Men’s health through the generations

From grandfather to grandson, turning healthy choices into habits

IT’S A HEALTH-CONSCIOUS AGE we live in, as study after study shows the short and long-term benefits of eating healthy, exercising, and seeing your doctor regularly. While health and wellness statistics — such as rates of diseases and lifespan — are improving and reflecting the country’s collective focus on healthy living, some numbers are still disconcerting. One area that is a cause for concern in both the medical community and the public in general is men’s health.

There are some startling statistics that show a gap between men’s and women’s health. For one, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men have a higher mortality rate than women for each of the top 10 leading causes of death, except for one. Furthermore, while the average lifespan of both genders has been steadily inching upward, men are still dying approximately five years earlier than women on average, according to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH). A matter-of-fact approach to improving men’s health includes looking at the major health concerns that affect males from boyhood through adulthood and improving in those areas.


Healthy habits are best started in childhood, and the rate of childhood obesity shows that the country as a whole needs improvement. According to the FDOH, one in three kids is considered overweight or obese. Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County and a Polk County Medical Association member, maintains that obesity in adolescents is a major health concern in Central Florida. “Obesity has become a great concern affecting young kids in Polk County and the state of Florida,” he states. “Obesity is a risk factor for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, which are major causes of death and preventable hospital stays for the residents of Polk.” In short, many chronic diseases that are part of the top 10 leading causes of death for men are caused or exacerbated by inactivity and obesity, and those bad habits leading to a life of obesity generally start in childhood.

Dr. Choe points out that in Polk County, nearly 35 percent of middle and high school students were overweight or obese, compared to Florida’s 27 percent. Cases of children afflicted with chronic diseases once only associated with adulthood — type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. — fill the news, and obesity, inactivity, and poor diet are to blame. Dr. Choe recommends the basics: a healthy diet and lots of exercise.


Unfortunately, most childhood obesity carries on into adulthood, and this is when most men start to see the health consequences of unhealthy diets and the lack of exercise. It’s also a time when those who were fit in their younger years start to pack on pounds as stress and poor eating increase and time to exercise seems to disappear. According to the FDOH, 65 percent of Florida’s adults are at an unhealthy weight. The medical community continues to prove the connection between poor diet and a lack of exercise with chronic health conditions that lead to a lesser quality of life and death; it’s no surprise that hospitalization and/or death rates for illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cholesterol were all at higher-than-normal levels in Polk County, according to the latest Healthy Tampa Bay statistics.

Ashley Rivera, the newly appointed executive director for We Care of Polk County, Inc., a non-profit organization that arranges and coordinates volunteer specialty medical services, observes, “Proper exercise and nutrition regularly can have the greatest impact on the health of an individual.” He’s living proof, as he’s been there himself. “At one point I was 330 pounds,” he shares. “It was a health scare that quickly prompted me to change my life and my unhealthy choices.”

While inactivity, extra weight, and poor diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases, the body’s saving grace is the fact that improved diet and exercise will improve your health. Rivera observes that he “made the commitment to lose weight and be healthy … and I have managed to keep off the weight and make better and healthier choices. It’s all about balance. Having a balanced diet along with regular exercise is crucial for success in living a healthy life.” With a wife and two young daughters, finishing his doctoral dissertation, teaching business classes, acting as a praise/worship leader for his local church, volunteering, and now running We Care of Polk County, he admits that he must have a balanced diet and exercise to stay healthy and keep up with life’s demands. For those who say they don’t have enough time, he recommends “to set a schedule and stick to it. Once you do that, then it becomes a routine,” but he pulls no punches, and assures that “it will take discipline, commitment, and effort.”

While obesity and healthy habits are a big factor in adult health, they’re not the only ones to consider. Rivera cautions that there are other health issues that can affect a fit man’s well being, such as “diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, or any illness that has been present in one’s family health history.” Rivera advises that adult men see their doctors often for screenings and check-ups, especially for those illnesses that run in the family. “That’s crucial,” he continues, “as it can make a huge difference if the appropriate steps are taken for prevention — if it can be prevented.”


Keeping a closer relationship with one’s doctor only increases in importance as men get older. “Some of the leading health concerns in senior men are heart diseases and cancers,” Dr. Choe states. He also points out that heart disease is the leading cause of death for senior men, and CDC statistics show that heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death among males starting at age 45 and older. Dr. Choe asserts that “risk factors for heart diseases include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking. Other contributing factors include diabetes, obesity, diet, and physical inactivity.” His prescription for improving senior male health includes diet, exercise, getting adequate sleep, quitting smoking and tobacco, and staying on top of regular check-ups. “Certain diseases and conditions may not have symptoms,” he stresses, adding, “so check-ups help diagnose issues early or before they can become a problem.”

Dr. Stanley Shrom, a Urologist with Bartow Regional Medical Center, agrees that regular check-ups are key, especially when it comes to another major concern for senior men — prostate cancer. “One in six will develop it during their lifetime,” Dr. Shrom warns. He advises that men start to get tested for prostate issues starting at age 50, or age 40 if there is a family history of the disease; stressing that — as with most health issues — early diagnosis is crucial.


article by ERIKA ALDRICH

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