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October 20, 2023

Many men believe they're living healthy, but their lifestyles suggest otherwise

Here's how to adopt meaningful changes – from exercise routines to mindset adjustments to preventive health measures

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Healthy Living Men Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

A recent survey from the Cleveland Clinic shows that many men perceive themselves to be living healthy, but far fewer actually have healthy habits.

There is a wide gap between a man's perception of his health and reality.

A recent survey from the Cleveland Clinic reflects the male propensity to neither mention health concerns nor act to prevent them. According to researchers, 81% of American men claim they lead a healthy lifestyle. In reality, 44% do not get an annual physical, 44% do not take care of their mental health and barely half maintain a healthy diet. 

Additional findings that speak to a man's priorities show that 27% watch TV for more than five hours per day and spend at least two hours a day on social media.

What's truly perplexing is that men do acknowledge health problems. The survey reports that 65% of men say that issues having sex made them feel frustrated, and 83% have experienced stress in the last six months. 

The results may seem stunning to those unfamiliar with the culture of men's health, but this is no surprise for those who study the topic. The findings are consistent with previous research. Yes, the climb up the mountain of healthy behavior for men remains steep.

So, if you're a guy who considers himself to be living healthy – but might be stretching that definition just a bit – let me offer you a simple, five-step approach to improving your health based on the advice of experts.

Step 1: Prevention

Men are known for their unwillingness to see a doctor. Though it can literally save one's life, prevention remains a challenge, as seen in the Cleveland Clinic study's findings on an annual physicals.

According to The American Academy of Family Physicians, a good preventative regimen includes a yearly check-up with a primary care doctor, dental and eye exams, a flu shot and COVID-19 booster, regular tests for colon cancer, prostate cancer screenings and other proactive measures that may depend on one's family history.

It's a basic formula based on the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." A big problem in the U.S., as observed by researchers at Harvard University, is an overeliance on drugs and other treatments for diseases, rather than preventing them. 

A simple appointment just once a year is a good place to start on your road to healthy behavior.

Step 2: Lifestyle changes

The American Academy of Lifestyle Medicine makes it abundantly clear that our daily habits have a major impact on our health, both in the short- and long-term, So, strategy No. 2 is to stop the bad habits and adopt good ones. 

For men, this means to stop smoking, avoid excessive drinking, adopt a reasonable diet and get a good night's sleep, among other practices. I like the Mediterranean diet because it provides some flexibility and is not overly restrictive.

Finally, a healthy lifestyle also includes the avoidance of risky behaviors found in men of all ages. Whether this means getting the kid next door to clean your gutters or not diving for that shot on the pickleball court, use your head. Don't ask for trouble that could land you in the hospital.

Step 3: Leverage relationships

Our relationships have the power to motivate and support healthy behaviors. The drive and discipline that can be tied back to our most loving and emotional connections is well-established in the science and anchored in our hearts. The key is to find the means to leverage this power.

Sources of this inspirational force include spouseschildren (in my case adult children) and grandchildren, but can also extend to professional relationships, friends and volunteer activities. In short, its your "why" for living healthy, your purpose, your endgame.

A major theme among the men over 50 that I have studied is that their lifestyles are a means to an end. Their emotional relationships are their endgames. So, identify those relationships that can form your reason for living healthy, and keep them close.

Step 4: Physical activity

I carved out physical activity from lifestyle changes to give it the attention it deserves. Yes, exercise is perhaps the most difficult of all behaviors to maintain, but there's no way around the need to be active. 

On the upside, regular physical activity can have a tremendously meaningful impact on your health. Duke University notes the importance of regular physical activity for men, calling it "vital in achieving optimal well-being." According to Duke, regular exercise helps improve cardiovascular health, weight management, muscle strength, mental health and well-being. And it lowers the risk of chronic disease.

What should your exercise program look like? The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous, aerobic activity, and two muscle strengthening workouts each week.

How can you increase the chances of sticking with your exercise routine? Beyond specific exercises, The Mayo Clinic offers tactics to avoid the common pitfalls and establish practices to carry you over the long haul. Their recommendations include:

• Start slow. Doing too much too fast can lead to failure and possibly cause injury. Begin modestly and gradually build your stamina.
• Pick an activity that you enjoy. Walking, stair-climbing, jogging, dancing, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting and swimming are all great activities.
• Set SMART goals. Your measures of success should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited.
Find a friend. Working out with a friend, coworker or family member (spouses are great) often brings a new level of motivation and commitment to your workouts. And friends can make exercising more fun!

Yes, exercise may be tough, but with a little structure you can overcome the barriers.

Step 5: A positive mindset

Experts at Stanford University say that mindset can improve one's health, decrease stress and help people become more resilient to life's challenges. According to Dr. Jacob Towery, in the Department of Psychiatry, mindsets help people shape their belief systems and set expectations. The good news, according to Towery, is that "mindsets are highly changeable, and if you are willing to learn the technology of changing your mindset and defeating your distorted thoughts, you can have significantly more happiness."

For those looking to find the pathway to a healthy lifestyle, Towery cites the growth mindset, in which people believe their habits can change over time and overcome the challenges that have historically held them back. Believing that you can live healthy goes a long way toward doing it.

There you have it. Five ways you can close the gap between where you're at and where you need to be. A dose of reality that may prove to be the best medicine you ever got.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

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