Just Take Five
A Guy’s Guide to Staying Vitally Healthy
Ancient prophets understood the wisdom of living by the adage, “Eat, drink and be merry,” and it still rings true today. Today’s health experts further add, “get moving” and “see your doctor at least once a year.”
Adopting this short, easy-to-do list of habits as a guiding principle can be key to a healthier and happier life, and add more years to accomplish your bucket list. The good news about male longevity is that much of it is under our control.
Dr. Robert Butler, gerontologist, psychiatrist and author of The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life, received a Pulitzer Prize for his work on aging. A founding director of the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, he also started the nation’s first department of geriatrics, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. In his early 80s, Butler was still regularly walking around Central Park before putting in 60-hour weeks doing work he loved as head of International Longevity Center–USA ()
Butler maintained that genes account for only 25 percent of our individual health and said, “Our environment and personal behaviors account for the rest.” For him, it was simple things like welcome hugs and laughter that added pleasure and length to life. Of course, learning something new helps the brain stay active. Butler lived the essence of active right up until his passing a year ago at age 83.
A Simple Prescription
So, what are men up against today? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), the leading causes of death for men are heart disease; cancer (especially prostate); injuries; chronic lower respiratory diseases; stroke; diabetes; suicide; influenza and pneumonia; kidney disease; and Alzheimer’s disease. But can men take a preventive approach to these conditions. Here are five proactive, enjoyable ways that work:
Eat. The simple everyday act of healthy eating can have long-term, holistic benefits for not only overall health and weight management, but for preventing prostate cancer. In 2010, nearly 218,000 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer, a largely curable challenge when caught in its early stages, according to the American Cancer Society. But why not eat well to prevent potential cancer cells from becoming a bigger problem?
“All of us have microscopic cancers growing in our bodies all the time,” says Dr. William Li, founder and head of The Angiogenesis Foundation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (angio.org and the user-friendly EatToDefeat.org). Angiogenesis is the process our bodies use to grow blood vessels, he says, a natural process that sometimes gets hijacked by cancer cells. “A microscopic tumor can grow up to 16,000 times its original size in as little as two weeks,” explains Li, “but new, groundbreaking research from The Angiogenesis Foundation proposes that you can stop cancer before it begins to grow.” Li calls this new preventive approach “anti-angiogenesis.”
“Many common foods contain cancer-starving molecules,” Li continues. “Anti-angiogenesis encourages that. By changing the way you eat, you can change your internal environment, thereby depriving cancer cells the opportunity to grow and multiply.
Li and his colleagues continue to monitor the results of other studies while continuing their own research showing the positive effects of certain foods in slowing or preventing the growth and spread of cancer cells. One seminal study, published in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute in 2002, established the link between eating cooked tomato products and a lowered risk of prostate cancer. “Cooked tomatoes… have more cancer-fighting properties than raw tomatoes,” advises Li. “Both contain the molecule lycopene, but heating the tomato changes its chemical structure and makes the benefits more readily available to the body. You should eat two to three [½ cup] servings of cooked tomatoes a week.”
The Angiogenesis Foundation provides a base list of 40 natural foods that contain cancer-preventing properties. New foods are added as their benefits are proved in research. The newest additions for fighting prostate cancer—emmental, Jarlsburg and gouda cheeses— are rich in vitamin K2.
Drink. Consume fresh ginger drinks, green tea and herbal tea blends that include anti-angiogenic ginseng, lavender and licorice root work to hydrate the body and prevent disease according to researchers at The Angiogenesis Foundation.
A glass or two of red wine, which contains the cancer fighting, anti-inflammatory compound resveratrol can be good for men. “My own advice to folks is about one drink a day,” counseled Butler. “The older you get, the heavier the impact of the alcohol. But in moderation, alcohol not only has a relaxing effect, it can elevate levels of good cholesterol.
Maintaining good hydration by drinking water also helps kidneys filter impurities out of the body and keeps skin looking fresher.
Be Merry. The very things that come with being social are good for everyone’s health. According to Butler, simple touching, such as holding hands with and hugging a loved one, works to lower blood pressure. Laughing with buddies helps keep blood vessels from restricting, and thus keeps the heart working more efficiently. Having an eye for beauty in our surrounding adds pleasure to life and helps keep us in a good mood.
Engaging in close, loving and romantic relationships and staying in touch with lots of friends not only increases the quality of men’s lives, but also helps battle depression and heart disease, suggests Dr. Mehmet Oz, a professor of cardiac surgery at Columbia University and a founder of the Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He frequently appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show before becoming host of The Dr. Oz Show.
According to Oz, “The more sex you have—provided that it’s safe sex and with a mutually monogamous partner—the healthier you will be. Men who have sex once a month are at more than two times the risk of heart disease and heart attack as men who have sex twice a week.”
Complementing such healthy excitement, establishing a daily meditation practice also helps men stay calm, energetic, positive and more attuned to their own inner wisdom, says Donna Cardillo, a registered nurse who advises healthcare professionals in the Gannett Healthcare Group. “Studies have also shown that regular meditation can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve the body’s response to stress and even improve sleep patterns.”
Another way to be and stay merry, suggests Cardillo, is to take part in some kind of volunteer work. “Volunteering has long been touted as a great way to give back and make a positive contribution to the world,” she remarks. “While all that is true, numerous studies including the recent Do Good Live Well Study by UnitedHealthcare have shown that people who do volunteer work for two or more hours a week exhibit lower rates of depression and heart disease, live happier more fulfilled lives, have greater self-esteem and greater functionality, especially for older adults.”
Move. Butler promoted moderate exercise to help improve cardiovascular function, elevate mood and keep men fit longer, and his conclusions are supported by studies by the University of Maryland Medical Center, Arizona State University, and the Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He found that, “One of the most frightening disabilities of old age, aside from dementia, is frailty.” His prescription? Maintain strong thigh muscles, which is what we use to get up out of a chair or bed, and do squats daily.
Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D., popularized the use of pedometers and the 10,000 Steps a Day program in Japan that also spread to this country. Wearing a small counter is a simple way to keep track of how many steps we take in a day. Such monitoring devices indicate how active or inactive we really are, which can be a bit of a surprise. Hatano and his researchers found that most people take 3,500 to 5,000 steps a day. Raising that to 10,000 steps a day will burn more calories, promote better heart function and keep weight under control.
Get a Tune-up. Annual physicals are more important than regularly changing the oil in a car, yet men are more likely than women to skip a checkup visit to their doctor, according to a recent poll by Louis Harris and Associates. A growing trend among health centers addresses this concern, offering men a one-stop-shopping-style checkup and testing.
Here’s how: Men who aren’t interested in spending a day window-shopping certainly aren’t into a day of appointments to check off a list of simple health screenings. So, special health programs—modeled after executive health screenings formerly accessible only at getaway destinations like the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, or the Greenbrier Clinic, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia—are popping up at local hospitals from coast to coast.
As part of the men’s health program at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, serving the Kansas City area, for example, doctors emphasize maintaining “optimal performance” versus “let’s see what’s wrong with you.” Prior to an appointment, patients visit a lab location for tests, so that all of their results are ready when they visit the doctor. Then, on the day of their appointment, some additional screenings are performed, if necessary, so the time men spend with the doctor is used more effectively.
This personalized, focused attention and all-at-once approach can provide straightforward strategic health planning—a map of diet, exercise and lifestyle targets to aim for in the coming year that can keep men here and healthy.
Judith Fertig is a freelance writer in Overland Park, KS; see AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com. She interviewed Dr. Robert Butler before his passing.
Click here for: Get a Move On: Five Reasons to Exercise.