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Men's Health Month, June 2011
Around the world women tend to outlive men by some seven years, a clear indication that men have their own unique healthcare issues that they need to consider and address. Just how can men tackle the threats to their health more effectively so that they can live longer, healthier lives?
As part of the Government Employees Medical Scheme's (GEMS) ongoing effort to educate our members and future members on a range of healthcare topics, we would like to share real life member stories with you and explore certain important healthcare issues. This article looks at the subject of men's health this Men's Health Month.
Pieter Eksteen* is a married 55-year-old administrator with the Department of Public Service and Administration in Cape Town. About a year ago Pieter saw what he thought was blood in his urine and decided that he had better pay a visit to his doctor just to make sure that everything was in order.
Pieter's doctor gave him a PSA blood test to check if he was suffering from prostate cancer. His doctor explained that prostate cancer is a cancer that starts in the prostate gland. The prostate is a small gland that makes up part of the male reproductive system. He said that prostate cancer usually occurs in older men over the age of 40.
Pieter's PSA test came back positive confirming that he did indeed have prostate cancer. He was referred to a specialist oncologist and had further tests done. It was found that Pieter's cancer had been caught early and had not spread from the prostate gland to other parts of his body. He had surgery to have his prostate removed and is completely cancer free today. Pieter's decision to visit to his doctor ensured that the prostate cancer was detected and treated early, and may have saved his life.
Men's health problems
Prostate cancer is one important male health issue, but there are a number of others including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as asthma and emphysema), mental health problems and accidents. Other forms of cancers such as lung, colorectal and skin cancers are also relatively common among men and are important health concerns.
Studies that have looked into why women live longer have shown that men tend to be more reckless with their health than women. Men drink more alcohol, drive at higher speeds and engage in more unprotected sex than women. In other words they are generally more reckless with their health. The good news is that men could go a long way to avoiding many of their health or potential health problems if they paid greater attention to their wellbeing and improved their lifestyle.
More men in South Africa smoke than women. Smoking has been shown to help cause a range of cancers and also heart disease. Quitting smoking has numerous health benefits and should be done without delay. There is a range of products available to help you to give up smoking including nicotine patches and gum, which help reduce cravings. You can also ask your doctor about medications that are available to help reduce the desire to smoke.
Eat healthily and lose weight
An unhealthy diet and becoming overweight can increase your risk of developing type II diabetes and heart disease as well as certain cancers. A healthy diet can help prevent you from developing these conditions and should be started as early in life as possible. Avoid too much red meat and pastries and rather eat vegetables, fruit, and high fibre and whole grain foods.
Get some exercise
Exercise has many benefits for your body and we should all engage in it at least four or five times a week. Regular exercise is good for the heart and helps reduce high cholesterol levels. It has even been shown to lift one's mood and have an anti-depressant effect. Choose a sport or an activity that you will enjoy.
Limit alcohol intake
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol increases your blood pressure and can damage your liver over the long term. It also tends to cause people to engage in high-risk behaviour such as drunken driving and unprotected sex. Such activities place your and other people's health at risk. If you decide to drink do not overdo it and limit the amounts you have.
Ongoing stress can have an extremely negative impact on the body and cause your diet and other lifestyle habits to suffer. Take steps to manage your stress better. Learn some stress management strategies and get some exercise. Exercise is a good way to help your body to better deal with stress.
Have regular checkups
Since his brush with prostate cancer, Pieter has realised the importance of having regular medical checkups with his doctor. All men over the age of 40 should have an annual check-up to ensure that they remain in good health.
Manage chronic medical conditions
Those men who have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol should make sure that they manage these conditions properly with the help of their doctor. Medical conditions such as diabetes can damage the organs of your body if they are not managed properly.
Taking responsibility for your health
People are just like motor vehicles in many ways: service your car regularly, drive it carefully and look after it, and it will provide you with many years service. Similarly if you look after yourself by following a healthy diet and lifestyle, and undertake regular visits to your healthcare practitioner, your body should stay healthy for many years to come.
Men can enjoy better health if they pay more attention to this aspect of their lives. We all need to take full responsibility for our own health because no one else is going to do so.
If you would like to know how GEMS can assist you to obtain more information about any of your healthcare needs, you can phone the GEMS call centre on 0860 00 4367 or send an SMS to 083 450 4367. GEMS will assist you in every way possible to ensure your family's health and well-being.
1. Enlarged prostate - Does diet play a role?', Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/mens-health/MY01151.
2. ‘Men's health: Preventing the top seven threats', Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/mens-health/MC00013.
3. ‘Prostate cancer', PubMed Health, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001418/.
4. ‘Wake up call on men's health', Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government, www.health.gov.au/internet/ministers/publishing.nsf/Content/mr-yr10-ws-ws068.htm.
*The member's name has been changed in order to protect his identity.