It Isn't Rocket Science: Simple Health Advice for Marin Men

GREENBRAE, CA — As Men’s Health Month draws to a close, it’s worth considering some dismal statistics:

    • According to the CDC, nearly 20% of men aged 18 to 29 are obese; and nearly 32 percent of men age 50-59 fall in the category.
    • 40% of men in their 40s have never had a cholesterol test (recommended at 35)
    • One third of all adult men won’t even consider a general check-up.
    • According to the CDC’s National Health Statistics Report just one-half of older men engaged in at least some leisure-time physical activity in 2006–2008, even on an irregular basis.

Considering these factors, three Marin doctors are offering some simple, straightforward, health advice for men. They say that following these health tips has the potential not only to make men healthier, but improve their mental health and even their relationships with spouses.

Dr. Patrick Bennett, a urologist who is the incoming Chief of Medical Staff at Marin General Hospital, starts with a simple, but often ignored recommendation:  get regular exercise.   “My patients will tell me they’re too busy to exercise, but that’s because they haven’t made it a priority,” he says.   Dr. Bennett trumps the “too busy” excuse by pointing out that he gets up at 5 a.m. to go rowing with his pals. But he says there are easier ways to get some exercise.

 “The advice I give nearly every man who doesn’t appear to be getting enough exercise is to walk for one hour every day— fast enough to make it hard to carry on a conversation—but  accompanied by someone whose conversation you would enjoy even if breathless.”  Getting exercise through walking has other benefits, too, he says. “It might do wonders for your marriage to walk with your wife,” he points out.  “Marin is beautiful.  Find one or two classic venues and make a habit (really a meditation) out of walking these places again and again.”

Dr. Mark Wexman, a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates of Marin, agrees with Dr. Bennett’s recommendation.  He says that one reason men don’t exercise is that they age out of the activities they enjoyed when younger. 

 “Men sometimes have a hard time adjusting their exercise habits as they age,” he says.  “We only realize our limitations by running off the cliff.  Someone who has been a runner may one day find that his hips or knees just won’t take the pounding.  Or someone who’s always played that weekend game of pickup basketball or touch football finds he just doesn’t recover by Monday morning.  But rather than switch to a lower impact form of exercise, he’ll stop doing anything at all.  I’ve seen it again and again, and it’s simply terrible for overall health.”

“The point is to stay healthy,” he says. “And walking for 30-60 minutes daily is terrific and a safe exercise for almost all ages.”

Dr. Brian Strunk, another member of Cardiovascular Associates of Marin, has advice for any man who has smoked for several years—even if he subsequently quit.

“Don’t take your heart health for granted,” he says.  “Smoking damages your arteries and internal organs, and it can take up to 15 years for the heart disease risk to drop back to normal in most people.”  He strongly suggests that men who have smoked get a thorough checkup for potential high blood pressure—and follow the doctor’s recommendation regarding medication to lower it. “Don’t hesitate to resort to medication if you have elevated blood pressure,” he says.  “The fact is that everyone’s arteries harden with age and their natural blood pressure will be higher than it should be.  There’s real benefit to taking blood pressure-lowering drugs—and sometimes it is the only thing that works.”

Finally, all three physicians agree on the importance of Stress reduction.

“It’s simply critical to healthy living,” says Dr. Wexman. “Find a healthy stress reducer--meditation, yoga, tai chi, classical music, prayer. And find or make friends to interact with on a regular basis—because isolation is a disease risk factor.”

Here are a few additional tips:

    • Drink more water then total of caffeinated beverages and alcohol combined
    • Keep waist circumference below 38 inches
    • Reduce portions of 'white colored' foods (white rice, potatoes, white bread, among other things) to reduce sugar intake and lower diabetes risks. 
    • Quit smoking
    • Rather than taking large doses of vitamins and other supplements, consume a healthy diet comprised of fresh food that included plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish. Healthy eating should fulfill nearly all dietary requirements.