Why is it that women are so much more likely to go to the Dr than men? Figures would suggest that this reluctance is at least partly to blame for the difference in mortality rates in the UK between men and women – every year 100,000 men die before the age of 75, compared to 66,000 women. Take the age limit down a decade, and the figures are still scary – 22% of men in England and Wales die before the age of 65, compared to women at 13%.
So what is going on? Well, at least some of it can be explained by the attitude that men should be strong, and asking for help does not match up to the machismo, but this outdated notion is clearly putting men’s lives at risk and needs to be changed. Furthermore, the fact that clinics and doctor’s surgeries are open Monday to Friday, with a few open for limited times on a Saturday, means that men just can’t find the time to seek help.
Men are traditionally the breadwinners, and they are afraid of losing money, or even their job, through sickness. However, neglecting their own health can and does lead to premature death, leaving those families they tried so hard to provide for and protect, alone.
According to statistics published in 2016 by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, only 25% of men are getting the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables, with 45% eating less than three of the recommended five. The World Health Organization states that eating a minimum of 400g of fresh fruit and vegetables a day lowers the risk of stroke, heart disease, and some cancers. Not only that, but fruit and vegetables are low in fat and calories, so eating them instead of more calorific and/or fatty alternatives can keep weight down. With obesity statistics published by the House of Commons Library in 2015 stating that 68% of men in England are either overweight or obese, diet and weight are clearly a significant factor in men’s health.
Government guidelines suggest that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, in addition to strengthening exercises incorporating all the major muscles at least twice a week. But – and it’s a big but (no pun intended) – Statistics have shown that only 41% of men play any kind of sport once a week. The figures are even more shocking in childhood, where healthy (or otherwise) habits are formed, with only 21% of boys in the 5-15 year age group meeting the weekly guidelines.
Given that exercise has been proven to decrease the chances of serious diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, premature death, and depression, this lack of physical activity is taking its toll on the health of British men.
Smoking and Drinking
Nobody needs reminding about the dangers of smoking, and yet 19% of UK men still do it. There are around 96,000 smoking related deaths in the UK every year – although smoking rates have more than halved since 1974, these rates are still way too high.
The figures for drinking are even worse. 31% of men drink more than the recommended 14 units per week (this used to be 28 units per week but guidelines changed in 2016). Previously held beliefs that drinking in moderation was good for you have since been disregarded – in fact, the only slight benefit is to women over the age of 55, and even then in only small amounts. Drinking is a big problem – figures released showed that 65% of alcohol-related hospital admissions were male, and from 2001 – 2012 66% of alcohol-related deaths were also male.
There are plenty of things men can do to improve their health. It goes without saying that drinking should be reduced (especially binge drinking), and smoking should be stopped altogether. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with exercise, will go a very long way to improving health. But what else can be done?
Puberty is a time of huge change, both emotionally and physically. Boys can enter puberty at any age from 10 – 15 years old, and it is thought that diet plays an important part in when that happens – obesity is cited as a cause of delayed puberty in boys (conversely it has the opposite effect on girls). It is essential that the right nutrients are consumed throughout this often turbulent time in a boy’s life. Vitamin A has so many essential roles in puberty – growth, development, eyesight, reproduction, and immunity. Studies have shown that even a small deficiency can have an adverse effect on sexual maturity, bone growth, and the risk of infectious diseases due to its role in immunity.
- Vitamin C plays a vital role in immunity strength, and it also aids in the absorption of iron.
- Vitamin D has come to the fore in recent years for its importance to our health, but it is especially important for adolescents, for its role in bone health – vitamin D maintains normal calcium metabolism. While it is made naturally by sunlight, most of us don’t get nearly enough time outdoors to maximise its benefit, so topping up with a supplement is important.
- Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, needed for fighting the free radicals which can cause cell damage in the body. Furthermore, it boosts the immune system, helping to protect against viruses and bacteria.
- During a time of such growth, Calcium is vital in bone growth. 99% of the body’s calcium supply is found in teeth and bones, and keeping up that supply in adolescence is crucial for healthy bones, optimal bone mass, and the prevention of fractures and/or osteoporosis in later life.[12[
During puberty, the adolescent’s need for calories increases to sustain the growth spurts characteristic of this period. B Vitamins work to metabolise energy, so play an important role in the added calories an adolescent requires. Moreover, they play an important role in cell growth, another important job during this time of rapid growth.
Acne is the bain of most teenager’s life – it’s hard enough to cope with all the bodily changes, without having to worry about breakouts and being self-conscious. However, help is at hand – numerous studies have shown there is a definite link between Zinc levels and acne. Research carried out in Turkey showed that volunteers with acne had, on average, 24% lower levels of zinc than those with clear skin, and the levels of zinc went down as the severity of the condition went up.
Gaining Muscle and Staying Lean
It is possible to gain muscle without putting on weight, which is something you want to avoid. A lot of men think that in order to bulk up they need to put on a lot of weight first. This is a fallacy and a dangerous one at that, given the effects on health being overweight can bring. Creatine is a substance which is found naturally in our bodies, with 90% of it in muscle. Although it can also be found in foods, most of it is lost during the cooking process, so taking it in a supplement form is the best way to keep levels up. Creatine increases production of a substance called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is used by the body during short energy bursts, such as lifting weights. In addition to this process, it is also beneficial for muscle repair and growth.
