As a man and an internal medicine doctor, I wonder what drives some men to lead unhealthy lives.
Why do many men only come in for their physicals after their wives schedule their exams? Why will most men only read this column after a family member has shared it with them? Why do some of my most successful, intelligent, driven male patients have so little motivation to improve their health?
In this column, I’ll discuss the “psychology of maleness” and review the three stages of male health breakdown.
Let’s start with three key components of the male psyche.
• Denial. Think back to your college days when you felt invincible. You could eat a large pizza and barely gain a pound. You could pull consecutive all-nighters and recover quickly. As we age, our bodies change. If you’re regularly staying up late and eating and drinking at free will on business trips and on weekends, you’ll end up paying a price.
• Internalization. Part of being a guy is taking the hits and moving on. There may be personal and professional obstacles causing tremendous emotional stress, but we usually internalize them and move on. Stored up tension and anxiety manifest in other ways, such as poor sleep and eating habits. Unfortunately, this behavior also increases the risk of heart disease. Having someone to share with, whether it’s your spouse, a family member, a close friend, a co-worker or a professional therapist, can help blow off pent-up steam. Exercise and meditation are other ways to cope with internalized stress.
• The male ego. This can be a tough one. I had to set aside my own male ego to write this column. Many of us guys know that our lifestyles and habits aren’t optimal, but we resist advice from others, especially spouses and close family members. Advice with good intentions turns into “nagging,” and sometimes our behaviors are almost defiant. If this describes you, then schedule an appointment with your doctor. Most guys are OK with having their doctor tell them what to do.
Stages of deterioration
In general, it’s between ages 35 and 40 that things start breaking down in men who neglect their health. It’s happening earlier as we become increasingly sedentary and unhealthy.
I’ve broken the deterioration of the male body into three stages:
• Stage 1. If your waistline is expanding and you’re suffering more aches and pains, these are warning signs of premature aging and future problems, not a normal part of getting older. This accelerated aging is due to increased stress, decreased activity and a poor diet.
• Stage 2. Abnormal biometrics. In addition to your weight and waistline being abnormal, your other critical numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are now out of range.
• Stage 3. This is a significant health event, resulting from poor lifestyle choices and being stubborn enough to ignore the stage 1 and 2 signs. For example, you might receive a diagnosis of diabetes, a heart attack or a herniated disk from being overweight and out of shape.
I often ask older patients, “When you reflect back on your life, what things would you have done differently?” Answers are typically, “I wish I took better care of my health,” or “I wish I spent more time with my family.” No one has ever said they wish they had worked more hours, made more money or exercised less.
Minimize your future regrets by prioritizing your health now and by being a role model for your family. Please don’t wait for stages 2 or 3 to start making changes.
Dr. Ronesh Sinha is an internal medicine physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. He also provides medical consults to high-risk South Asians.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.