With International Men’s Health Day taking place on 19 November, this article will explore what men’s health is, why it’s important to understand and manage health, why men may hold certain attitudes towards their health, and what steps can be taken to promote and maintain optimal health.
The article will also highlight the role of impactful campaigns like Movember, an initiative rolled out every November, to raise awareness and funds for men's health, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention.
What is men’s health?
Men’s health, like women’s health, encompasses physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
This includes the following:
Physical: Maintaining a healthy body through adequate nutrition, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking, alcohol, drug use, unsafe sex, and occupational hazards. These are all behaviours outlined as being the most impactful on men’s health.
Mental: Managing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, through open conversation and seeking support when required.
Emotional: Developing healthy relationships, social connections and having the ability to recognise and express feelings.
Why should men manage their health?
Males have a shorter global average life expectancy (69.8 years) compared with women (75.3 years). There are several health conditions that men are at higher risk of experiencing, including heart disease, cancer (inc. prostate and testicular), and mental health issues, due to being less likely to reach out for support.
Men are less likely to adopt prevention strategies like healthy lifestyle behaviours or use medicines to lower cardiovascular disease risk compared with women. Men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer have previously been found to be less willing to change their habits, despite being aware of the risks of continuing their current health behaviours, including smoking, drinking, and being overweight. Furthermore, men are less likely to seek support for their mental health unless severely distressed.
Why is this?
Men are often less likely to seek support for their health because of ‘masculine norms’, resulting in certain attitudes, risk-taking, aggression and limited self-care. A Masculine Norms Health Report outlined seven ‘pillars’ of ‘socially constructed masculinity’ influencing men’s health outcomes. These include:
1. Self-sufficiency and Emotional control
2. Acting Tough and Risk-Taking
4. Rigid Masculine Gender Roles
5. Superiority among Men
7. Power, Aggression and Control
A study coined ‘The Man Box’ study found that 52% of British men felt their parents, society and partners thought men should aspire to these masculine norms. These masculine norms have been said to result in the risky health-related behaviours that subsequently result in conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancers, and mental health difficulties.
So, what can we do?
Often, simply holding more open conversations around Men’s Health is the best place to start improving Men’s Health, raising awareness, and providing support, not just when it's required, but also building this systemically too. A study on Health Seeking Behaviours for Mental Health found that both men and women’s preferred source of help was friends or relatives, suggesting that the more openly talked about it is, the higher likelihood there may be of men seeking support and engaging in behaviours that are positive for their health. Another study found that males are more likely to prefer self-help, over speaking with a professional, and may find benefit using digital or online services instead.
There are several initiatives for men to get involved with that may support with accountability, socialising, and improved health outcomes. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of clubs for men, including Man V Fat, an initiative for men with a BMI over 27.5 who enjoy playing football, where 90% of players have lost weight and got fitter since joining. There is also Andys Man Club, a judgement-free confidential space for men to speak openly about how they’re feeling through weekly, free-to-attend peer support groups.
November is a month often recognised for Movember, a campaign established in 2003 in Australia, which encourages men to grow a moustache for the month, to raise money for the campaign. Movember aims to raise awareness and funds for men's health, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention.
For further information about Movember, see here. The charity provides information specifically about men’s health and how to get local support for a variety of services, including general support, family and relationship services, support for young people, social services, employment, grief, bereavement, drugs, alcohol and addiction, LGBTQ+ Community support and more.
There are several small changes that can be made day-to-day that will have significant positive effects on health, whether it's losing weight, getting active, drinking less, stopping smoking, or looking after mental health. For further information and suggestions of apps that are supportive of this, visit Better Health - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
However, it can be hard to feel motivated to get started or maintain changes once they have been made. We summarise a few tips below that may help with starting or maintaining progress to improve health outcomes.
1) SMART goals – This is an evidence-based type of goal setting that helps you to structure the goals you are working towards. It is made up of the following structure:
S - Specific – Set a goal with an exact description, focusing on one thing at a time to make it less difficult.
M – Measurable – A way of tracking how much progress you are making.
A – Achievable – Is the goal something you could achieve? What might make it more difficult to achieve? Think of effort, resources and other costs that may influence the outcome. You can always create a few smaller goals if easier.
R – Relevant – Ensure the goal is relevant to you and something that you want to achieve in your life.
T – Timebound – Ensure the plan is outlined with a time frame in mind so that the goal you set is realistic in the time you wish to achieve it.
2) Start small – When we start making change, it can be tempting to set big goals to work towards. However, this can sometimes be overwhelming, and hard to maintain. Therefore, using the above SMART goal format, try to set small goals that are more achievable, and once you have completed this, set another. This could be a few weekly goals, a monthly goal, a quarterly goal, or whatever time frame feels best for you.
3) Pros and Cons – Consider the pros and cons of making the changes you want to make. For example, you could make a list of all the advantages of making change and a list of all the disadvantages of making change. What are the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of making change or staying the same?
4) Problem-solving – Identify any triggers or barriers that are making it more challenging to make change. Are there certain environments, situations, or people that lead you to falling back into old habits, or leave you feeling less motivated to make change? Are there ways in which you could change these, or spend less time in these situations so there are fewer temptations/triggers?
5) Social Support – There is a lot of evidence that suggests social support when making change can be beneficial, both in the short and long term. If you have someone you can buddy up with, whether it's making changes to your diet, or in the gym, you will likely see a much higher chance of success. ‘Give us a shout' also offers a series of tips to support in conversations you may wish to have with friends or family if you have concerns about them, or if you want to hold more open conversations around how you are feeling.
If you prefer speaking to a trained professional, Reed Wellbeing offers several Health Promotion programmes that can be supportive of your health, including NHS Health Checks for anybody over the age of 40, Weight Management programmes, Smoking Cessation, and Move More. For more information, speak to your healthcare professional.
N.B Although this article refers to men, it is inclusive of all ‘people who may identify as men’. It is recognised that experiences and perceptions may differ in relation to disability, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or marital/civil partnership status.