Take a health MOT
Millions of men are glued to the TV watching the World Cup - but only a fraction will play the game or take any other exercise. For, while men like watching sport, less than half of those aged over 35 do enough exercise to keep them healthy, say experts..
ACCORDING to research, after the age of 35, men are increasingly likely to do less than the recommended level of exercise, which is at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, five or more days a week.
Such physical activity can decrease the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as helping to improve mental health, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sexual performance.
This year’s Men’s Health Week (June 14-20) is focusing on raising the heart rate of more than a million men aged between 35-64.
Dr Ian Banks, the president of the Men’s Health Forum which runs the event, explains:
“We’re trying to get a million more men moving, as lack of activity is among the biggest issues for male life expectancy, probably greater than even smoking or alcohol. ”
Just 40% of men over 35 do at least the minimum recommended amount of exercise, despite the fact that the benefits of physical activity are clear. Last year, a Swedish study found that middle-aged men who start exercising regularly can expect to live 2.3 years longer than males leading sedentary lives.
Couch potatoes, meanwhile, should bear in mind that World Health Organisation figures show more than 20% of coronary heart disease and 10% of strokes are due to physical inactivity.
Banks uses the “male-friendly” metaphor of a car left standing for a long time to explain what happens to the body if it’s not exercised.
“You leave a car standing, it will seize up, simply because it’s not been used. The human body has to be used too, otherwise it seizes up - it’s as simple as that.”
Banks says most men cite pressure of work, stress, divorce and children as the reason for their lack of exercise.
But he points out that the week is advocating easy ways of staying healthy which will slot into men’s everyday lives.
These easy measures could include using stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus one stop earlier and walking the rest of the way, or cleaning the car by hand rather than going to the car wash.
“If you walk briskly for just half an hour a day, it takes your level of activity out of the danger range,” stresses Banks.
A study by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that people who simply can double their survival chances by moving out of the bottom 20% of fitness levels.
Interestingly, while this is also the case for women, the difference is that after the age of about 25 men’s activity levels drop, while women’s remain roughly the same. This fact is reflected in mortality rates: 22% of men in England and Wales die before they reach the age of 64, compared to just 13% of women.
“Men are dying early. We’re saying that this is a real problem, and here’s a way of doing something about it,” says Banks.
In a bid to get more men moving, events including ‘MOT’ checks for men and health improvement campaigns are being held around the country as part of the week, which is supported by a host of sporting personalities including the Former England test wicket-keeper Jack Russell, Harlequins rugby player Danny Orr, snooker favourite Jimmy White, and former Newcastle, Arsenal and England footballer Malcolm Macdonald.
“Health can all too often be taken for granted,” Macdonald says. “But checking your health out every now and again is vital to staying fit. You do it for your car, don’t you? Then why not do it for the driver too?”
Professor Alan White, a professor of men’s health at Leeds Metropolitan University, explains that modern man’s lack of exercise is related to the fact that today’s work is often office-based, instead of labour intensive.
After leaving school men they often get sedentary jobs, without changing the eating or drinking habits of their youth.
“They’re still eating for an active body, but they’re inactive and therefore weight goes on,” says White.
“Unless you organise something after work, you will become unfit and overweight.
“You have to do something about it - it doesn’t just happen.”
He suggests that Primary Care Trusts address the issue by organising physical activities for men in the evenings, and that employers become more proactive about how they keep their workforce healthy.
Part of the problem is also linked to the way men put on weight, says White, who explains that while women tend to put weight on gradually as they age, men put it on around their middle after the age of about 25.
This weight secretes fat-related toxins, which can increase the risk of problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and some cancers.
“Weight around the midriff is particularly problematic, and physical activity is linked to weight,” stresses White.
He points out that as well as the obvious health benefits of physical activity, it can also improve mental health - sport is great for stimulating ‘feel-good’ hormones, as well as often being a very social activity.
“A lot of men think they’re too old - that exercise is for younger men,” he says, highlighting the fact that age can become a barrier to exercise.
“Starting exercise, even at 50, 60, 70, has great health benefits.”
He advises men to get out of old habits, and suggests: “Rethink the way you live your life so you’ll be more active. “You can add years to your life, as well as life to your years.”