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5 Main Health Risks for Men - Infographic

By Matt Durkin MSc Nutrition Specialist  Thursday 18th July, 2013
5 Main Health Risks for Men - Infographic

A man’s health can come under many different threats as he ages. Here we run down the top 5 health risks for men, with expert tips to prevent and treat them.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the UK, and statistically men are more at risk than women. In fact, almost twice as many men suffer heart attacks compared to women. 

Women are somewhat protected from heart disease until the menopause as high levels of oestrogen help to regulate cholesterol levels. This in turn slows the rate of atherosclerosis – the buildup of plaque which leads to the hardening and narrowing of arteries. As atherosclerosis is negated, blood vessels remain clear, helping blood pressure remain stable. Unfortunately these decades of cardiovascular protection are exclusive to women. 

Men have a higher risk of heart disease if they smoke, are physically inactive, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history. Symptoms to look out for include a dull pain radiating from the chest (angina), lightheadedness and vomiting. 

Fortunately, heart disease can often be prevented or reversed with simple diet and lifestyle changes. In recent years, there have been many national campaigns to increase awareness of heart disease, and as a result more and more men are taking steps to prevent it:

•    Know your numbers

High blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol levels significantly increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Get your levels checked by a GP and lower them if necessary. 

•    Be more physically active

Sedentary lifestyles place you at double the risk of coronary heart disease compared to someone who is active. Current NHS guidelines state that all adults aged 19-64 should try to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Furthermore, muscle strengthening exercise should be performed at least twice per week, stimulating all of the bodies major muscle groups.

By incorporating regular physical activity into your lives, the cardiac muscles will become stronger and more efficient, helping to reduce cardiovascular events. Exercise has so many more benefits alongside improving heart health, so make sure you find exercises you enjoy and can adhere to. 

•    Eat a healthy diet

Eating a diet that is rich in wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, oily fish and low in salt, saturated fat and junk food will go a long way to controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. A very important aspect in helping to prevent heart health issues is by maintaining a healthy weight, which a healthy diet will help to achieve. 

•    Give up smoking

Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers.

Prostate Cancer 

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with over 40,000 diagnoses in the UK each year. It usually develops slowly and symptoms often only become noticeable when the prostate gland becomes so enlarged that it presses on the urethra (the tube that transports urine away from the body) triggering urinary problems.

Symptoms to look out for include a need to urinate more frequently and suddenly, straining or taking a long time to urinate, weak flow, or feeling that the bladder has not fully emptied. You are more at risk of prostate cancer if you have a family history of the disease, live a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight or obese, or over the age of 50. The following lifestyle changes may help to reduce your risk:   

•    Eat a healthy diet

Opt for a varied diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, particularly zinc, selenium, lycopene, and vitamins A, C and E. Avoid eating more than two portions of red meat per week.

•    Exercise daily

Study findings suggest that daily aerobic exercise can significantly slow the progression of prostate cancer. 

•    Don’t smoke

There appears to be a link between smokers and increased rates of prostate cancer.

Obesity 

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK and England is the most overweight nation in Europe, with over a quarter of adults being classified as obese. For reference, a healthy weight is classed as a BMI of 18.5-24.9, overweight is 25-29.9 and obese is 30+. 

You gain excess weight when there is an imbalance between calories consumed and calories burned over the long term. The reason why we become obese is multi-faceted and highly complex, but all of the factors boil down to consuming too many calories and/or not doing enough physical activity. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism can also make one prone to become overweight/obese.

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to avoid complications of obesity, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Obesity also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers and may lead to respiratory difficulties such as sleep apnoea or asthma. Establishing a healthy diet and exercise programme is the first step to maintaining a healthy weight:

•    Exercise gently

Regular exercise can aid the process of weight loss and help to maintain a healthy weight – aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Opt for gentle, non-weight bearing exercises such as walking, swimming, or cycling to avoid placing a strain on the joints.  

•    Diet wisely

Eating a healthy diet is also essential – try to get the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and cut down on fatty foods such as cakes and chocolates. Don’t try to drop too much weight too quickly; losing just 1-2lbs per week is optimal and sustainable in the long term.

Alcohol 

For many of us, consuming alcohol in moderation is ok, and may even offer certain health benefits. However, around 40% of men drink more than the recommended amount. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of health issues and difficulties such as liver damage, heart disease, alcohol poisoning, memory loss, and raised blood pressure.

