Aging Well

senior man with mugIt’s a male issue, too

By Peggy Edwards | June 2019

Making your health a priority is important for everyone, at any age. However, research suggests that men tend to put less focus on their health and well-being than women. They see the doctor less frequently and are less inclined to practice preventive health behaviours.

As we celebrate Men’s Health Week this June, let’s take a look at some of the key items older men need to pay attention to in order to preserve and improve their health as they get older.

The key to optimal aging is to take an active role in your health. Focus on treating your body well with a healthy diet, regular exercise, reduced alcohol intake and quitting smoking (if you smoke). These actions can make a world of difference.

Some of the top risk factors to a man’s health are not only common, but preventable. From prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes to injuries and infectious diseases, simple lifestyle changes and preventive action can significantly reduce your risk for many common health problems.

Here are some ways you can promote healthy aging and improve your health now.

Enjoy healthy eating

Adopt a nutritious, well-balanced diet that helps maintain strength, mobility and a good quality of life as we age. It’s never too late to make better food choices. Here are four simple ways you can improve your diet that are proven to help.

Pass (up) the salt. Reducing your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure, which in turn decreases your risk of heart disease. Salt is not just in the shaker; the main culprit is processed foods. Stay away from processed meat, cheese, frozen dinners and condiments like ketchup and bottled salad dressings. Make your own meals from fresh whole foods.

Eat more fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Don’t like fish? Try fish oil supplements.

Cut the (saturated) fat. Reducing saturated fat — common in meat and dairy products — can lower your risk of heart disease. Canada’s new Food Guide suggests eating more plant-based protein such as soya-based products, quinoa, chickpeas,(unsalted) peanuts and almonds, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.

Use a smaller plate. Did you know that the size of the plate, package or portion you are offered can influence how much food you eat and drink? Use a smaller plate and say no to super-sized portions to help avoid unnecessary calories and the health risks associated with excess weight.

Build strength to age well

Building strength can help you avoid falls and reduce the risk of losing mobility, independence and quality of life. Strength training can help you tone your muscles, improve your appearance, reduce body fat, increase bone strength and lean muscle mass, and burn calories more efficiently.

You can do strength training at home or in the gym. Free weights and weight machines are popular strength training tools, but they’re not the only options. You can use inexpensive resistance tubing or your own body weight (e.g. exercises such as knee extensions, sit-backs and push-ups).

Practice “progressive resistance strength training. ” This means gradually increasing the weight or resistance in order to challenge and strengthen your muscles. You start with a weight that is difficult but doable and increase the weight as it becomes easier.

Enjoy activities such as paddling and cycling that can build strength as well as heart-lung fitness. Activities that involve lifting and carrying such as gardening can also build your strength (always protect your back by lifting properly).

Use the stairs. You’ll quickly notice improvements in your leg strength and balance.

Deal with those frequent pit stops

“When you gotta go, you gotta go.” But sometimes it’s not that simple. You either can’t go easily or have to go too often or experience pain or difficulty when urinating. Whatever form they take, lower urinary tract problems in men are worrisome, uncomfortable and can be a red flag for more serious health problems. Urinary tract symptoms are often caused by an enlarged prostate— called benign prostatic enlargement (BPH) — which typically affects older men.

The need to pee more often can be particularly bothersome at night. If you are getting up multiple times at night, cut back on the liquids you drink before bed and take the time to completely empty your bladder when you urinate. Talk with your doctor about your testing and treatment options for frequent, blocked or painful urinating. Recent studies show that a combination drug treatment — with both alpha-blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors — can offer improved long-term symptom relief.

Talk with your doctor about the PSA test

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in men and the third leading cause of cancer-related death among men in Canada. The good news is that many men with prostate cancer live for years without symptoms or problems, and the 10-year estimated survival ratio is 95 per cent. The bad news is that the widely-used screening tool for prostate cancer— the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test — is not very reliable and can lead to more harm than good.

The harms of regular screening with the PSA blood test (combined with a rectal exam) include a high chance of false-positive results, the dangers of complications from follow-up prostate biopsies and over-diagnosis. These potential risks, weighed against the benefits, led the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care to recommend the PSA test not be used to screen for cancer, particularly in men under the age of 55 and over the age of 70. Men aged 55 to 69, the highest risk group, are advised to seek expert advice and find out about other options before deciding to have a PSA test. This recommendation is not a universally accepted one. For example, Prostate Cancer Canada’s position is that the benefits of PSA screening outweigh the negatives and that eliminating it would result in a significant increase in prostate cancer deaths.

So, what’s a guy to do? Consult with your doctor to fully understand the benefits and harms of PSA testing. Your physician will help you choose the best course of action based on your individual circumstances (including ethnicity, family history of disease and other risk factors) and personal preferences. A booklet that can help you with your decision is available at cmq.org/publications-pdf/p-3-2013-09-01-en-depistage-cancer-de-la-prostate.pdf.

Keep your shots up to date

Vaccines are especially important for older adults. As you get older, your immune system weakens and it can be more difficult to fight off infections. You’re more likely to get diseases like the flu, pneumonia, and shingles —and to have complications that can lead to long-term illness, hospitalization, and even death. It is also important to make sure routine vaccines are up to date for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. If you have an ongoing health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, getting vaccinated is even more important.

Talk to your healthcare provider about what vaccines are recommended for you and where you go to get them. Depending on the vaccine, it may be given in your healthcare provider’s office, a public health clinic or through a pharmacist. Keep a vaccination record with your physician. No excuses when it comes time to get your annual flu shot. Getting vaccinated can help keep you, your family, and your community healthy.

References and further information: This column draws upon the evidence-based articles in the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. Visit mcmasteroptimalaging.org to browse the Evidence Summaries, Web Resource Ratings and Blog Posts on a variety of topics related to healthy aging. You can also subscribe to their email updates that come once a week.

Here’s a special plea to the men out there. Celebrate Men’s Health Week (June 10-16) by taking some small steps to improve your health and well-being. Write to me at wanderingpeggy@me.com and tell me how you are taking care of your health this year.

Peggy Edwards is a well-known writer and speaker on aging and health and is a co-author of The Healthy Boomer: A No Nonsense Midlife Health Guide for Women and Men and The Juggling Act: The Healthy Boomer’s Guide to Achieving Balance in Midlife, available at amazon.ca.