Boosting Men’s Health

Just over a week ago it was Fathers Day in Australia and millions of Dad’s all over the country were inundated with socks, electrical appliances and of course, a multitude of vouchers. It is a time when we remind our Dad’s, husbands, granddads and the significant men in our lives that they are special and that we appreciate them. The thing is, these men of ours actually need a little bit more than knick-knacks and $50 to spend at Bunning’s. They need a few more quality years tacked onto their lives. It is true that men’s overall life expectancy in Australia and other western countries has improved substantially over the past 50 years, but their average life expectancy still remains significantly lower than that of women’s. I happened to snag a husband who is younger than me, so we just might be on par in the long run. Cougar jokes aside, the leading causes of death we are dealing with in Australia in men are heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, adult onset hearing loss and lymph, blood, lung, prostate and colorectal cancer. Fathers Day is a short 24-hour celebration but there are some constructive actions that men can take (with their women and kids supporting them) to clock up many more. If you are a male reading this, I’m talking to YOU about men’s health and if you are female, please feel free to apply to any male you care about.

1. Use your measuring tape – it’s easy to jump on the scales to assess your weight situation but the weight you see on the scales includes fat, muscle, blood, bone and every other little bit of you. Measuring your waist circumference is a better way to tell if you have too much body fat and where it is situated on your body. For most adults a waist measurement of greater than 94cm for men and 80cm for women is an indicator of too much internal fat, which can cover the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and increase the risk of chronic disease. Make sure you measure at the point between your hipbone and the bottom of your ribs and use the same place every time. Aim to be under these measurements for a healthier amount of body fat. 2. Choose your drop – The reality is that for most of us, alcohol is part of our social lives. For men, this can be a big part of their work lives too. It is interesting when we consider the comparison of beer, wine and spirits. 100ml wine 295kJ 100ml beer 149kJ 30ml vodka, whisky, bourbon 260kJ 250ml soft drink mixer 420kJ On paper, things are looking good for beer. However, can you imagine drinking 100ml beer from a stubbie and then stopping or passing it onto your mate for their 100ml serve? I think it is fair to say that no one drinks only 100ml beer. An average restaurant size serving of wine is 180ml or 1.8 standard drinks and the average serving size of a full strength beer is 375ml or 1 middy/can/stubby, which is equal to 1.5 standard drinks. Beer, wine and other drinks can weaken resolve and many people reach for high fat snacks after a few drinks. Combining fatty foods with alcohol is the worst combination of all for weight gain, so it is a good idea to eat before drinking alcohol to lessen the temptation to reach for the chips and peanuts. Some lower kilojoule choices include spirits plus a no sugar mixer or soda water and lime. You could add ice to a glass of wine. More than two drinks per day increase brain shrinkage and there is a lot of research that shows even smaller amounts can lead to shrinkage. The clients that I work with will often accept an alcoholic drink at a function and simply drink it in slow motion or not at all. This way nobody will harass you to have a drink and no one notices that you aren’t actually drinking any. 3. Make a date – We all know that date nights are crucial to relationships right? Well, it’s not just our other halves that are important because research shows that men who maintain their own social groups are healthier and recover from illness more quickly. Spending time with friends is also considered a key part of combating depression. In Australia, the statistics are grim. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged between 15 and 44 years with men less likely to get the help they need. ABS data shows that only 27 per cent of men seek professional help compared to 40 per cent of women. Women are often the social coordinators in relationships and perhaps we need to be encouraging male bonding time a little bit more. 4. Check it up – when was the last time your man had a check-up with his GP? Males are not known for being proactive in this department and may need a not so gentle push to get there. Choose a month in the year and make it an annual gala event – the types of markers that should be checked include fasting blood glucose, full blood lipids, liver and kidney function, cortisol, thyroid, full iron study and possibly hormones. Don’t forget that knowledge is power. 5. Fruit and vegetables – Australians are still behind the eight ball when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake and men lag behind women. Most people tell me that getting enough fruit is the easy part of the equation but the vegetable bit can be trickier. We need two serves of fruit each day with one serve being equivalent to 1 medium sized piece of fruit such as an apple or pear and five serves of vegetables with one serve being ½ cup of cooked vegetables or salad. It can be fairly difficult to face all of your vegetables on your dinner plate at the end of the day, so why not take some to work to include in lunch and snacks? A punnet of cherry tomatoes, a Lebanese cucumber, a handful of crisp snow peas, or strips of red capsicum are easily transportable, can all be eaten at your desk and are super low calorie. For some delicious salad ideas check some out here.


