Health Strategy

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We Don’t Talk About It!

As men, the topic of our health is something we typically don’t want to talk about, especially when we are young. We are taught to be strong, to be tough, to push through pain and discomfort. To do otherwise is a sign of weakness.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Simply put, you can’t be available and present for those you love, nor can you make the impact in the world you desire to make, if you are not healthy mentally and physically. As such, having a long-term strategy for maintaining your health is one of the most important and wisest decisions you can make as a man.

It’s Never Too Early!

In fact, the best time to start thinking about your health as a man is when you are young. If you wait until you are older, or until you have a serious medical condition, it may be too late. However, if you start planning and implementing a strategy that leads to better long term health outcomes now, you can do your part to ensure you’ll be available and healthy for those who depend on you over the long term.

Strategy

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Explore the below content for ideas for how you can develop your own personal health strategy.

Prevention

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. The following suggestions are steps you can take to live a healthier lifestyle and to help prevent negative health outcomes long term.

Healthy Habits

Make a Plan to Be Healthy: In our busy lives, we seldom put enough thought into what we eat. Of course, when we’re young, this seems to work just fine. However, when we get older, we will have to deal with the consequences of the diet choices we made when we were young. To avoid this, you have to be intentional about developing a plan to be healthy. The worst thing you can do is to not plan at all.

Know Your Particular Health Needs: Before developing your personal health plan, the first thing to do is to understand your particular health needs. What may work for some people may not work for you. Start by researching your health history as well as the health history of your family. You should know what illnesses you are prone to and what conditions may run in your family. The more you know up front, the better you will be able to target your plan to meet your specific health needs.

Know the Components of a Basic Diet Plan: When planning the best diet for your lifestyle and health needs, there are a lot of things to consider. You should take a look at the diet plans that are out there and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and health goals. Although recommendations vary by age and health status, here are some general rules of thumb of a good daily diet:

  • Vegetables = 2 to 3 cups daily
  • Fruit = 1 ½ to 2 cups daily
  • Grains = 5 to 8 ounces daily
  • Protein = 50 to 60 grams daily
  • Oils = 5 to 7 teaspoons daily

Eat a Rainbow Diet: One diet recommended by the doctors interviewed for this series was the “Rainbow Diet.” A Rainbow Diet is just like it sounds: eating meals consisting of different colored fruits and vegetables, such as red, orange, yellow, green, and purple. Adding more colored fruits and vegetables to your diet provides nutrients that support your long term health while, at the same time, helping your body to fight off harmful elements.

Drink Lots of Water: Drinking water is essential to your health. Why? Because most of your bodily functions, such as digestion, creating silva, regulating your body temperature, and transporting nutrients require plenty of fluid to draw from. Drinking plenty of water helps your body to function properly. It is recommended that you drink an 8 ounce cup of water at least 8 times per day. If you are a fan of bottled water, you can simply drink 4 bottles per day, as each contains 16 ounces.

Make Time to Exercise: When we’re young, exercise is often something we do for recreation or enjoyment. Many of us play organized sports while others play for fun with friends. As we get older and our lives get busier, it can become harder to find time for exercise. Still, it is recommended that the average adult gets at least 20 minutes of exercise per day. Over the long term, this will help to increase your energy, reduce stress, and improve brain and heart health.

Eat in Moderation: As a rule of thumb, you should only consume what your body needs. Eating and drinking too much, even if they are things that are good for you, can be harmful. That being said, you should avoid excessively large portions.

Drink Alcohol Responsibly: Although alcohol can be enjoyable, abusing alcohol can lead to long term consequences to your health, such as heart and liver damage. For men, when you drink, you should consume no more than 2 drinks per day. This is considered moderate. Anything more than 15 drinks in a week is considered excessive. Still, you have to know yourself. If you are prone to addiction or drinking negatively impacts your behavior, it may be best to avoid it altogether.

Avoid Smoking: Smoking, whether cigarettes, marijuana, or any other substance, comes with risks and offers little health benefits. Excessive smoking can damage your lungs and lead to many other health challenges. As such, it may be safer to avoid altogether. Although many advocate the use of marijuana to treat pain, according to the CDC, the research is inconclusive on whether it is better at treating chronic or acute pain than alternative treatments. Consider all your options, know the risks, and make the best decision for your health.

Get Your Rest: Making sure you get the proper amount of sleep per night is vital to your long-term health. It is recommended that the average adult gets between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, just as important as the number of hours you sleep is the quality of sleep you get. Whenever you get quality sleep, your body is able to repair tissues, your immune system is strengthened, and you build up your energy levels for the next day. So make sure the place where you sleep is set up for you to get the best quality sleep possible. Your body will thank you!

