You may have noticed an important fact about health and aging: It takes a concerted effort to stay as well as you can as the years march on. In your younger days, your participation in countless organized sports may have kept you fit without you even putting much thought into it. Time may have brought with it more responsibilities that have contributed to mounting stress that you now need to find ways to cope with, and so on.
For many men, the motivation to start on a more conscious journey toward better health begins when they notice unwelcome changes. Remember, though, that the sooner you update your approach to wellness, the easier it will be to reap the long-term benefits of following a healthy path. Here are a few ways to start.
Reconnect with Your Doctor
Compared to women, men are 24 percent less likely to have seen their doctor in the last year. When asked why, many say well visits are pointless. But, “I believe a yearly checkup is more important than ever,” says Stephen Brewer, M.D., medical director of Canyon Ranch in Tucson. Keep in mind that doctors don’t just wait until you have a chronic illness and treat it—they can test you for risk factors and help you prevent disease. “We can make changes that have a major impact on your future health,” Dr. Brewer says. Furthermore, seeing your doctor at other times can help you become more aware of abnormalities that are worth being concerned about—why it’s worth making an appointment about that nagging cough, instead of betting it will just go away.
More: A Man’s Changing Body
Update Your Fitness Routine
As testosterone begins to decline in your 30s, you’ll need to work harder to build lean muscle mass. While pumping iron may not be at the top of your to-do list, strength training can help keep you strong and also ward off excess pounds, since lean muscle burns more calories than fat does. “Don’t skip cardio, but add strength-training exercises if you haven’t already,” Dr. Brewer suggests. If you haven’t been lifting, learn more about it in Getting Started, Getting Strong.
Rethink Your Diet
While exercise is key for health and for sustainable weight control, it can be tough to burn enough calories to lose weight. The best approach is to combine physical activity and a proper diet—something that many men don’t think about until the scale has tipped, Dr. Brewer says. This often means moving toward a plant-based diet centered mostly on vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and healthy oils. Swap out some of your red meat intake for lean poultry and seafood, including fatty cold-water fish rich in omega-3s. And as much as possible, steer clear of highly processed foods, including cured meats, commercial baked goods and sugar-laden drinks. Our article, Moving Toward a Healthier Male Diet, has more advice for making important changes.
Escape the Emotional Man Cave
“I often encounter men who don’t like to talk about mental health,” Dr. Brewer says. “They just assume things will get better on their own.” Unfortunately, chronic stress, anxiety and depression aren’t issues you can safely ignore—each can have broad effects on every aspect of your life. The first step is recognizing that you may be going through a difficult time—and accepting that that’s OK. Our article, Men and Depression: Considering Therapy, explains how talking about your emotions with a health professional can be an important step on the path to total wellness. Learning healthy ways to reduce stress, from exercise to meditation to tai chi, can also help you improve your mental and physical health.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Good daily dental health habits don’t just yield cosmetic results. Gum disease can increase the risk of a surprising roster of illnesses, including heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Get started on your approach to better oral health by making it a habit to brush and floss after every meal, whenever possible. It’s also important to get regular cleanings, eat a healthy diet without too many starchy or sugary snacks or drinks (which promote tooth decay) and avoid smoking.
Pay Attention to Alcohol
While up to two drinks a day may be OK for many guys, men are twice as likely as women to engage in binge drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion). Of course, this doesn’t mean every man drinks too much. But it’s worth a self-check to see if your alcohol consumption may be interfering with your attempts at weight control, affecting your sleep or having an impact on your relationships or work. Part of your new healthy journey may be to find ways to shed stress and relax without turning to a drink.
Every man has an individual path to wellness. How your own journey evolves depends on who you are, what you’ve been doing so far and how willing you are to try something new and revitalizing. One of the joys of life is learning how to adjust to change to become a better man.
More: Evaluating Your Drinking