Reducing risks for disease and disability

What if men approached their health at midlife the way that financial experts advise them to plan for retirement? Some of the same rules apply. Take a close look at where things stand now, and then take steps to protect your future. If you’ve taken risks, it is time to start reducing them and instead invest in ways that are likely to pay benefits in the future. A healthier lifestyle can reduce your risks for multiple major conditions that can limit your life span and ultimately prevent you from being physically active and independent. So how do you start investing wisely in your health? First, acknowledge what you can’t control. Then put your energies into changing what you can.

What you can’t control

Even though you can’t change the following factors, you can take them into account while determining your risk for certain conditions. Knowing your risks may help motivate you to make the changes that you can.

Age:  As people grow older, their bodies undergo gradual physical changes that are normal and inevitable. Cells, for example, may become damaged by random genetic mistakes that occur as cells divide and DNA is improperly copied. Although your body has many built-in repair systems, sometimes these break down, and over time the cellular damage accumulates.

Family history: When an immediate family member—a parent or a sibling—develops a problem such as heart disease or cancer, it could mean that you are at risk as well. Shared genes explain some of this risk, but so do shared lifestyles, such as the food you eat and how active you are.

Race and ethnicity: Certain racial groups are more susceptible to certain diseases than others. The reasons for this are not completely clear. As with family history, part of the explanation may lie in genes, while part lies in lifestyle choices.

What you can control

It may surprise you to know that what you can control often affects your health much more than the factors you can’t control. For all the media coverage of new genetic discoveries, for example, the old tried-and true advice about diet and exercise matters more in the end. There’s a saying, “Genes load the gun, and lifestyle pulls the trigger.” In other words, you can avoid activating many disease-promoting genes if you adopt healthy habits. Moreover, you can amplify the benefits of “good” genes with positive lifestyle choices. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you think about making healthful changes.

Whether you smoke: About two million Kenyan men smoke cigarettes on daily basis. If you are one of them, kicking the habit is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.

What you eat: Consuming a healthy diet on a regular basis can reduce your risk of multiple life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and some of the most common cancers.

How much you move: Get active, live longer. Not only that, but live better. Study after study has linked greater amounts of physical activity to improved mood, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and other benefits. “Sitting is the new smoking.”

 

This forum will take a look at these factors and more. We’ll start with the risk factors for the major diseases and conditions that cut men’s lives short and/or cripple them financially. You will learn the most effective steps you can take to reduce your risks of these diseases. Next, the focus shifts to health issues that can lead to premature disability and compromise your active, independent lifestyle. Finally, we will address medical problems particular to men and what you can do about them.

 

Adopted from A guide to Men’s Health – Fifty and Forward – A Harvard Medical School Special Report.

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