BCAAs are Branched Chain Amino Acids, and they are widely believed to have two functions when it comes to working out and staying healthy. The first is that they appear to reduce fatigue by reducing the serotonin released while exercising, as serotonin induces sleep, thus allowing for more stamina in the gym. The second, and perhaps more important, function is that of preventing muscle breakdown and improving muscle repair.
Glutamine is an essential Amino Acid, and the body requires large amounts of it! Not only is it responsible for muscle growth and performance, but it is also used to lose weight and burn fat, meaning workouts will result in a leaner body. There are numerous other benefits to Glutamine – it fights cancer, helps memory, focus and concentration, curbs sugar cravings as well as alcohol, and helps to balance blood sugar levels.
A familiar sight in many men’s workout toolkit is Whey Protein. Containing all nine of the essential amino acids, whey is a complete protein and is most often used in weight training for lean muscle growth, but again the benefits are many. A study published in Nutrition and Metabolism showed that those taking whey protein "lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage.” But even away from the gym, whey protein has been shown to fight cancer, and lower blood pressure, both of which should be of concern to men as they get older.
Male fertility has been on the decline for quite a few years now. A study carried out in France in 2013 showed that year on year, sperm concentration had gone down by 2% between 1996 and 20015. That’s 2% per year. This worrying trend is believed to be due to environmental factors, but whatever the reasons there are things you can do to boost male fertility.
Zinc is a massively important mineral in improving fertility. Its antioxidant properties protect sperm against bacteria, and it is highly likely that it protects from free radicals as well. A study in Nutrition Research, published in 2009, looked at the effects of Zinc on both smoking and non-smoking men. The results showed that, regardless of their smoking status, men with higher levels of zinc had healthier sperm in higher numbers than those with lower zinc levels.
In March 2002, a study published in Fertility and Sterility gave 5mg of Folic Acid in addition to 66mg of Zinc to fertile and sub-fertile men. After 26 weeks both groups had increased sperm counts, but the sub-fertile group reported an incredible 74% increase in sperm count.
Selenium can also be supplemented to improve chances of conception. Boosting Selenium levels has been shown to improve sperm morphology (shape of sperm) and motility (movement) and the International Journal of General Medicine also reported that a daily dose of 200mcg boosted spontaneous pregnancy rates in the partners of previously infertile men.
One cause of infertility in men is poor sperm motility. But a study carried out in 2004 on 22 infertile men with low sperm motility showed that after taking coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) sperm motility had improved.
Boosting male fertility can also be achieved by taking certain Amino Acids, in particular, L-arginine, L-carnitine, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). According to Aminoacidstudies.org taking these three amino acids can not only improve overall health but will also raise sperm count, improve motility, and help with morphology (shape).
As we said right at the beginning of the article, men are notoriously reluctant to seek medical advice when something goes wrong, but this reluctance can store up trouble later in life and can have fatal consequences. A healthy diet and exercise go without saying, but there are also supplements which can improve health as we age.
Not one, not two, but three studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that taking high levels of Omega 3 Acids not only improved the survival rates of elderly people but also decreased the risk of dementia – a major cause for concern in older people. With around 820,000 people living with dementia in the UK, it is something we should all strive to protect ourselves from. Dementia doesn’t only strike the elderly, though; it is estimated that between 2% - 5% of people with the condition are under the age of 65, and can strike as early as the 30s.
Testosterone levels decrease as men age, resulting in loss of muscle growth, and libido. ZMA is a supplement combining Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6, all very important minerals in their own right, but when combined they have been shown to Improve sleep, which declines as we get older, improve muscle strength, and is well known as a testosterone booster, so…well, you know.
A study published by Oregon State University looked at the vitamin and mineral requirements of older adults. The recommended daily dosage of Vitamin C in older men is 90mg, and yet many men studied fell far short of that quota. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which is especially important as we age due to the increasing possibility of serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. In people considered high risk for these illnesses, the RDA is at least 400mcg.
Vitamin D is found in sunlight and is essential to the development and maintenance of healthy bones. But as we age our skin loses the ability to synthesise Vitamin D, so in order to keep bones healthy and prevent fractures and osteoporosis, the vitamin can be supplemented at a dosage of 50mcg per day.
Calcium is also essential for maintaining bone health, and although a lot of our daily requirements can be met through food such as cheese, milk, and yoghurt it is not always enough. Between the ages of 51 to 70, men should consume, through a combination of diet and supplementation, 1000mg per day. That amount increases after the age of 71, with the RDA rising to 1200mg.
Anaemia among older men is common, and iron-deficiency is the second most common reason for the condition. This can be attributed to a number of things, such as cancer drugs, medications, nutritional deficiencies, and blood loss.
Joint pain, for example, comes as part and parcel as we get older, and the go-to medication is aspirin or NSAIDs. However, both of these can cause quite significant blood loss as they attach the stomach lining. (The baby aspirin prescribed by many doctors for the prevention of heart attacks causes only a tiny amount of blood loss and should be continued if advised). Iron deficiency can result in breathlessness, fatigue, pale skin and confusion, so keeping up iron levels is important to maintain good health.
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