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Putting your physical and mental wellbeing first in Men’s Health Awareness Month

Next month is Men’s Health Awareness Month, with International Men’s Day falling on November 19th. As an annual campaign, November is dedicated to promoting awareness, education and an opportunity for dialogue about men’s health issues, with a particular emphasis on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and a healthy lifestyle. It encourages men to take charge of their wellbeing and seek help when needed.

Cancers as a whole accounted for 30% of deaths in men in 2015 and when considered separately, 4 of the 10 leading causes of death in males and females were cancers.

Testicular cancer accounts for 1%–2% of all cancers in men, with approximately 2,000 new cases per year in the UK. It occurs predominantly in men aged 30-34 and is the biggest cause of cancer-related death in 15 to 35 year old males. With early detection and new, improved treatments, the chances of a recovery are extremely good.

The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles; rarely (in about 2% of cases) it can occur in both at the same time. The swelling may be noticed by the man or by his partner and is often assumed to be caused by exercise or some minor injury. However, any lump in the scrotum or testicles should be examined by a doctor.

Treatment is easier and more likely to be successful if testicular cancer is detected early.

According to Prostate Cancer UK, “1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer. If you’re over 50, or you’re black, or your dad or brother had it, you’re at even higher risk.”. The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis and is part of the male reproductive system. Located between the penis and the bladder, its main function is to produce a thick white fluid that creates semen when mixed with the sperm produced by the testicles.

The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown but certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition. The chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older (most cases develop in men aged 50 or older) and for reasons unknown to science, prostate cancer is more common in black men and less common in Asian men. Men whose father or brother were affected by prostate cancer are at slightly increased risk themselves.

Prostate cancer does not usually cause any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the tube (urethra) that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis.

Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

  • Needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
  • Needing to rush to the toilet
  • Difficulty in starting to urinate (hesitancy)
  • Straining or taking a long time while urinating
  • Weak urinating flow
  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • Blood in urine or in semen

These symptoms do not always mean you have prostate cancer. Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older because of a non-cancerous condition called benign prostate enlargement.

Recent research also suggests that obesity increases the risk of prostate cancer. Just another reason to practice healthy living and a balanced diet.

Treatment is easier and more likely to be successful if prostate cancer is detected early.

In 2015, heart disease was the most common cause of death in men and caused 1.8 times as many deaths as the second leading cause of death (dementia and Alzheimer’s disease). According to the British Heart Foundation, someone dies from a heart or circulatory disease every 3 minutes. For men between the ages of 50 to 79, heart disease and cancers were the most common causes of death.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) refers to heart’s blood supply getting blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries. Over time, the walls of your arteries can become clogged up with fatty deposits, putting strain on your heart to work harder to pump blood around your body.

The process is known as atherosclerosis, which can be caused by lifestyle factors, such as smoking and regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. The main symptoms of coronary heart disease include:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain throughout the body
  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling nauseas

Not everyone has the same symptoms however and some may not have any before coronary heart disease is diagnosed.

Coronary heart disease cannot be cured but you can reduce your risk of getting coronary heart disease by making some simple lifestyle changes, including:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Being physically active
  • Giving up smoking
  • Controlling blood cholesterol and sugar levels

Keeping your heart healthy will also have other health benefits, such as helping reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

Treatment is easier and more likely to be successful if heart disease is detected early.

66% of UK men are overweight or obese in the UK, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Research. Obesity is associated with a number of potentially life-threatening conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.

Despite the fact that men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women, they are less likely to join weight-loss programmes and have a lower chance of attaining a healthy body weight than obese women. A review of two large NHS weight-loss programmes found that only around 10% of referrals were men. Interestingly however, when men do engage with a weight-loss programme, they do well, with lower drop-out rates than women, and some evidence they may lose more weight than women.

Evidence suggests that the following components are associated with successful weight loss programmes for men:

  • A combination of a weight reducing diet (not crash diets) with physical activity
  • A group environment alongside individually-tailored advice
  • Use of behavioural change techniques such as goal-setting or self-monitoring
  • A sense of camaraderie and mutual support. One way in which this can be achieved is through programmes run through local sports clubs

There is limited evidence on what helps men maintain weight loss, although behaviour change techniques may help in some circumstances.

Ensure you manage your weight from an early age to avoid obesity-related health problem.

Men typically have higher blood pressure and are 6% more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases than women.

Ideally a healthy blood pressure should be below 140/90. If your blood pressure is between 160/95 and 180/100 you should see a health practitioner for further review and possible treatment. If your reading is above 180/100 you should see your doctor as soon as possible. If your work is safety critical or involves driving, you will not be able to continue in your role until your blood pressure is reduced to an acceptable reading.

It can be hard to identify what has caused high blood pressure, but the following are risk factors that are likely to contribute towards hypertension:

  1. You are overweight
  2. You have too much salt in your diet
  3. You don’t do enough physical activity
  4. You drink too much alcohol too often
  5. A close member of your family has high blood pressure

To lower your blood pressure, eat a mixed diet including fruit and vegetables. Reduce your saturated fat intake by limiting cakes, biscuits, chocolates and crisps to occasional treats a couple of times per week. Bake, grill or roast foods rather than frying or cooking in lots of oil. Do not add salt to your meals, use herbs and spices to add flavour. Reduce your alcohol intake; current government guidelines recommend no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for men and women.

Furthermore, ensure you exercise regularly to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Being inactive is linked to high blood pressure: therefore, increasing your activity levels will reduce your blood pressure. Try to be active for at least 150 minutes a week. Stopping smoking does not reduce your blood pressure but smoking and high blood pressure put you at risk of the same health conditions. By stopping smoking you will reduce your risks of developing cardiovascular disease.

Treatment is easier and more likely to be successful if higher blood pressure is detected early.

In comparison to women, men are almost half as likely to report seeking professional help for their mental health issues. What’s more, only a third of all NHS mental health referrals in 2019-2020 were for men, despite the fact that men are significantly more likely to die by suicide than women.

While women are the more likely sex to experience depression and anxiety in adulthood, men have a larger prevalence of substance and antisocial behaviour disorders. All drugs will have an effect on your mental health, affecting the way you see and experience your surroundings, your mood and your behaviour.

Taking recreational drugs can lead to long-term mental health issues such as depression or schizophrenia and can further exacerbate existing mental health problems.

It is important to remember that there are a wide range of mental health considerations, which is why Mind have an extensive list of types of mental health problems. This list includes anxiety and panic attacks, depression, loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) amongst others. If you or someone you know think they could be suffering with a mental health problem, the first step is talking about it with others and getting the right diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, the next step to overcoming mental health concerns is treatment. Specific types of therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), may be particularly suitable for men since CBT focuses on current problems and provides specific tools and techniques that can be used to solve them.

CBT attempts to change how you think (cognitive) and how you act (behaviour), with the aim of helping you to feel better. CBT is a talking treatment that focuses on problems and difficulties that are happening in the here and now. It is a way of talking about how you think about yourself, the world, other people and how what you do affects your thoughts and feelings.

Alternatively, antidepressant medication is designed to correct a neurochemical imbalance. As reported by The Guardian, “Around 60% of people respond by about two months to the drugs with about a 50% reduction in their symptoms – an improvement in mood, better sleep and so on.”

Treatment is easier and more likely to be successful if mental health issues are detected early.

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