One in five men in the UK will not live long enough to enjoy their retirement.
It’s a shocking statistic that highlights how, despite huge strides in improving men’s health in recent years, there is an awful lot of work still to be done.
Martin Tod, chief executive of the charity Men’s Health Forum, says many appear to place a bigger priority on their jobs than their health. “They often don’t seek help or take time off because they are trying not to show any ‘weakness’ in the workplace.”
These skewed priorities mean many men are not addressing the key questions that affect their health and are thereby increasing their chances of potentially deadly conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
So what are the big questions men are failing to ask about their wellbeing – and what do we need to know?
Is it really that unhealthy to have a pot belly?
In short, yes. It’s not a natural part of the ageing process. In fact, it could be a warning that you are heading for serious illness.
The World Health Organisation recently said a pot belly is as much of a red flag for cancer as overall weight. In other words, being slim but having a protruding stomach means your risk of as many as 10 different cancers increases significantly.
For every four inches your waistline expands, cancer risk goes up by 13%. This is because abdominal fat disrupts a man’s balance of sex hormones, which may increase the risk of deadly tumours developing.
Why do I need blood pressure checks if I’m not stressed?
High blood pressure affects one in five adults and is responsible for half of all heart attacks and strokes. It can be caused by anything from smoking and lack of exercise to an underactive thyroid or kidney disease.
Yet many sufferers are unaware they have a problem – symptoms like headaches , chest pain, breathing difficulties or an irregular heartbeat are quite rare.
In fact, according to the Men’s Health Forum, around 15% of men with high blood pressure are not being treated for it. “There are an awful lot of men out there who have high blood pressure and don’t know it,” says Martin Tod.
Cardiologist Professor Martin Cowie, from Imperial College London, adds: “High blood pressure does not usually come with any symptoms, but left untreated it can lead to problems for the brain, heart and kidneys."
Does it matter that my libido has flopped?
Potentially. In fact, scientists say if you have problems in the bedroom, it might be an idea to get your heart checked. Last year, experts at Johns Hopkins University in the US found men with erectile dysfunction were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
Researcher Dr Michael Blaha believes the discovery could mean thousands more men at risk of heart problems being diagnosed much earlier – as long as they see their GP about their libido problems.
“This is an ideal opportunity to identify otherwise undetected high-risk cases for developing cardiovascular disease,” he says.
Impotence affects up to one in five men in the UK and is thought to be due to the same blood-flow problems that can trigger heart attacks and strokes
Why am I peeing more at night?
Everyone has the odd night where they need to get up for the loo, but if a man finds it’s happening regularly it could be due to an enlarged prostate gland.
Don’t automatically assume this means cancer – benign prostate enlargement is common in men over 50, affecting over two million men in the UK, but isn’t usually a serious threat to health.
However, left untreated with drugs or surgery it can cause kidney damage or bladder stones and can seriously affect your quality of life.
Problems urinating arise because the swollen prostate can press on the bladder, increasing the urge to pee, or block the urethra (the tube which carries urine out of the body), making it harder to empty the bladder properly.
If you are worried about prostate cancer, however, talk to your GP about having a blood test.
Could I get diabetes even though I’m slim?
Type 2 diabetes is twice as likely to affect men than women, and studies show one in five men with the illness are not obese.
The illness is usually triggered by excess body fat disrupting the way the body uses glucose, a type of sugar released when we eat. This is then turned into a source of energy for the muscles.
However, a “slim” person can still have high levels of what’s called visceral fat – hidden deposits around the major organs – which can interfere with the body’s use of glucose and trigger Type 2 diabetes, so you still need to be mindful.
Emma Elvin, senior clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, says: “Men who aren’t overweight can still be at risk of developing the condition.
“Other risk factors include age, ethnicity and family history, as well as smoking, drinking heavily and living a sedentary lifestyle.”
I feel fed up for no real reason – is this normal?
Everyone has the occasional off day, where nothing seems to cheer you up, but if this feeling persists it is a warning sign that you may have an underlying mental health problem.
Four out of every five suicides are by men and it’s the biggest cause of death in men under 35.
“Men are much less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems, whether it’s from a health professional or another family member,” says Martin Tod.
The Mental Health Foundation recommends chatting to a friend, finding someone who will listen to your problems (rather than try to fix them), taking exercise or even asking someone else how they are – helping others can have a big impact on your own mood.
I’ve got osteoarthritis so I stopped exercising. Was that the wrong thing to do?
Osteoarthritis of the knee affects nearly five million people
in the UK. It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage, the body’s built-in shock absorber and is a result of sporting injuries, being overweight or it can simply be part of the ageing process.
While working out can be uncomfortable, experts now say keeping active with gentle exercise – such as playing golf or going for walks – is one of the best ways to combat the pain.
Dr Fraser Birrell, a consultant rheumatologist and spokesman for the charity Versus Arthritis , says: “If you rest for fear of worsening the problem, it can increase the weakness and instability, making it worse.
“It really is a case of use it or lose it.”
Can a couple of pints a day really be that bad for me?
Government guidelines recommend no more than 14 units a week – roughly a pint a day of moderate strength beer. Yet the organisation Drinkaware says 3.5 million middle-aged men in the UK are downing more than double the limit – between two to three pints a day.
This significantly increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and breast, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, brain damage and harm to the nervous system.
Even small reductions in unit intake can lower blood pressure, reduce weight and improve mental health, as well as lowering chances of death from alcohol-related illnesses.
Interestingly, there are huge regional variations, with men in Blackpool four times more likely to die from alcohol-related liver disease than men in central Bedfordshire.
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