By Alexandra Black, Health Promotion Manager at IHRSA
Men in the United States, on average, have a shorter life expectancy than women, and are more likely to die from the top cause of death – heart disease. According to the CDC, about one-third of men over age 20 are obese or have high blood pressure, and just over half meet physical activity guideline recommendations. Men are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors like heavy drinking and smoking. In addition to these risks, men are less likely to visit the doctor for regular exams or to utilize preventive services.
Lifestyle can play an important role in men’s likelihood of developing chronic health problems like hypertension and obesity, or experiencing weight gain. In addition to smoking cessation and healthful diet, physical activity can help protect against diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and depression.
Unfortunately, many men find that living a healthier lifestyle in the face of career, family, and life pressures can be challenging. This Men’s Health Month, we highlight three strategies that health professionals can use to help men incorporate active, healthy lifestyle choices into their daily lives.
1. Squeeze it in
A good workout doesn’t have to last an hour, or take place at the trendiest workout spot. The same benefit of a longer bout of moderate-intensity physical activity can be gained in a shorter amount of time by increasing the intensity to vigorous. Also, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, breaking up workouts into bouts as short as 10-minutes in length has been shown to improve cardiovascular fitness and some risk factors of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Men who find themselves short on time but have 10-20 minutes to spare, for example in the morning before an early morning meeting, or waiting for a child’s soccer practice to be over, should be encouraged to maximize this time. Circuit training – combining multiple exercises at higher intensity for a shorter duration – can produce the same benefits as a longer training session.
2. Get social
When setting aside time for physical activity, finding childcare can be a challenge, especially if a spouse also wants to work out. But involving children in exercise can both eliminate the need for additional childcare and set a good example of a healthy, active lifestyle. Exercising with kids can take a number of forms, from signing up for a family membership at a local gym to playing basketball in the driveway to walking or running with a stroller.
Another strategy to help make physical fitness a regular habit is to involve a friend. Whether it’s playing in a sports league with buddies or hitting the gym, trails, or workout class with a friend a few times a week, training with a partner can boost motivation, make it more fun, and help physical activity routines stick. Programs aimed at increasing physical activity for men should include a social group aspect or be family-oriented.
3. Set a goal
Signing up for an event – a race, bike ride, sports league, or fitness class package – can help boost accountability and motivation. Set a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and timely (in other words, S.M.A.R.T.). For example, “run a 5K in under 30 minutes by November,” is more likely to get you moving on a regular basis than a more generic goal like, “run more.”
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