diet.

“Unhealthy” was categorized as having three to five unhealthy behaviours, having two unhealthy behaviours was considered “borderline,” one unhealthy behaviour fell into the “healthy” category, and no unhealthy behaviours was considered “very healthy.”

According to the survey, 62 per cent of Canadian men have an unhealthy diet, 54 per cent of Canadian men under- or oversleep, 59 per cent do not get 150 minutes of moderate-to-strenuous exercise per week, 39 per cent have unhealthy alcohol consumption and 20 per cent of Canadian men smoke cigarettes.

Only six per cent of respondents had no unhealthy behaviours and were classified as very healthy.

Another 22 per cent had only one unhealthy behaviour and were deemed healthy.

But that still leaves nearly three-quarters of our men classified as borderline or unhealthy.

Rachert says CMHF has chosen to focus on lifestyle factors since 70 per cent of chronic health conditions can be improved or eliminated by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

It doesn’t take much for a man to go from the “unhealthy” category to the “healthy” category, says CMHF president Wayne Hartrick. “Think of these categories as a ladder. Most Canadian men can move up a rung by changing just one unhealthy behaviour. It’s about having the control to veer away from disease.”

While some men might think that it’s no one else’s concern if they have unhealthy lifestyles, Rachert says men’s health is the missing piece in the family health puzzle. “A healthier dad means a healthier family.”

Contrary to popular belief, the dad’s behaviour actually has more impact on children’s health than the mom’s, especially when it comes to obesity, explains Rachert.

Men’s health also has an impact on their spouses. Men commonly spend the last nine years of their lives in poor health, a full decade earlier than their spouses. As a result, Rachert says the family’s resources are often used up caring for the men, leaving women financially poorer as they enter their later years.

It’s also a societal concern. Unhealthy men are costing the Canadian health care system almost $40 billion dollars annually, says Rachert.

So, what are the targets when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle? Based on research, the CMHF uses the following guidelines:

  • Smoking. While smoking less is better, there’s no safe amount to smoke so Rachert says it’s best to quit altogether.
  • Sleep. The sweet spot is seven to eight hours. If you’re sleeping less than that you put yourself at risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. “Your body needs this time to relax, reset and repair,” explains Rachert, adding that many people don’t realize sleeping too much isn’t good either. If you sleep nine or more hours per night you are at risk of depression and back pain.
  • Activity. Research has found that a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (preferably at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week) is enough. Going for a brisk walk is sufficient, says Rachert.
  • Diet. While it’s good to reduce fat, sugar and salt, Rachert says the best thing you can do is eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Alcohol. Many men will think they will be told to stop drinking entirely but that’s not the case, says Rachert. In fact, for men the maximum has been set at three drinks per day with a minimum of two alcohol-free days per week. It’s best to have a glass of water between drinks and binge drinking (six or more drinks in a sitting) should be avoided.

There are currently no guidelines for marijuana use as there is insufficient research available to draw conclusions in this area, continues Rachert.

Knowing it’s tough to make a lot of changes at once, or to make big changes, the CMHF is focusing on encouraging men to make small changes through their Don’t Change Much Campaign. Rachert says men could start with something small like replacing half the fries in their meal with a salad.

“Once they’ve nailed that, they can add another healthy behaviour such as drinking a glass of water as soon as they get up in the morning,” Rachert says.

Small changes add up over time, he says. He himself makes a point of looking for opportunities to fit more exercise into his day, like driving less and walking more when it’s practical.

CMHF has developed online tools and a website with information to help men make healthier lifestyle choices. Knowing many men delegate their health management to their wives or other women in their lives, Rachert says the CMHF website is a great resource for those women.

The 2018 survey provides a benchmark for men’s health, adds Rachert. CMHF plans to repeat the survey in a few years to track changes in men’s health-related behaviours.

Resources

  • YouCheck is a free and confidential online health risk self-assessment tool from the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation that takes less than eight minutes to complete. This is an evidence-based scientifically validated tool.
  • Don’t Change Much is the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation campaign to help men improve their health by making small lifestyle changes. This site contains tips on healthy eating, recipes, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

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