OFTENTIMES men struggle to look after their physical and mental health. This challenge, amongst other factors, may even cause them to skip check-ups and screenings that can ensure they live long, healthy lives. Inevitably, if a man doesn’t take the health of his mind and body seriously, he will develop serious health issues.
The “medical gender gap” and its consequences are real! Reports from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that men die about five years earlier than women on average. This past week was celebrated as International Men’s Health Week and we continue to turn attention to some of the many health issues and diseases that our men often grapple with, with a specific focus on cardiovascular diseases.
Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs), an umbrella term for a group of diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including heart disease and stroke, are the leading cause of death globally and they account for 30 per cent of deaths in Jamaicans.
Studies have documented a high prevalence of CVD risk factors, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and overweight/obesity in the Jamaican population. Based on the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III 2016-2017, the prevalence of high blood pressure is 33.8 per cent in Jamaicans over 15 years old, with men accounting for 31.7 per cent of this overall figure. Statistics also highlight major disparities in the risk factors for CVDs in men than women.
Heart disease, just like any other health issue, does not affect everyone alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same as in men. While we can appreciate that a man’s heart may look just like a woman’s, there are significant differences, especially in the way they are affected. Men tend to have more heart disease risk factors than women. For instance, more men than women smoke and drink too much alcohol. Until age 45, men are more likely to have high blood pressure. Reports coming out of Harvard Health, also indicate that heart attacks are more common in men than in women.
The more information a man knows about heart disease, the better chance he has of beating it. The good news is that men can do a lot to take control of their health, starting with prioritising prevention, from eating better to quitting bad habits, like smoking, and getting regular check-ups. Here are some steps you can take to avoid common men’s health problems at any age:
• Know your numbers. You can greatly reduce your risk for these diseases by monitoring your health status and maintaining certain body measurements and acceptable levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
• Don’t smoke, actively or passively. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one to four cigarettes per day. Even if you don’t smoke, regular exposure to someone else’s (second-hand) smoke can increase your risk.
• Manage stress levels and treat depression by finding healthy ways to cope with stressors.
• Eat healthfully. There are several crucial ingredients of a heart-healthy diet — whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, poly and monounsaturated fats, fatty fish (such as salmon), and limited intake of trans fats. Read your food labels.
• Be more active. Get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. Fit activity into your life. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, do yard work or gardening, park farther from your destination and walk.
Tobacco and men
According to a 2010 study titled Gender equity and tobacco control: Bringing masculinity into focus, risky behaviours in many societies, such as tobacco use, are practised more by men and boys compared to women. The disproportionate male use of tobacco has profound negative consequences for men (as users) and for women (non-users). The study alludes that on the subject of gender equity and tobacco, the implications of tobacco use on men’s health is often overlooked. This raises one of the most concerning issues about men and smoking: the phenomenon that smoking among men is conventionally viewed as an expression of masculinity. According to the study, this perception has been propagated by the tobacco industry through advertisement and promotion campaigns.
Tobacco use is a known risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke. Tobacco continues to contribute to 11 per cent of NCDs in Jamaica; eight per cent of tuberculosis deaths,;six per cent of deaths from cardiovascular diseases; and 71 per cent of deaths from cancer of the lung, bronchus, and trachea.
What do we know about tobacco use and men?
• More boys than girls report currently smoking cigarettes (boys 11.1 per cent, girls 10.9 per cent)
• Less boys report thinking that other people’s smoking is harmful to them (boys 60.7 per cent, girls 70.7 per cent)
• More males 15 years and older report current use of tobacco products (males 26 per cent, females five per cent)
• Males 35-44 report the highest prevalence of tobacco use
• Fifty per cent of lifetime smokers report starting smoking at 19 and 10 per cent started at 11
• Men are three times more likely to be current cigarette smokers than women.
This article was contributed by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, located at 28 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Visit its website: www.heartfoundationja.org and follow its Facebook account: Heart Foundation of Jamaica