Lee Suckling 's Opinion

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: 5 health issues young men should flag

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It seems the old mantra 'she’ll be right' isn’t working out too well for New Zealand men’s health. According to statistics, every three hours a Kiwi bloke dies from a potentially preventable illness. Because it’s Men’s Health Week, it’s time to give ourselves a bit of a wakeup call, writes Lee Suckling.
There are certain issues of men's health that young guys need to start talking about, and it helps to have buddies you can chat to.
Photo / Thinkstock
There are certain issues of men's health that young guys need to start talking about, and it helps to have buddies you can chat to. Photo / Thinkstock

Every guy who has picked up a copy of a men's magazine knows that there'll come a time when prostate exams become an annual part of our lives. But when you're in your late 20s or even 30s, this doesn't seem too important. It's a worry for Future Bloke: the midlife mess you'll deal with later.

Men in this age group do need to start taking their health more seriously, though - for this nonchalant approach isn't doing us any favours later in life.

Dr Graeme Washer, medical director of Men's Health Trust of New Zealand, shares five things for men in their 20s and 30s to red flag.

Stress
For something that feels acute and natural for many of us, the long-term effects of stress are disastrous for men's health. Real stress normally presents itself for the first time in our 20s: we have real jobs, real relationships, and real financial pressures.

"Taking control of stress is vital at this age," says Dr Washer.

"Most guys can teach themselves, either by breathing techniques, online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or other GP-recommended solutions."

Free-floating anxiety is extremely common in men in their 20s, Dr Washer adds.

"Recognise the signs (like sweating and light-headedness), and realise it's not something you have to live with."

Reducing stress to a manageable level will help reduce many ailments that might affect you now, such as acne or irritable bowel syndrome (frequently mistaken as an effect of too many beers the night before), and in the future, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and diabetes.

Inherited ill-health
Knowing your family history at this stage in life can, quite seriously, be the difference between life and death. For example, if you're in your 20s or 30s, you're probably at least a decade away from your first rectal exam - but there are some exceptions. If anyone in your family has had colon or prostate cancer, you need to start getting your behind checked every few years from now on.

Talk to your dad about his dad now, and find out what needs to be on your radar.

"Particularly anything concerning high blood pressure, heart attacks and failure, and strokes," says Dr Washer. Moreover, certain diseases from the female side of your family should be known, including breast, ovarian and uterine cancers.

Muscles and bones
Active men in their 20s and 30s may notice a year-on-year decline in muscle, joint, bone, and ligament health. Your body doesn't repair as fast as it used to, and things get sore easier - and stay that way for longer. You need to build your body's foundation in your 20s through impact exercise, because it's hard to backtrack when you're in your 40s.

"Load bearing exercise will maintain your muscle mass while it's trying to decrease with age," says Dr Washer.

"Your muscle is your engine, and if your engine gets smaller, it works less efficiently."

Combine this with cardiovascular High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), easier described as "little, short bursts of maximum intensity exercise," Dr Washer explains. Research proves HIIT as more beneficial for long-term health than any other form of cardio.

The sun
Sun smartness is vital for Kiwi men - we are twice as likely to die from melanoma than women from the same ethic group. Every summer New Zealand men get extremely sunburnt (you've seen the horrific singlet lines), though many individuals brush it off as a bit of temporary pain that leads to a good tan. Don't get to the point where you're getting melanoma spots cut out - make SPF 30 a daily requirement, and, for the sake of your future health, don't be afraid to ask your mate to rub it on your back.

Relationships
On that note, developing good friendships with at least two other men to whom you can speak safely and privately is important from your 20s onwards, says Dr Washer. You don't necessarily need confidants so close you can show them a strange bump in your nether region (though this wouldn't hurt), but they should be mates who'll come with you to a STI check-up (and get tested too).

"These kinds of relationships aim to avoid men being dragged to the doctor by their spouse when the wheels have fallen off completely," Dr Washer says.

Additionally, develop a relationship with one trusted medical professional who can educate you.

"Preferably start seeing a doctor (or other medical professional) when you're well, and develop a 'coach' in them," says Dr Washer.

"That way, when you have a health concern, the familiarity is already there and you can talk naturally with someone who knows you."

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Lee Suckling

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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