Being prime minister wasn't the most healthy job in the world, says former leader Sir John Key, who has come out swinging for men's health awareness.

Sir John, in Taupo today for the Men's Health Trust's annual Charity Golf Tournament at Wairakei, has taken up clubs to help promote men's wellbeing.

The former prime minister teamed up with friend and golf club owner Gary Lane and two others to compete against 23 other teams. The annual ambrose-style tournament last year raised over $30,000.

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker

The charitable trust says about 3000 Kiwi men die of preventable causes each year, and is working to educate men about health and the importance of seeking help early.

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Sir John said the biggest health issue for him during his time running the country was probably sleep deprivation.

While he felt being prime minister for eight years hadn't affected his physical wellbeing, it wasn't unusual for him to get only five hours of sleep a night while being on the go seven days a week.

"A lot of people who see me now say I look younger and more relaxed," he said.

"I didn't feel like I was drowning under the pressure... you just don't have a lot of time to do things because of the nature of the job. If you look at pictures of leaders around the world they all seem to noticeably age so it can't be the most healthy job in the world."

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker

Since stepping away from the role, Sir John said he had been able to reduce his golf handicap from 12 to 12.5 to 8.5.

"I'm trying to get down to 5, that's the aim," he said. "I think I can do it, it's getting there."

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker

Sir John said he felt women were better than men at noticing signs and symptoms of ill health and getting help if they suspected something.

"Very often men are in denial and won't go and get it checked if they see signs of a problem; they just keep it to themselves and don't go out to their doctor.

"A lot of what today is about is really just encouraging people to have awareness of their body. If they see signs or symptoms then go and seek medical support, in particular for young people."

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker

Since his retirement from politics earlier this year, Sir John has been in demand on the public speaking circuit and is also on the boards of both ANZ and Air New Zealand.

He says he plans to pare things back a bit in 2018 but has one more major announcement to make, most likely early in the New Year, about joining another board.

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker

Men's Health Facts

• 3000 men die every year from preventable illnesses like heart disease and diabetes

• Women live four years longer than men

• Pakeha men live seven years longer than Maori men

• 65 per cent of men are overweight or obese

• Suicide rate for men is three times that of women

• Across every age bracket more men than women drink to hazardous levels and smoke daily

Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker
Sir John Key playing in the Men's Health Trust (MHT) annual charity golf event at Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary. Photo/Stephen Parker