THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – Talking about men’s health issues has never been part of day-to-day conversation, and this has to change. During November, which has been groomed into the moustache growing month known as ‘Movember’, men are encouraged to learn and talk about men’s health issues. We asked medical expert, Dr. Stewart Kennedy, family physician and Executive Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, his thoughts on men’s health and how we can be more aware.
Why is focusing on men’s health important?
Men, historically, aren’t as engaged as women when it comes to health issues and preventing chronic disease. We’ve done a really good job at getting health messaging out to women, and women accept screening tools (e.g. Pap tests and mammograms) as part of their regular health check-ups, and we must begin to focus on men as well as women.
Many men have this macho attitude that they feel they need to own. Part of this attitude includes how they perceive their health. Generally, men think they are healthy and don’t need medical screening or intervention. We need to change this mentality because taking care of their health is very valuable.
How do you recommend starting the conversation with men?
We need to keep working to increase awareness and education about men’s health issues. The media is starting to do more and more of this, and there are more community events rallying around men’s health which is great. But, you should also consider talking about men’s health with the men in your life. I think that hearing about men’s health topics from all of these different sources, including your primary care provider, is a good way of motivating men to take care of their health.
In my experience as a family physician, many men come in to talk about health issues after they have lost a friend or family member to some sort of illness. I think we can be more proactive though. For example, it would be better if they would come in for regular check-ups so we can heighten their awareness for prevention and screening methods before a problem arises.
What are signs or symptoms that men should watch for with their health?
There are a few things that men can watch for as potential signs of issues.
With respect to prostate and colorectal health, men should watch for changes in urinary and bowel habits. For example: waking up a lot in the middle of the night to urinate, or difficulty with urinary stream, or not completely emptying your bladder could indicate prostate issues. Additionally, changes in their bowel movements or blood in their stool could indicate a problem with their colon or rectum.
It’s important that men take action and look after their health before there are symptoms because once they show symptoms we don’t screen for a disease, we start to investigate for one.
I like to stress the importance of regular check-ups with your primary care provider. These visits allow for conversations about potential health problems and we [physicians] are able to provide information about what tests are available so that we can detect diseases early or prevent them. A good example of preventing heart disease is getting your blood pressure checked at these regular visits. High blood pressure, hypertension, is known as the ‘silent killer’ because there are no symptoms of this important cardiac risk factor.
What can men do to stay healthy as they age?
There are three things that men can do to help them stay healthy:
1. Exercise regularly. There are so many health benefits associated with exercise. It can help to strengthen your mental health while preventing diseases like dementia. It can also help to prevent heart disease by lowering your cholesterol and strengthening your heart muscle. Exercise is a key component to health in all individuals.
2. Practice healthy dietary habits. Healthy, regular dietary habits that follow Canada’s Food Guide can help to prevent chronic disease. Remember, everything in moderation.
3. Go for a regular check-up with your primary healthcare provider. You can start going anytime, with the most benefits starting around age 40. However, if you have family history of disease you should visit your primary care provider so that you can have those necessary conversations about preventing and screening for chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Make time to have a conversation about men’s health. It’s time to start the conversation.