Health Guidance for Men 30, 40 + Older
Dr. Stephen Brewer shares how middle-aged men can change their lifestyle to become stronger and live longer.
Between the ages of 31-50, men are typically in overdrive with their careers. This is when most men are trying to “make their mark” in life. Because a man’s attention at this age is on his career, his focus is often not on his health. Men will ease off or stop their exercise programs altogether. They feel they are too busy to work out. Instead of exercising after work, they often end up at happy hour “business meetings.” I have heard this for years from this age group. They insist they don’t have time to care for themselves.
If these gentlemen would take 30–60 minutes a day to exercise, they would have more energy during the day, be more focused, and generally perform better in their daily jobs. There is no question that finding the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle is difficult. When I was this age, I tried to exercise four days a week, but it would often drift down to two days a week. This would occur when I was on call at the hospital, when I was swamped at the office (especially during flu season), or when daddy duties called. These were the facts of life. Despite this, unless I was injured, I did not stop exercising. It has been my best drug for maintaining and feeling healthy.
Diet and Exercise for Men Over 40
It is important for men to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Guys will get up in the morning, drive through Starbucks for a cup of Joe, and add on a sweet roll. Lunch is often eating on the run by grabbing a quick burger or eating a stacked-high salami sandwich from the local deli.
Because they are working long hours, men often get home late, have two drinks, eat a huge dinner then fall asleep in that big easy chair watching TV. This is a cycle that has to be broken. The business happy hour is another concern. Over the years I have often heard that these gentlemen are unable to exercise after work because they conduct a lot of their business over cocktails at that time. If someone is a drinker, no matter how much that person thinks he can carry on business as usual, he generally does not get much accomplished.
I am not saying a person can’t have an occasional drink. What I am concerned about is repeated and excessive use of alcohol. The sober businessperson will make clearer and better decisions than someone who is under the influence of alcohol. There is a classic true story related to this issue. It involved two famous actors in their era, Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn (“the George Clooney” of his time). The two made a movie together. During the production of the movie, Errol Flynn would party and drink almost every night after work. He tried to encourage his costar, Ronald Reagan, to go out with him, but Ronny repeatedly declined. Ronny instead stayed home at night and spent quiet evenings studying his lines. Because of Flynn’s late nights of corralling, he continually slowed down the making of the film. He often arrived late to the set and couldn’t remember his lines. At one point the producers considered cancelling the project because of this disruptive behavior. Ronald Regan, on the other hand, was always on the set on time and ready to go to work. Following the making of this movie, Errol Flynn spent the rest of his life in ill health and developed heart disease and liver failure. He died at the early age of fifty. Ronald Reagan had a very different future. He became the fortieth president of the United States and he lived to the ripe old age of 93.
What Motivates Middle-Aged Men Over 40 to Get Healthy?
A common theme that often brings middle-aged male patients in to see me is the recent loss of someone they know. That person could be a close friend, a relative, or a well-known public figure. When Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press suddenly died of a heart attack, my waiting room was filled with overweight middle-aged men. These men typically worked 50 or 60 hours a week, overate unhealthy food, drank too much alcohol, didn’t exercise, were overstressed, and many were still smoking. It is sad that it takes this kind of loss for men to realize they need to consider making changes in their lifestyle. If a man does come in to see me after a loss, I know I only have a small window of opportunity to address his unhealthy living. It is important to use this time effectively, because these individuals will soon get back on the treadmill of life and return to their unhealthy ways. When a man comes into my office after witnessing the loss of someone close to him, I focus on improving his unhealthy lifestyle. To accomplish this task, I often have to change the man’s perspective on how he views what it means to have fun. I see this as the biggest barrier to a healthy lifestyle for men. For years what many men feel is a fun time and what “everyone else did” may simply not be a healthy choice, such as partying, drinking, and staying up late at night with friends for years. Also coming home after work, opening and drinking a whole bottle of wine, grilling a huge steak, eating a large bowl of ice cream, and then finally falling asleep in the big easy chair in front of the TV is not the path to take if you are planning on hanging around in a healthy state for any length of time. When I see these gentlemen in my office, I ask them to point out the healthy choices they are making in their lives and then give them positive feedback for accomplishing these choices. After that discussion I learn about all the poor lifestyle choices they are making. This isn’t hard—most of my patients will easily volunteer their bad habits. They know what is good for them and what isn’t. It is far from rocket science to know that not exercising, overeating, not sleeping, and being overstressed is not a good way to live your life. Most of my patients laugh at the simplicity of the answer.
