Men – want to improve your odds of living a long, healthy life? Ask Canyon Ranch Medical Director Stephen Brewer, MD, and he’ll happily give you a short list of best practices. At the top are two words: Get moving.
“If you need inspiration,” Dr. Brewer says, “here it is: Physical activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease, improves strength and resilience, promotes healthy sleep, boosts your self-image, enhances your mood and libido, helps you manage stress, and maintains bone density so you can remain active as you age.” (In other words – if exercise were a pill, you’d probably go to any lengths and pay any price for it.)
Beyond his prescription for exercise, Dr. Brewer has these basic points of advice for men:
- Eat mostly plant-based foods; avoid sugars and unhealthy fats.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Learn to manage stress.
- Get regular checkups and recommended health screenings.
A matter of lifestyle
Lifestyle choices largely determine your chances of escaping most modern chronic diseases, Dr. Brewer says – notably the No. 1 men’s health concern, cardiovascular disease. Even if you don’t have heart disease or cancer (No. 2) in your family, a proactive approach makes sense. The Cleveland Clinic reports, “Even for those already dealing with chronic conditions, adhering to a healthy lifestyle can bring rapid, significant and sustainable improvements to health.”
That’s why the Canyon Ranch approach to health care is to address lifestyle issues first, wherever possible – before surgical or drug intervention. Dr. Brewer says men who approach him with a health concern often are relieved to discover it can be resolved with a simple modification of diet or lifestyle. “But they have to take the first step by showing up.”
Dr. Brewer observes that men generally wait much longer than women to seek help for a problem. “We tend to put these things off. It’s not at all unusual for a man to say to me, ‘My wife (or girlfriend) made me come here.’”
There’s a cultural tendency for men to mask their fears of illness, discomfort or embarrassment, leading to avoidance of what could be life-saving checkups and health screenings. Women often are less hesitant to seek help and feel more comfortable in a health care setting, with their routine ob-gyn medical visits and more commonly designated role as family caregiver.
Even when a man does show up for his checkup, it can take some finessing to get to the heart of the matter, Dr. Brewer says. “I may need to ask questions, then eventually it’s ‘well … I have trouble sleeping.’ That gives me a place to start.” Often, symptoms such as poor sleep, depression, fatigue or decreased libido can be resolved easily by treating an underlying medical condition.
Low testosterone & libido
Loss of libido is a big fear for many men, leading to strained relationships, loss of self-esteem and depression. Testosterone begins to drop 2 to 3 percent per year starting at age 30. Thirty-four percent of men have low testosterone by age 50. The range of symptoms can include erectile dysfunction, decreased vitality, loss of muscle mass, increased body fat and osteoporosis.
There’s controversy over whether testosterone replacement can help, or if it poses unacceptable medical risks. Fortunately, Dr. Brewer says, most men with reduced testosterone levels are usually able to enjoy active sex lives. “Specific lifestyle changes can help boost libido. Taking off excess weight is very important. Certain foods – such as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables or foods high in vitamin B – may help boost sexual stamina by increasing blood circulation.”
Managing stress is a must. “Not only is it mentally distracting, but stress leads to a surge in adrenaline and cortisol, which can disrupt your body’s sex hormone levels.” Stress also causes the arteries to become narrow, restricting blood flow. Try meditation, biofeedback or yoga.
Dr. Brewer also recommends keeping communication channels open with your partner. A therapist can help you both communicate about difficult subjects. Sharing your needs and worries about intimacy issues can draw you closer, and it becomes easier to connect physically.
An ounce of prevention
Canyon Ranch can be the ideal place for men to book an annual physical with integrative health professionals who take plenty of time to discuss questions and explore avenues of concern. Phil, a New York financial analyst, says his experience in Lenox improved his quality of life immeasurably.
“I’d never been to a doctor who wasn’t in a rush,” Phil says. “It never occurred to me to look into medical care at the Ranch until my wife suggested it. I didn’t even realize until halfway through the consultation that I needed to pay attention to my recurring digestive issues – I had thought it was something I just had to put up with, part of getting older. The doctor referred me to the nutritionist, who helped me figure out I have a gluten sensitivity. I tell everyone that my visit to Canyon Ranch wasn’t just a great vacation – it was a smart investment in my health.”