As June comes to an end, so does the formal observation of Men’s Health Month — a whole month to focus on how to be healthier. But shouldn’t we be cognizant of our health the whole year long and not just one month when a spotlight is put on it?
We men have our share of health conditions that we can do more to prevent and treat with often just small changes in diet and lifestyle. Obesity and high blood pressure are conditions that almost always respond dramatically to a diet and lifestyle overhaul. In this article, I hope to motivate you with some sobering facts about these conditions and empower you to make any necessary changes that will help you prevent or reverse them.
What is it? Defined as having a Body Mass Index (your weight relative to your height) of 30, or 20 percent above the high end of normal.
Facts: Obesity greatly increases your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, heart attack, stroke and even some cancers.
What causes it? Nature and nurture are both culprits. Genetics (a slower metabolism, needing to eat more to feel full) and behaviors learned growing up play large roles. Sedentary lifestyles and high carb diets with few vegetables/fiber are the biggest contributors. Sugary drinks and processed foods (snacks, pasta, bread) also play a big role.
What prevents/reverses it? You can’t lose weight by exercising only. Regular exercise (five days is a good goal) comprised of 30 minutes of aerobic activity with strength training two-three days a week will burn calories and build muscle. Muscle helps increase your metabolic rate, making it easier to keep pounds off.
Eating habits are key; I recommend eating around 25 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. This is a big adjustment for most people (if you eat 1,800 calories a day, that’s a little over 100 grams of carbs a day). Keep track of what you’re eating on a calorie-tracking app like My Fitness Pal. Like all habits, it’s tough at first but essential to long-term habit change.
What is it? Defined as blood pressure above 140 over 90 mmHg. Pre-hypertension is above 120 over 80.
Facts: High blood pressure increases your risk for dangerous health conditions:
First heart attack: About seven of every 10 people having their first heart attack have high blood pressure.
First stroke: About 8 of every 10 people having their first stroke have high blood pressure.
Chronic (long lasting) heart failure: About seven of every 10 people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure.
What Causes it? High blood pressure is overwhelmingly an illness of diet and lifestyle, caused in most cases by some combination of lack of exercise, unmanaged stress, suboptimal dietary choices and overweight/obesity.
What Prevents/Reverses it? The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) approach is one effective way to eat to help reverse this condition (the National Health Institute’s website has some great information on this system). A simpler approach is to eat more nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish. Lifestyle changes that help lower blood pressure include exercise, mindfulness meditation, quitting smoking and losing weight. If you make even one of these changes (try meditation!), you can often see quick results. One very important note: Ask your doctor if you might have sleep apnea (a common condition in overweight and obese people) and get treated If you do.
Remember life is a gift. Take care of yourself so you can enjoy your loved ones now and well into the future.
Jonathan Goodman, ND is a naturopathic physician at Privé-Swiss Wellness, an award-winning luxury clinical-holistic wellness center, located at 1587 Boston Post Road, Westbrook and 28 Main St., Essex; phone: 860-391-8840; website: www.priveswisswellness.com.