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September 05, 2023

Women can help men overcome their reluctance to self-care; here's how

Many males are notoriously averse to preventative health care, but they can be nudged toward adopting healthier lifestyles

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Senior Couple Bikes Source/Image licensed by Ingram Image

Men are notoriously averse to self-care, including preventative health measures. Experts say their female loved ones may save their lives by modeling healthy behaviors, encouraging doctor's visits and watching for warning signs of common illnesses.

Women generally care more about the health of the men in their lives than the men themselves. A Cleveland Clinic study presented the evidence – 83% of women who live with a male spouse or significant other said they encourage him to get his health checked once a year. However, 30% of men believed they didn't need to go because they were healthy.

What's unfortunate and most telling about our culture of masculinity is that these findings come as no surprise. Of course, women care more, but does this mean that women hold the key to the fate of men's health? 

U.S. Preventive Medicine, an organization that focuses on corporate wellness and population health management, says women can save men's lives by looking for signs of common health problems, encouraging men to get a primary care provider, and establishing healthy habits in the home through proper nutrition and exercise.

In my book and in previous columns, I've characterized women as the most valuable players in men's health and highlighted their roles in rescuing men from one of their most serious afflictions – the health care attention gap. Yes, women often are the household managers of health. They schedule doctor's appointments, get prescriptions filled and ensure their men get screenings. Women keep their men conscious of changing body conditions and advocate for medical treatment when questions arise.

Surely, unconditional love is a driving force in this equation and every man should be thankful for the efforts of the women in their lives. However, given the resistance to healthy behaviors exhibited by so many men, women need as much motivation and tactical intelligence as possible to fulfill this role. If the pathway to better health for men is through their relationships with women, then that's a road I want them to follow.

Reasons for women to be invested

For many reasons, women have a vested interest in the health of the men in their lives. According to Healthy Women, a nonprofit dedicated to women's health, when men fail to address their health, the consequences can have a ripple effect. If a man becomes incapacitated, it could jeopardize his family, prompt the need to relocate, postpone or cancel educational or employment opportunities, or threaten health insurance.

On a more personal level, health issues like erectile dysfunction can cause stress and strain on a relationship. As we age, the development of chronic illness has the potential to challenge even the strongest relationships.

A need for men to take ownership

Now, don't get me wrong. Men need to step up, take ownership for their health and consider the broader impact that their behaviors have on the people they love. Tough love is a cornerstone of my advocacy. 

By highlighting the natural impulse of women to support men I don't mean to take men off the hook or foist total responsibility on women. No, more simply, men need to recognize that they have a loving and caring asset by their side willing to play a supporting role.

How women can help men live healthier

Despite pushback from men, women can influence a man's health behaviors. The question becomes, one of degree. Can a woman successfully overcome the male aversion to getting regular medical care? Is it possible for a woman to create a household culture of healthy behavior? These are the ultimate questions. 

With unconditional love as a base, some strong incentives concerning a family's well-being, and the potential for health problems to hit hard on a relationship, the motivation is there to go the extra mile — as much for the woman and her family as the man. For women up to the challenge, here is some guidance from the experts.

On the medical side, researchers at Loma Linda University Cancer Center suggest that women start with a basic conversation that takes the form of a nudge, delivered in a spirit of love and a stated desire to have their man around for a long time. The doctors at Loma Linda point out that disease prevention starts at the kitchen table with food habits that focus on fruits, vegetables and nuts, and an avoidance of processed foods. Most importantly, the experts say that a man needs help focusing on his key health indicators – his blood pressure, cholesterol, wait circumference, and prostate-specific antigen. And, if he is 50 or older, he needs to get regular cancer screenings.

Here are five tactics I've written about in the past that can take a man's health to the next level. They require a greater level of commitment from the woman and a good dose of discipline, but the rewards are more than worth the effort.

1. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Research shows women and men are more likely to quit smoking, become physically active and lose weight if their partners join them. Asking your soulmate to adopt a healthy lifestyle is one thing; doing it yourself is the ultimate support system.

2. Check your expectations and respect your partner. Instead of trying to force your man to replicate your favorite workout, find him something that fits his interests. Also, women can help set goals and come up with a plan to achieve them, but keep in mind that a man will only make changes that he is ready to make.

3. Make that appointment. Remember that health care attention gap? Consider the time you expend an investment in your man.

4. Focus on the benefits: Help your partner learn to love healthy living by focusing on its benefits instead of tracking weight loss or treadmill miles — like having more energy or sleeping more soundly. Even better, show your partner how much fun you have working out and cooking healthy meals.

5. Create his "why:" Women can be the co-creators of a man's lifestyle architecture. A man's need to crystallize his opportunities and the resulting motivation to live healthy can be better accomplished with the input of his wife or partner. In a healthy relationship, it's a naturally occurring and fun exercise. Setting out a calendar of events that run the gamut from family celebrations to travel, or simply a weekly dinner date can provide men with the purpose to stay fit.

Experts conclude that the longstanding practice of men neglecting or even sabotaging their wellbeing needs to be replaced by healthier lifestyles. Among the factors that can move this needle are the emotional relationships between men and women. Until our cultural norms change and men embrace self-care, women can help fill this gap. Men would be well served by sharing this message with the women in their lives.

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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