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Tackling men’s health with lifestyle changes

It seems men get the short straw when it comes to good health. Australian men live, on average, four years less than women. Although men make up just over half the workforce, almost all workplace fatalities are men. They make up six out of eight suicides every single day. They are more likely to die from heart disease at earlier ages.

Research shows men may spend on average the last ten years of their lives in poor health. Much of this is preventable through small lifestyle changes. In general though, men tend to put off seeking help for their health. By delaying getting help, issues can compound, leading to more serious consequences. More often than not, men will not act on an issue until they are in crisis. And sometimes, by the time they are in crisis the damage to their health is permanent.

You have probably heard this kind of story before. Perhaps it was a friend, or a member of your family. John* was in his early 50s and had been feeling poorly for months. Being busy at work he didn’t see his GP about it. When he started experiencing pain in his chest and neck, John assumed the pain was indigestion. Every time it flared up he would take an antacid. It was only when the antacid stopped working (and the pain began affecting meals, sleep and work) John reluctantly sought advice. He walked into the doctor’s waiting room and immediately left in an ambulance for hospital. The diagnosis? A heart attack. Thankfully John was able to walk out of the hospital a few days later, but his father was not so lucky. Several years ago, John’s father had a heart attack and passed away before the ambulance even arrived.

This is why we have Men’s Health Week in June every year. To remind our grandfathers, fathers, uncles, husbands, brothers, sons and male friends to prioritise their mental and physical health. To seek help before they are in crisis (or in the back of an ambulance).

The ‘she’ll be right’ mentality many people grew up with in the 50s and 60s is doing our men a disservice. The top five causes of death in Australian men are heart disease, dementia, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Sadly many of these diseases are caused by lifestyle choices. Dementia is the second leading cause of death and is expected to become the leading cause in this decade. While up to 30 per cent of dementia may be prevented through lifestyle changes, there is not much we can do currently to prevent the other 70 per cent.

The silver lining in all this is, there are now many ways we can support a person with a dementia diagnosis. And the earlier a person seeks support for their diagnosis, the more rewarding and fulfilling their life can be. The earlier a person seeks support, the more likely it is they will be able to continue doing their favourite activities or hobbies, keep up regular exercise, manage friendships, do things around the house and most importantly maintain independence. All of this can lead to a life well lived, even if it is a life with dementia.

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