As we celebrate International Men's Health Week, we chat with HBF’s Dr Andy Papa-Adams, who says it’s important to not only focus on men’s physical health but their mental and emotional wellbeing as well.
According to the Australian Medical Association, Australian men not only see their GP less often than women, but when they do, it is for shorter consultations, and typically when a condition or illness is advanced.1
With this year’s theme of Healthy Habits, we look at some of the small changes that can benefit overall health and wellbeing.
In this article
1. Make time for your mates
“According to the Australian Men's Health Forum, having no close friends is as unhealthy as 15 cigarettes a day,” Dr Papa-Adams says.
Social connectedness is key to good mental health. When it comes to building and keeping your networks healthy, you can:
- ask a friend to exercise with you
- try out some of your friend’s favourite activities with them
- pick up a new hobby
- sign up for a local or work-based sporting team or club
- check out Act, Belong, Commit’s local activity finder
Although efforts are being made to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help and to promote mental wellbeing among men, Dr Papa-Adams says men are far less likely to seek help with physical health concerns - and that this also true of mental health.
“Part of the issue relates to the way most men think about their health, tending to want to self-manage rather than reach out and ask for help. Broaching the subject of health with a male loved one as part of a non-judgmental and supportive conversation may make it easier for them to seek advice from a health professional. Set the tone yourself by engaging in open discussions about personal challenges and emotions when you have them" says Dr Papa-Adams
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member, your GP can be a great first step to finding support.
2. Improve your gut health
The gut breaks down food and absorbs the nutrients that support your body’s functions. Research suggests your gut microbiome can affect every organ in your body2, with links between gut health and:
- the immune system
- mental health
- autoimmune diseases
- endocrine disorders – such as type 2 diabetes
- gastrointestinal disorders – such as irritable bowel syndrome
- cardiovascular disease
Improving gut health can also help reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the third most common internal cancer in Australia3 (after prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women) - one in 13 Australians will develop bowel cancer. 4
As well as talking to your GP about screening, The Gut Foundation says there are simple lifestyle changes that may help:
- eat more high-fibre foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals
- eat less fat, especially saturated fat
- eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes
- drink alcohol in moderation
- quit smoking
- exercise regularly and maintain a normal weight.
3. Keep on top of cancer checks
While rare, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males aged between 15 – 456, and is also highly treatable if caught early.
Performing a monthly self-check is a simple way to ensure you will notice any changes quickly.
- perform after showering or bathing, in front of the mirror
- check one testicle first, then the other
- gently roll one testicle using the fingers and thumbs of both hands
- feel along the underside of the scrotum to find the epididymis (this feels like tightly curled tubes)
- if you notice any changes, lumps, bumps or swelling, or one or both testes are tender or painful, see your doctor.
With the incidence rate of prostate cancer having roughly doubled since 1982, and as the fifth most common cause of death in men, Dr Papa-Adams says it’s a significant cause for concern.
“There is a growing emphasis on early detection and regular screenings. Men are encouraged to have discussions with healthcare professionals about prostate health, understand the potential risks, and take proactive steps for early intervention,” he says.
Some of the factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:7
- age, increasing rapidly after 50 years of age
- family history of prostate, breast or ovarian cancer
- a father or brother diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60
There is also an association with high testosterone levels.
While there are no proven ways to prevent prostate cancer, if you have any concerns, it is recommended you talk to your GP about screening.
4. Look after your heart
Coronary heart disease takes more than 17,000 Australian lives each year, with higher rates of death and hospitalisation in men.
When it comes to small steps you can take to look after your heart, the Heart Foundation recommends you:
- chat to your GP about a Heart Health Check
- regularly check your blood pressure
- avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats
- eat healthier fats in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives
- drink alcohol in moderation
- quit smoking
- exercise regularly and maintain a normal weight.8
5. Become familiar with your skin
Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers every year in Australia.9 The Cancer Council reports we have one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world - two to three times the rates in Canada, the US, and the UK.
The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun. Reduce your exposure year-round by slipping on a hat, sunnies, and UV protective clothing, slopping on some broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF30 sunscreen, and seeking out shade.
Getting a regular skin check is the most important way to monitor for skin cancers but it’s also important you keep a close eye on your skin so you can easily spot any new .
- check your entire body – including the soles of your feet, between fingers and toes, and under nails
- undress completely and make sure you have good light
- use a mirror or ask a family member, partner or friend to check hard-to-see spots.
6. Find a regular GP
Maintaining a trusting, long-term relationship with a GP is the best way to ensure you receive consistent, quality healthcare throughout your life.
Having a healthcare professional you feel comfortable visiting sooner rather than later, seeing the same doctor means building a more accurate overall picture of your health.
Look for a GP who:
- you are comfortable being completely open and honest with
- has an interest in any areas of particular concern to you
- meets your particular language or cultural preferences
- is located nearby and has convenient opening hours
Some ways HBF can support your health – that you may not know about
To find out what you’re eligible for or discuss your cover at any time call 133 423.
- Healthy Living Programs. From CSIRO-developed weight management programs, to tailored support for diabetes and heart conditions. Take a squiz at some of the Healthy Living Programs you could be full covered for if you hold extras cover.
- The right exercise prescription. If exercise is on the agenda and you’re looking for the right advice on where to start and what kind of exercise is best for you and your health goals – an Exercise Physiologist could help. AND you could claim a benefit if you hold an appropriate level of extras cover.
- Find out why your gut is unhappy. A qualified dietitian can help you dissect your diet and complete your mission to good gut health (which is oh-so important.) Find out more about HBF cover options and nutrition.
- Support for when you’re ready to quit smoking. You could be eligible for extra support on your journey to quit smoking with Nicotine Replacement therapy through your Pharmacy.
Healthy Living Programs with HBF
Get more value from your extras with cover for wellbeing-focused programs aimed at helping you feel your best, including the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Premium Program.
Find out more
This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.