Get back in shape with our health tips for today’s man
By CHRISTINE HENNESSEY
A few months ago my father turned 60. After the toasts were over and the cake was gone, I asked him how he felt about this milestone birthday. “Oh, fine,” he said. “I’m like a classic car—all original parts!” What about his health, I asked. His heart, his cholesterol, his weight? Had he been to a doctor recently? At that point, my father waved his hand dismissively and reached for another slice of cake. “I don’t worry about that kind of stuff,” he said.
Okay, fine. Maybe the best time to ask about his most recent doctor visit wasn’t over birthday cake, but it still illustrates a serious problem. When it comes to their own health, many men have a narrow view of what it takes to do it right. Eat a few vegetables, lift some weights, maybe cut back on those evening beers. Like my dad, they assume everything is fine right up until the day it isn’t. And it’s not just my father—in the USA, the top threats to men’s health are heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injury, all of which are mostly preventable.
While this may seem like a bleak reality, there’s a silver lining. The more we learn about our health, the easier it is to make choices that can improve it. If time is our most valuable asset—and most people would agree that it is—then living a healthier life is our best chance at buying more of it.
Here’s another way to think about it: if you know the risks of riding a motorcycle, you’re more likely to wear a helmet. In a similar vein, once you know the benefits of certain lifestyle changes, you’re more likely to embrace them and reap the benefits. To that end, we’ve collected some basic tips for improving men’s health in particular. By making small changes in your daily life, you can live a better one. It’s that simple.
Strong Body, Strong Mind
If you’re young, the chances are high that your main reason for working out is to look good. A six-pack and a broad chest are all the motivation you need to hit the gym and pump some iron. As you get older, however, priorities shift. You get comfortable in a relationship. You start a family and have less time for yourself. You hear that the “dad bod” is finally in and immediately cancel your gym membership.
While these reasons are valid and understandable (except for that last one—I’m pretty sure the “dad bod” craze has already passed), strength training is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits only increase as you age. According to a recent study from the University of New Mexico, lifting weights can even strengthen the most important muscle of all—your brain. Researchers found that strength training improved several aspects of cognition in healthy older adults, including a marked improvement in memory and memory-related tasks. A regular strength training routine was also found to reduce anxiety and depression. While you won’t be able to admire these kinds of results in a mirror, they’re absolutely worth reaping.
Food is Fuel
It can be hard to keep up with the latest diet fads. First it was low fat, then it was low carb, now it’s gluten free, sustainably raised, vegan-friendly dishes that the cavemen once ate. If you have trouble keeping up with which foods are “good” and which ones have been deemed “bad,” I’ve got good news. As different as these diets are, they’re built on the same essential principles.
The rules for a healthy, nourishing diet are simple. Fill your plate with whole foods that haven’t been processed or wrapped in plastic. Choose plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Grill, sauté, or simmer lean sources of protein, plants or otherwise. And—let’s be real—save room for the occasional indulgence, because even if you follow all the advice in this article, life is still relatively short. As long as you’re not grabbing dinner from a drive thru or stocking up your snack drawer via the vending machine, you’ll probably be okay.
Sleep Like a Baby
According to the CDC, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t catch enough Z’s it can have an adverse effect on your life, and adding an extra shot of espresso to your latte is only a temporary solution. Sleep deprivation, which includes both lack of sleep and sleeping at the wrong time of day (hello, night shift!), is associated with a number of conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Despite the fact that sleeping is important and enjoyable, most of us aren’t getting enough, and at least part of the blame can be placed on our smartphones.
Where do you keep your phone when you sleep? If you’re part of the vast majority of Americans, the answer is your bedside table. What’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep? Again, if you’re like most people, the answer is scrolling through your phone, whether you’re checking Facebook or reading emails. Unfortunately, this habit can keep you awake, and not because you’re too riled up about your cousin’s latest political post to fall asleep. Smartphones and tablets emit what’s known as “blue light,” a unique shade that tells your brain morning has arrived and it’s time to get up. To help you relax before bed, fall asleep faster, and snooze more soundly, leave the electronics in another room and unwind instead with a paperback or magazine.
Boost Testosterone Naturally
Having adequate levels of testosterone is an excellent way to increase your quality of life. It boosts muscle, burns body fat, improves your mood, helps you sleep, keeps your libido humming, and increases your energy. Unfortunately, after the age of 30, most men begin to experience a gradual decline in their testosterone.
Some doctors may advise testosterone replacements if levels are dangerously low. Before you start taking medications, however, there are a number of natural remedies that can help get your levels up. Adding more healthy fats, such as avocados, egg yolks, coconut oil, and red meat, can be beneficial, not to mention delicious. A zinc supplement can also help the body produce more testosterone. If you’re an endurance athlete, changing up your routine and adding shorter, more intense workouts is worth a shot, as is going to bed earlier and getting more sleep. You may notice that many of these strategies are also great tips for anyone trying to live a healthier life, which makes sense—that which benefits one aspect of your health naturally benefits them all.
Kick Back and Relax
So far, we’ve focused on physical ways men can improve their health. While these strategies are effective and important, there’s another aspect of health that’s just as essential—mental health. In today’s fast paced world, men deal with all kinds of stress, whether it’s work related, family related, or caused by relationships. Often when things go wrong, we respond in ways that can actually exacerbate the situation, like overeating, drinking to excess, or binge watching The West Wing on Netflix. While these solutions might feel good in the moment, knowing healthy ways to handle stress is better in the long run.
One of these strategies is meditation. According to Brandon L. Hawks, a teacher at Longwave Yoga, the practice of clearing your mind is a key piece of the healthy living puzzle. “Meditation provides a much needed reprieve from the human psyche; the experiences, the observations, the learned behaviors and the interpretations thereof that narrow our perceptions of the possibilities of the infinite,” he explains. “In more tangible terms, meditation induces the relaxation response, reduces stress and leads to better health within various systems of the body, such as the cardiovascular and immune systems.” In other words, it’s good for you.
Know Your Strengths
Health and fitness isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. While the same basic principles will apply to all human bodies, the things that work best for one individual might not be as effective for another. It all depends on your personal preferences, your schedule, your history, and your background. That’s why education is so important—as you learn about and explore the options, you’re more likely to form the habits and routines that work for you. Then, like the classic cars my father loves so much, you can brag that you’re in mint condition and actually mean it.
Maintaining a healthy weight is an important and effective way to lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure. The following workouts will torch calories and keep you trim and active.
Swimming: 500 - 800 calories per hour
Running: 550 - 900 calories per hour
Tennis: 600 - 900 calories per hour
Cycling: 500 - 700 calories per hour
Weight lifting: 400 - 500 calories per hour
Yoga: 250 - 350 calories per hour
Kettlebell: up to 400 calories in 20 minutes
Jumping rope: 10 calories per minute