Behind every healthy man there’s a… woman with a health plan. Dietitian Karissa Woolfe has hot health tips for men in their 20s through to their 60s.
Men are notorious for burying their heads in the sand about health, and the latest stats confirm men are less likely to see a doctor than women. But, you can remind him that it’s just as important to be in tune with his body as it is with his car.
Helping your husband, sons and grandsons form healthy habits can help them prevent serious health problems now, or later in life. Evidence also suggests that men who eat with their families enjoy better overall health and well-being than single men.
Here are some key steps you can take to help your loved ones eat better, live longer and be happier.
In his… 20s
Young men’s 20s are all about ‘life in the fast lane’, and their approach to health can often go one of two ways — ‘all in’ or ‘opt out’. Neither extreme is healthy in the long term.
If they’re going ‘all in’ with nutrition and fitness, you might observe them focusing on gym training and muscle gain. While it’s healthy for young men to be active, striving to attain an idealised physique can create body image issues and lead them to take unnecessary, or even harmful, supplements.
Conversely, ‘opting out’ of a healthy lifestyle could involve hours spent playing video games, smoking or binge drinking with mates, which can develop into risk-taking behaviour and even violence.
Young men’s large appetite is partly driven by their higher ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat, so they can appear to eat what they want and get away with it — but the evidence is clear that this isn’t the case in the long run.
One of the most recent health surveys has found young men eat more burgers, fries and soft drinks than other demographics. It also doesn’t help that some fast food, energy drinks or sports drinks brands often market poor nutrition choices as ‘macho’ or ‘manly’ options for young males.
The problem is that takeaways and processed fast foods are high in kilojoules and saturated fat, salt and sugar — a recipe for type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the long run. The good news is there’s something the young men in your life can do about it.
Young champ checklist
Cut back on fast food: When ordering, request simple tweaks like extra salad, veg and thin crust, and avoid processed meats like bacon and salami.
Get a skin cancer check: Melanoma kills more young Aussies than any other cancer. Get a check, and be sun wise.
Be protein savvy: Many protein supplements are loaded with sugar. Opt for unprocessed protein like milk, eggs, chicken and lean meat.
Avoid binge drinking: Set a limit before going out on Friday or Saturday nights, and make sure you stick to it.
In his… 30s
The 30s often marks a man’s entry into partnering and parenting, and with it can come major changes in socialising, meals, fitness and sleep routines.
Couples often give up their unhealthy habits, such as smoking and breakfast-skipping, as they prepare for or experience pregnancy, aiming to create a healthier environment for their family.
What your man eats matters for your family — and not just for their own health. Research shows that if he doesn’t like vegies, you’re less likely to buy them. The health risks linked to low vegie intake, such as an increased risk of cancer, can then ultimately filter down and affect the rest of the family.
Nutrition is also really important for dads-to-be. A diet rich in antioxidants helps protect the DNA carried in his sperm. So help your man get his fix of selenium from nuts and eggs, lycopene from tomatoes, beta-carotene from orange vegetables, along with vitamin C from fresh fruit.
A small US study found the amount and type of fat in men’s diets also affects the quality and concentration of sperm. Men who ate two handfuls of omega-3-rich walnuts a day had better-formed sperm — so encourage him to go nuts!
Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol can likewise create fighting-fit sperm, while losing weight helps improve sexual performance.
Get out there, get active: Become gym buddies or take a brisk 45–minute walk together.
Quit smoking together: Phone the Quitline (13 78 48) to boost your chances of success.
Really go nuts! Pack a small container (30g) of walnuts to snack on every day.
If you’re overweight, aim to drop a trouser size: Seeing an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help.
Cut the booze: Aim for more alcohol-free nights, or switch to low-alcohol beer.
Trying for a baby? Add these foods to his diet.
In his… 40s
The 40s ushers in mid-life, when a man’s body can start to show the signs of wear and tear from bad health choices and the stress of juggling work and family.
His metabolism starts to slow down, which means he can lose lean muscle and develop a ‘middle-aged spread’ of belly fat. Fatty liver, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance can all potentially pose problems.
Keep an eye out for signs of a mid-life crisis. The stress and responsibilities of modern life can take their toll, and men are more likely to internalise their emotions than women.
The ‘man cave’ may offer a place for him to relax, but if you notice his retreat is regularly turning into a place where he binges on alcohol and high-fat foods, it could signal the blues. Nearly one in two Aussie men will experience a mental health problem during their lives, so don’t be afraid to ask him from time to time how he’s coping. Visit ruok.org.au to learn more ways to help.
Fit and 40 checklist
See your GP: Book in to take Medicare’s 45–49-year-olds’ health check. Your GP can help you do it.
Find balance: Take time out to meditate, or go for a mind-clearing nature walk and think about things you enjoy.
Measure your waist: For men, a 94cm-plus waist increases risk of chronic disease; 102cm greatly increases risk.
Bump up the fibre: Eat more whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
Don’t ‘self-medicate’: Alcohol and prolonged sleep make depression worse.
In his… 50s
It’s vital in this decade to get into a pattern of regular check-ups and screening tests, so the next time he books his car in for a service, encourage him to visit his GP too.
The big ‘Cs’ and big ‘D’ — cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes — are health issues to watch out for when he hits his 50s. More generally, don’t overlook problem snoring, day-time sleepiness and complaints about changes to his bowel movements.
New research from the UK has shown that for each centimetre a man’s waistline expands, so does his risk of bowel cancer. You can help him by plating up fibre-rich foods at each meal. Filling up on vegies, lean meat, fish, legumes and whole grains makes less room for kilojoule-heavy extras like takeaways, pastries, hot chips, cakes, biscuits, lollies and soft drinks.
Heart hero’s checklist
Eat a Mediterranean-style diet: Base meals around vegies and heart-friendly fats, such as olive oil, nuts and oily fish.
Lower cholesterol naturally: The fibre in baked beans and oats naturally lowers cholesterol and protects against bowel cancer.
Choose oily fish twice a week: It helps promote healthy circulation in blood vessels. See our canned fish ideas.
Cut back on the salt: Look for reduced-salt foods, and swap the salt shaker for the pepper grinder.
Screen the likely suspects: Test your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Complete and return the bowel cancer screening kit the government sends.
In his… 60s
Turning 60 puts sexual health firmly in the spotlight. The main health issues for men are erectile dysfunction (failure to maintain an erection) and prostate health.
Erectile dysfunction affects up to half of all middle-aged and older men, and is a warning sign his heart and blood vessels aren’t functioning well. So, what do you say to him, or what strategies can you suggest?
It’s already known that regular physical activity like walking up to five hours a week can help improve blood flow to the penis. Eating a diet rich in flavonoids (often vividly coloured fruit and veg) can also reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction by 21 per cent, according to new research.
Prostate cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in men, but survival rates are high. It affects one in 11 Aussie men and is most common among over-65s. Symptoms can include more frequent urination (especially at night), a painful or burning sensation when passing urine, and the feeling that your bladder can’t fully be emptied.
Golden health checklist
Spot the signs: Early detection is vital. Speak to your GP if you begin to notice any changes to your usual urination or bowel habits.
Eat more beans: A recent study found men who ate more legumes halved their prostate cancer risk compared with men who ate the least.
Load up on tomatoes: Men who ate two to four serves of lycopene-rich tomatoes every week reduced their incidence of prostate cancer by a quarter, according to one large study.
Keep on moving: Inactivity is possibly a risk factor for prostate cancer, and exercise can improve erectile dysfunction. So, hit the road, Jack!