For many men, looking after their own health is far down on their list of priorities. Health care practitioners speculate as to why men don’t look after themselves. Men may not feel they have the time, they may think it’s a sign of weakness to seek medical attention, they may not understand the risks of an unhealthy lifestyle. Or perhaps they do, but don’t want to change their habits.
Whatever the reason, it’s a problem not only for men but also for their families. As the saying goes, “if we do not make time for our wellness, we will be forced to make time for our illness.” Except then it will be a whole lot worse, with family and neighbours forced to step in to take over the work you are unable to do yourself.
If not for themselves, men owe it to their loved ones to make their health a priority.
Unfortunately, it often takes a major health scare like a heart attack or cancer to drive this point home.
To help convince men to engage in self-care, the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF) has calculated the economic cost of living an unhealthy lifestyle. CMHF, a non-profit organization in Vancouver, is committed to inspiring and motivating Canadian men and their families to lead healthier lives.
Since working men spend more than half of their waking hours at work, CMHF recently surveyed men from across Canada about their work habits. The survey asked men to comment on their eating habits, physical activity, smoking, drinking, and work-life balance.
The results were worrisome. And while the responses reflect the general population, with the stress and long hours involved in farming, there’s a danger the results would skew even worse for farmers.
The survey results showed that:
- 80 per cent of Canadian men find their day-to-day work stressful.
- 60 per cent of men say that work affects their ability to get a proper night’s sleep.
“When you put these together, it’s like a ticking health time bomb,” says Joe Rachert, CMHF program manager. High stress and lack of sleep can have serious health implications including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and other mental illness, low testosterone and erectile dysfunction.
Other survey results showed:
- Almost half of men skipped a meal while at work at least one day a week (17 per cent skipped meals three or more days a week).
- 22 per cent eat unhealthy snacks three or more days a week.
- 61 per cent skip breaks at least one day a week.
- 29 per cent skip breaks three or more days per week.
- 60 per cent of men reported going to work when they were sick.
- 30 per cent of guys took work on vacation.
“The drive to succeed, produce, and deliver is wrapped up in these numbers,” says Rachert. The irony, he says, is that over the long term, men will be far less productive because they are not taking the time to reset and relax.
“The problem is many men don’t realize they’re being unhealthy,” says Dr. Larry Goldenberg, CMHF founder. The good news is that small changes to their work lifestyle can have big benefits to their health.
A whopping 70 per cent of men’s health problems can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The CMHF’s “Don’t Change Much” campaign is built around the concept that small steps become habit, and habit becomes a healthier lifestyle.
“These are small steps but they do add up to improve health,” says Rachert, adding that they are all based on scientific research.
Men who drink five tall glasses (2.5 litres) of water a day are 54 per cent less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than those who drink two glasses or less daily.
Light drinkers — those who drink one or two drinks a day at most — reduce their risk of heart attack by almost 30 per cent.
To help you feel better and reduce your alcohol intake, CMHF suggests trying the following strategy. Drink a big glass of water just before you leave your house or work.
Then, the first thing you drink when you get to the bar is another big glass of water. And the last thing you drink before leaving the bar is another big glass of water.
Avoid the salty snacks at the bar, continues Rachert. “Those salty bar snacks are a ploy by the establishment owner to get you to drink more — got to quench that thirst if you are eating something salty,” he says. However, too much salt contributes to high blood pressure which may lead to heart attacks, stroke and other health problems.
Men who climb 50 stairs or more, or walk the equivalent of five city blocks a day, have a 25 per cent lower risk of heart attack than those who climb or walk less than this.
Guys who sleep seven to eight hours a night have a 60 per cent less risk of fatal heart attack than those who sleep five hours or less, and also have 80 per cent less risk than those who sleep nine hours or more a night.
Quitting smoking reduces risk of erectile dysfunction by 30 per cent after one year. Men who have never smoked are at 50 per cent less risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
Rachert offers other ways to make small changes at work that can improve health:
When doing a sit-down job, try to move around more. Stand up during meetings or go for walking meetings when you need to discuss something. Take phone calls standing up.
Take a three-minute break from the screen every hour to give your eyes a chance to rest.
When you need to go up or down fewer than three floors, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Don’t drink coffee after 3 p.m.
Keep a full, reusable water bottle handy to make it easier to drink at least five glasses of water a day.
Pack healthy snacks to have at your desk (or in the tractor cab). Moving unhealthy snacks at least six feet away reduces consumption by 50 per cent.
Three times a day, stop what you’re doing to take five super deep breaths and long exhales. It takes about three minutes out of your day but you’ll feel better, says Rachert.
Of course, there are economic costs to consider too. First off, there are the out-of-pocket costs of money spent on cigarettes and alcohol. As an example, CMHF estimates that a man who is at medium-risk due to his unhealthy lifestyle choices of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, will spend $628,000 on cigarettes, alcohol, and extra life insurance premiums over a 25-year period. If this money was invested instead, that would add up to a total of $3.2 million.
These are just the most obvious costs of these unhealthy habits. For most farmers, the more worrisome cost is a shortened life span. For example, CMHF estimates smoking can reduce a life span by 10 years, and drinking more than three drinks a day could cut another 5.8 years.
While CMHF has made it their mission to focus on men’s health, following health advice is generally good for everyone. You’ll find more tips, recipes, and information at dontchangemuch.ca.