If you regularly consume more than the recommended 14 units per week, try these simple lifestyle changes to reduce your alcohol consumption:

•    Keep track of what you drink

It is important to keep a record of how much you drink as this helps many men to cut down.

•    Watch the strength

Many drinks vary in alcohol volume, so choosing a drink with a lower volume can help you avoid exceeding your limit too soon.

•    Go smaller

Try to cut down by drinking half pints or bottles of beer instead of pints, or using a smaller wine glass. Diluting with mixers such as lemonade can also reduce the number of units consumed.

Type 2 Diabetes

There are around 2.9 million people in the UK diagnosed with diabetes and it is estimated that an additional 850,000 people are yet to be diagnosed. It is characterised by high blood glucose levels, so the first step to treating the condition is to bring glucose levels under control.

Roughly 90% of type 2 diabetics are overweight and obese. Diabetes also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease as it can cause damage to the kidneys (which help regular blood pressure) and the blood vessels. Further to this, damage to the eyes, nerves and extremities are also unfortunately common. 

You are also at a greater risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes if you eat an unhealthy diet high in processed sugars and fats, are physically inactive, are over the age of 40, or have a family member with the condition. The following lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes or help you manage the condition.

•    Diet chromium-rich foods

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and chromium-rich foods such as whole grains, egg yolks and nuts. Chromium is an essential mineral for the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. Also, try to avoid processed foods that raise blood sugar levels.

•    Exercise daily

Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, which means that the body’s cells are better able to use insulin and glucose. Just 30 minutes of intense aerobic activity can lower your blood glucose for up to 24 hours.

Muscle strengthening activities are also important for helping to manage blood glucose levels. Like aerobic exercise, resistance training is effective for acutely improving sensitivity to insulin, thus lowering blood glucose. Resistance training is also the best way to increase muscle size. Larger muscles help to regulate blood glucose, as the increased muscle cells provide a greater capacity to store glucose (stored as muscle glycogen). This greater storage capacity means that less glucose is present in the blood, helping to fight off the associated diseases.

•    Sleep for at least 7 hours each night

Less than 6 hours sleep each night triples the risk of elevated blood glucose levels, so aim for 7 to 8 hours every night. Further to helping manage blood sugar, improved sleep quantity and quality helps to boost energy levels and also psychological & immune function. 

There are numerous strategies that can be implemented to help improve sleep quality: Limiting caffeine after 5pm, avoiding ‘blue light’ from TV’s, phones, tablets and computers an hour before bed, sleeping in a dark, cool room, performing exercise during the day/evening,  avoiding alcohol and taking certain supplements can all help us to get a good nights sleep.

Important Supplements for Men 

There are several essential vitamins and supplements for men’s health, each of which play a different and important role:    

Zinc

Zinc is essential for men of all ages; for younger men, zinc supports fertility and sperm production, while in mature men, it is required for normal prostate function and to reduce the risk of and prostate cancer. Zinc also promotes healthy skin and hair, and strengthens the immune system against the common cold. Pumpkin seeds, red meat and oysters are fantastic sources of zinc.

Omega 3

The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA support normal circulation, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. They have also been shown to promote a happier brain. Oily fish is by far the best source of omega 3, while flaxseed oil and nuts can be beneficial for vegetarians.

Saw Palmetto

This popular herb is primarily taken to support prostate function and treat the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), including urinary flow and frequency. Saw palmetto has been shown to slow the production of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which contributes to several men’s health problems, including an enlarged prostate, hair loss and low libido.

Amino Acids

As the building blocks of protein, amino acids help the muscles to grow and recover, and can also slow the loss of muscle mass as men age. Several amino acids, particularly arginine, have also been shown to boost libido and sexual performance

5HTP

For improving sleep, many people take a 5HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) supplement as this has been shown to decrease sleep latency – the time it takes to fall asleep and also increase subjective sleep quality. It is thought that 5HTP achieves this by its regulation of melatonin. 5HTP is also a precursor to serotonin, helping to regulate energy levels, mood and psychological function.

Summary

Hopefully this article has highlighted the risks of the most common health conditions that men suffer from and has provided quality advice on how to optimise exercise, lifestyle, diet and supplements to help promote health and keep these conditions at bay.

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