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December 30, 2022

American men have the tools to improve their overall health in the new year, despite a poor showing in 2022

Male attitudes toward health care are big factor in the growing gap in life expectancy between American men and women. But there are signs that change finally may be coming

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Men's Health 2023 Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Though 2022 was not a stellar year for men's health, there were some advancements – the growth of lifestyle medicine and the ongoing breakdown of mental health stigmas, among them – that can serve as building blocks in 2023.

I'm forgoing the New Year's resolution crap typically found in health-oriented columns at this time of year. They don't work. The last year brought a lot of the same old stuff, which I called out in keeping with my tough-love relationship with readers.

Look, I want men (of all ages) to reap the phenomenal benefits of a healthy lifestyle. But when the data shows that men continue to ignore the obvious, jeopardize their well-being and that of their loved ones, I need to say something.

So, as we look ahead to 2023, here's where I think we're at in the struggle for men to live, feel and look better. It's a sad story of continuing neglect, but one tempered by a glimmer of hope – important signs that men may be ready to dump their outdated views of masculinity, and that medicine is evolving to better meet their needs.

Same old stuff

In August, I highlighted the poor showing of American men when their health was compared to counterparts in other affluent countries. I followed that with a column that discussed the growing gap in lifespans between U.S. men and women. These were back-to-back reports that had me shaking my head, wondering whether men will ever "get it."

With these, I'll toss in more recent research, released in November by Healthcanal, that reviewed the state of men's health in 2022. The results? I think you can guess. Men are not taking care of themselves. Risky behaviors, a hesitancy to visit the doctor or get preventative care, poor diets and little-to-no exercise continue to promote chronic disease. On top of these physical impacts, the report contained a troubling statement that "a majority of U.S. men need support for their mental health."

Not a pretty picture. In large measure, men continue to be held captive by their own behaviors. That said, the year did offer some signs that change may indeed be in the works.

Early signs of change

I previously highlighted the courage of Eagles lineman Lane Johnson and former Eagles Brian Dawkins and Malcolm Jenkins, who publicly acknowledged their personal mental health challenges. Their actions made a huge statement: It's not unmanly to seek treatment for mental health. Equally powerful was the reaction of teammates and others in football, who stood in support. Coming from the epicenter of traditional male values, the willingness of these players to share their experiences is a shift that represents a bright-spot for men's health.

Earlier this month, I described the growth of lifestyle medicine and its core principle that one's behavior has a major impact on health. Elements of the practice include diet, physical activity, sleep habits and even a patient's social life. The model has major implications for men who need support to start and sustain positive behaviors. Much like the example of the mental health-football connection, the fact that the boost in lifestyle medicine I described emanated from the insurance industry is of similar significance. The force of insurers to promote lifestyle medicine is a major positive indicator.

Another emerging patient care technique with the ability to impact male patients is narrative medicine. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, narrative medicine has the ability to be "transformative in improving patient care." In narrative medicine, patients are encouraged to tell the story of their illnesses – and their related life circumstances – so that clinicians can get a deeper understanding of the patients' emotions and the factors that motivate their behaviors. It values the human experience and conveys benefits to both the patients and the health care providers.

Technology: More change

Telemedicine, or digitally delivered treatment, came to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many believe that the convenience and accessibility it provides is here to stay. Proponents believe that the use of telemedicine is not an either-or decision. Many patients will seek care online in some instances while maintaining in-person visits when the circumstances warrant.

Digital engagement also includes scheduling. For men who commonly reference inconvenience, time and access as a barrier to care, telemedicine and digital platforms offer a bridge to getting them the care they need.

Your 2023 checklist

Since I started with a no-nonsense approach to 2023, let me complete the thought by breaking down my advice into three basic categories. One, see your doctor. Two, start a program of diet and exercise. And three, pay attention to your loving relationships. This is your motivation to maintain steps one and two.

Where should you start? With a trip to the doctor. Before you embark on any diet or exercise regimen, experts advise that you see a physician. Plus, it's extremely important to get screened and tested regularly as you grow older.  

According to Columbia University, men ages 40 to 64 should consider a number of screenings and discussions with their doctors. Based on one's personal medical history, some should be done annually; In other cases, tests can be done bi-annually, every three years or on an alternative schedule. The preventative measures include a shingles vaccine, flu shot, colorectal screening, colonoscopy, osteoporosis screening, lung cancer screening, depression screening and a prostate exam. 

Men 65 and older can maintain their health by adding some additional tests to that list: a colorectal cancer screening, height and weight checks, fall prevention screening, depression screening, high-dose flu vaccine, prostate screening and osteoporosis screening.

Yes, it seems like a lot, but remember, in both age groups, not all are annual tests. In many cases, your primary care doctor and care team can knock these out in no time. And, if you need more encouragement, be reminded that these tests can catch a wide range of problems before they get too serious.

The new year is a time to both look backward and forward. While 2022 may not have been a stellar year for the advancement of men's health, there were definitely some indicators that change is happening. 

There were significant milestones and tangible evidence to the impact of a healthy lifestyle and the power of emotional motivation. The prospect of building on these developments in 2023 is encouraging. They fuel my passion and enrich my advocacy. Join me. Together we can promote these platforms so that all men can enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle – for this coming year, and many more ahead.

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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