Changing Your Lifestyle After the Age of 40
When my patients consider correcting their bad habits, their biggest fear is that they will have nothing to do for fun. Our society has the misconception that the only good things in life are the bad things in life (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!). This thought is pervasive throughout our lives. This subject must be discussed; otherwise, these men will slowly slip back into an unhealthy lifestyle. I often ask my patients to write down healthy fun things they can do. The transition from unhealthy lifestyle choices to healthy lifestyle choices does not take place overnight. Men have the tendency to make the conversion slowly. Once the inertia starts flowing, and they realize how much better they feel by engaging in healthy lifestyles, the closer they become to accomplishing this goal. To help me determine the level of motivation that a patient has in making healthy lifestyle changes, I use a simple assessment:
- Is this person trying to make changes out of fear?
- Is this person on this path because he was told to make changes in his life?
- Is he ready to improve his lifestyle because he wanted to do it for himself?
If a person answers yes to one of the first two questions, then his success rate in making lifestyle changes will not be as high as the person who answers yes to the last question. This helps direct me on how persuasive I need to be with my patients in directing them to a healthier life. One of the best ways I have found to convince gentlemen to change their lives is through education. Men prefer black and white reasoning, not necessarily what feels right to them. Most men need to understand what adverse physiologic changes have already occurred in their bodies from poor lifestyle habits. They also need to know the likelihood of further adverse changes if they continue with their unhealthy lifestyle. My experience has taught me that in motivating men it is important to point out the negatives effects of unhealthy living but not to dwell on them. I find it interesting how people try to motivate others. As I was growing up, motivation was based solely on a negative feedback system. My parents, teachers, and coaches constantly told me how to act and what to do. If I didn’t do the right thing, I was yelled at and reprimanded. When I went to medical school, it was a newer school with a young, innovative faculty. Their focus on motivating patients to become healthier was conducted with a positive feedback technique. They often discussed how we could improve things, and whenever we did something right, we were rewarded in some way. Through my years of practicing medicine, the majority of my patients—especially my male patients—have needed a little of both. Patients need to know what the potential consequences will be if they do not improve their lifestyles. This is what stops them in their tracks and gets their attention. On the other hand, positive feedback motivates them as they move towards a healthier lifestyle. The education starts with knowing one’s baseline health. In other words, where is a person starting? This begins with obtaining a good history and physical exam, along with baseline blood studies. With this information, a physician can determine if a person already has an underlying disease state or is on the verge of an illness. The doctor can also assess if a person is at a higher risk of developing a future illness. By using a positive approach, the practitioner can explain how much better a patient can feel by improving his lifestyle. It is not uncommon for men to have to mull over the information I have given them before they can make any changes. After men listen to what I have to say, they often have to spend time in their “caves” thinking about what they should do. After a period of contemplation, they often return to tell me that they are now infused with the energy to change their lives. I have had a great advantage working at Canyon Ranch during the last 11 years. The patients I see there are generally more motivated compared to how my patients were in private practice. To make the expense to come to Canyon Ranch, to carve out the time in their busy schedule, and finally to use their vacation time to visit a wellness community usually means they are already motivated to change. There are some men who need an “in the face” direct approach to their health. The direct approach can be effective if a physician has first earned the man’s trust. This is accomplished through a good doctor/patient relationship. Over the years I have found I am generally more direct with men than women. For the appropriate gentleman, I will bluntly tell him he needs to quit smoking and excessive drinking because it is killing him. If a man has been around a lot of coaches during his lifetime, then a direct approach is often effective in helping him improve his lifestyle. Men will listen to people they respect, and accept a blunter approach. As important as it is to have the motivation to start a healthy lifestyle, it is just as important to have the mindset to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is usually more difficult to accomplish than making the decision to change. As I tell my patients, the pathway to healthy living is a “way of life.” It’s not an occasional thought. I get up at 5:00 a.m., put on my running shoes, and take off on the running path because it is “my way of life.” No, I don’t always jump out of bed excited to exercise. But it is what I do, because I want to be healthy and live as long as possible. I finish my ride or biking and then eat my berries (great antioxidants). At lunch I eat my healthy lunch, which I packed myself, and then go home and eat a healthy dinner. I am in bed early so I can get at least seven hours of sleep. I do this because it is “my way of life.” By repeating this kind of pattern, it can become “your way of life.”
This was excerpted from The Canyon Ranch Guide to Men's Health: A Doctor's Prescription for Male Wellness by Dr. Stephen Brewer. Reprinted with Permission by the publisher, SelectBooks, Inc. Find it on Amazon.com.