Hakan Steele is suddenly taking his health very seriously.

The 40-year-old married father of two young girls has, since May, been through a cancer scare and survived a heart attack.

He is speaking about his health, and the need for men to get an annual check-up, after International Men's Day on Monday.

A partnership manager for a software company, Steele had surgery to remove one testicle after he had found a lump. Cancer had been suspected but none was found.

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Early last month his family went to northern Queensland. It was his mother's birthday.

Steele felt off colour for a few days - fatigued and having chest pains he thought were indigestion - but only afterwards did he realise this was his body's warning.

The symptoms escalated, with a 45-minute bout of chest pain, then resolved.

"The next morning I got up and it hit me much harder. It was like someone had put a safe on my chest, a super heavy weight on my chest and it started moving to my shoulders and arms."

Family members decided he needed to go to hospital so he was driven to one in Cairns, about an hour from where they were staying. The following day he had angioplasty treatment, in which three stents were placed to open up two constricted heart arteries.

One artery had been 80 per cent blocked, the other, 99 per cent.

When asked if he had been at risk of dying, Steele said: "Yeah, I guess so. I don't know if that particular [heart attack] would have killed me. I expect I would have had another one later in the day."

His cholesterol levels hadn't been checked before the heart attack. Blood tests during his treatment revealed his LDL "bad" cholesterol was slightly higher than desirable, and his HDL "good" cholesterol was slightly lower than desirable.

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There was also some family history: His father had survived a heart attack in his 60s.

Steele now urges men to pay more attention to their health, by having a regular check-up and by listening to their body.

He had never had a general check-up, saying that he usually got an annual flu jab, "and that was it".

Hakan Steele says he now realises the fatigue and chest pains he experienced were his body's way of warning him all was not well. Photo / Greg Bowker
Hakan Steele says he now realises the fatigue and chest pains he experienced were his body's way of warning him all was not well. Photo / Greg Bowker

A never-smoker, he is of normal weight and eats healthily. He drank moderately (he has now quit temporarily) and was fit - he had been training for an ultra-marathon. He is eating more avocados for their good fats, and less red meat, and he has tried to reduce stress.

Deaths from blocked heart arteries are rare in men aged 40. In 2015, 28 New Zealand men and six women aged between 40 and 45 died of so-called "ischaemic heart diseases", in which there is a shortage of oxygen to the heart muscle.

As people get older their heart-disease risk increases. In the 80 to 85 age bracket in 2015, 466 men and 376 women died of ischaemic heart diseases, according to Ministry of Health data.

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The Men's Health Trust says eight Kiwi men die a day from preventable causes. The top five causes are cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes), diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, suicide and prostate cancer.

But trust medical director Dr Graeme Washer said men could maintain good health if they took control. They should consider having a regular health check from around the age of 30.

"That's the time when a lot of guys start to fall off the wagon in terms of health protection, health care."

An annual health check, which might be a double appointment and so cost twice the usual fee, was about ordering blood tests and measurement of height, weight and blood pressure, and looking into any symptoms the patient was concerned about.

But just as much it was about developing a long-term relationship with a health worker, usually a doctor, who could act like a coach, Washer said.

"It's about being aware of the things you can do to maintain and improve your health and being made aware of your specific risk, in particular your family history."

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"Just because you're standing, breathing and capable of going to work doesn't mean you're healthy - which is a bloke attitude."

"The coaching message is the key thing - talking about health, both with your health care person and with your friends, your mates."

Dr Graeme Washer's prescription for men's health

• Eat healthily

• Exercise regularly - 30-40 minutes moderate activity on most days plus some bursts at high intensity

• Have good relationships - minimise stress

• Engage with health services - find a health worker to be your coach for healthy living.

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