Healthy Bones – Are you taking action?

Healthy bones This week, the 3rd – 9th August brings with it Healthy Bones Action Week, which calls on Australians of all ages to take three simple actions to build and maintain healthy bones:

  1. Increase daily serves of calcium through milk, cheese or yoghurt
  2. Go for a walk or commit to some regular exercise that you love
  3. Spend time outdoors to get more Vitamin D (which is essential for strong bones)

Don’t worry, everyone has a job to do. The biggest opportunity to build bones is when you are a kid, so if you have some under your wing, look at what they can do to make that happen. Teenagers are in the spotlight too, as the teen years are a major growth period and this is when they build one-quarter of their adult bone mass. Peak bone mass is reached when you are in your late twenties but it is super important that you continue to tick all your KPI’s, including getting enough calcium, exercise and Vitamin D to maintain the bone you have built when younger. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose calcium and other minerals, making them more likely to fracture.  In Australia, osteoporosis affects 1.2 million people, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men. The arrival of this week is always a good reminder to stop and do a quick audit of where your calcium intake is at. Aside from food, there are hereditary and lifestyle factors to consider too. I love dairy products, but still need to do a daily check just to make sure I’m ticking all the boxes. Depending on your age group you will need somewhere between 1000-1300mg per day. There are plenty of good sources (see box below) but it becomes obvious that it is not easy to get what you need from non-dairy sources. Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables but I can’t eat almost 400 grams to get one serve of calcium! What Healthy Bones Action are YOU taking this week? Calcium sources

Meetings Matter

Businessman asleep at his desk on white backgroundAt the very mention of a meeting, any meeting at all, I can feel myself getting twitchy and anxious.  The thought of sitting and using up precious time that I will never, ever get back fills me with dread. And, I know I am not alone as there are many cynics out there who describe meetings as ‘the most frustrating exercises in pointlessness ever invented.’ Amen to them. These meetings frequent both our work calendars and our home lives through all kinds of places like P and C and sporting associations.  The time wasting nature of these gatherings do not discriminate. The good news is, there are ways in which we can make any type of meeting productive and worthwhile.  Both David Price and Sean Blanda who writes for 99U suggests there are three critical factors that can make meetings matter:

  1. All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda – if not, the meeting is just an aimless gathering or opportunity for a social chit-chat
  2. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or action items
  3. The meeting should have an end time so that attendees don’t go rambling off topic and get diverted into useless conversation

These three points are integral but not the only things that dictate a productive meeting.  How often have you spent your day rushing from one meeting to the next with barely a moment to dash into the restrooms?  Managing energy and engagement should go hand in hand with the logistical structure of meetings and some useful strategies include:

  • Give me a break! – Any meeting that extends longer than 90 minutes should have a scheduled physical break.  Research on the way we manage our physical and mental energy shows that we work best when we cycle between using and renewing energy. Asking attendees to sit for longer than 90 minutes means that it is much more likely they are thinking about other things or switched off and thinking about nothing at all. Taking a 5 minute stretch or refreshment break increases blood circulation to the brain and body and acts as a pattern interrupt allowing you to refocus and re-engage.
  • Can everyone please stand-up? – With prolonged sitting being a major risk factor for all kinds of lifestyle diseases, why not make your next meeting a stand-up.  It’s a bit like a pop-up shop, you don’t need to have all your meetings like this but it is good to mix it up and spend some time away from the chair, plus it does shift the energy in the group.
  • Don’t do distraction – How often do you attend a meeting where everyone is busy looking at a device?  Now sure, sometimes the presentation is being streamed through laptops and tablets but would bringing the presentation back to a main screen enhance the engagement of your group? This could eliminate device distraction.  Your minute taker should be recording all action items for each attendee anyway.
  • Mint mentality – There are few meetings that do not feature the ubiquitous bowl of mints in the centre of the table.  These little sugary distractions disappear in the blink of an eye simply because  they are there and often more exciting than the meeting.  Every time you mindlessly eat one, visualise 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar entering your blood stream. They can really add up can’t they? If you are the meeting organiser ask for the bowl to be removed and don’t forget  to have water, tea, coffee and fresh fruit on hand instead.