Don’t Eat Too Late: Your body needs some time before you go to sleep to go through the digestion process. Eating too late too often can increase your risks for things like acid reflux, that is, when your stomach produces too much acid and it starts to come back up into your esophagus. If left untreated, this can have long-term negative effects on your health. It is best to stop eating between 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

Know the Signs: There are several signs or symptoms of potential medical issues. Although some symptoms can point to a variety of issues, there are some important ones to be aware of. For example, frequent urination, increased thirst, and an unsatisfied appetite can be an early sign of diabetes. Likewise, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, feeling faint, heart racing and a pounding or fluttering in the chest can be signs of high blood pressure. If you feel any of these symptoms, or any other symptoms that you are concerned about, don’t take any chances. Go see a doctor to find out more!

*Source: Many of these recommendations come from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Please visit cdc.gov for more information.

Making Wise Lifestyle Decisions

Know Your limits: Let’s face it, when you are young, you want to enjoy life and have fun. Unfortunately, some of the decisions we make when we are young have consequences that can impact our ability to succeed in life over the long term. That’s why one of the most important things you can do is to know your limits and set reasonable boundaries for yourself. Where your health is concerned, there are some things other people can do that may not be a good idea for you to do given your health and the health history of your family. With this knowledge, you can be better equipped to set and keep boundaries and practices for things like your diet, nutrition, exercise, and doctor visits that work best for you.

Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks: While it is true that You Only Life Once (or YOLO), this also means that, unfortunately, you can’t go back and make up for the unhealthy choices. Where your health and welfare is concerned, it is wise to not take too many unnecessary risks. Before making any potentially life altering decision, ask yourself “can I live with the potential long term consequences of this decision on my life?” If you can’t, then perhaps it is a good idea to rethink the decision you are about to make.

Maintaining Your Mental Health

Know Your “Baseline”: When it comes to mental health, everyone has a “baseline”; that is, a pattern of behaviors, habits, moods, and personality traits that are common to each individual. Think of your baseline as your “normal”, or who you are and the way you behave on an average day, when you are not too “high” or too “low”. If you just don’t feel like your normal self, then you may need to investigate what has changed in your mental health.

Admit When Something is Wrong: When something is wrong with us mentally or emotionally, it may be difficult to recognize, and even more difficult to admit. If you find yourself losing pleasure in the things you normally enjoy, feeling depressed more frequently, having problems concentrating or sleeping, or thinking about harming yourself, then it may be a sign that you are off your baseline and may need to seek help.

Live in Community: Oftentimes, it is the people around you who notice the change in you before you do. For this reason, it is always good to surround yourself with individuals who know you and who can notice when something has changed. When those that love and care for see a change in you, have the courage to listen and investigate why.

Talk It Out: The first line of defense in your mental health is to have someone you trust to talk to. This is particularly tough for men as we typically don’t like to share much about our personal feelings. But, for the sake of your long term mental health and well being, you are going to have to find a safe place to talk through what is going on with you. Sometimes, this can make all the difference.

Know When to Seek Professional Help: When talking to those you trust doesn’t seem to work, it may be time to seek professional help. It is important for you to know that you are not alone. Professionally trained counselors and therapists are equipped to help you identify what may be wrong and to develop a strategy to help get you back to your normal self. Although talking to a professional may feel uncomfortable for some men, at the least, the potential benefits to your mental health and wellbeing far outway the risk.

Managing Your Healthcare

Get An Annual Check Up: Even if you don’t feel like anything is wrong with you, one of the best investments you can make into your long term health is to get an annual check up. Major health challenges can often be avoided if you catch them early. An annual exam is the best way to do just that. Just like you get periodic check ups on your car, you need to do the same for your body. Typically, an annual check up should include full blood work and a physical exam. To help you remember, a good idea may be to schedule your annual check up around your birthday.

Examine Your Urine and Feces: Just as managing what GOES INTO your body – that is, what you eat and drink – is important for managing your long term health, examining what COMES OUT OF your body can be an early clue to your overall health. If your urine is too dark, or if you see blood in your urine or feces, these may be signs of more serious medical conditions that need to be addressed immediately.

Know When it’s Time to See a Doctor: Oftentimes it is difficult to know when a condition requires medical attention. However, it is better to err on the side of caution than to take any unnecessary risks where your health is concerned. Obviously, if you are experiencing some irregularities in the function of your heart or intense chest pain, or anything else that might be life-threatening, you should see a doctor immediately. Otherwise, if you are experiencing systems that are unusual, that are chronic or don’t seem to go away, or that can’t be remedied with over the counter medicine or other home solutions, it may be time to schedule a doctor’s appointment. It may be nothing serious but at least you will be better equipped with more information after seeing a doctor.

Know Your Family History: One of the most important things you can do to manage your long term health is to know your family history. There are so many medical conditions that are hereditary or simply inherited from others in your family. The more you know, the better equipped you can be for mitigating the potential negative effects on you long term. For example, you should know if things like cancer and other diseases run in your family. To find out, you may have to have real and honest conversations with family members.

USING HEALTHCARE SERVICES

Once you actually need to receive treatment, there are several things you need to know. Here are some suggestions to make sure you get the most out of utilizing health services.

Choosing a Primary Care Doctor

Obtain a Primary Care Doctor: A primary care doctor is often the frontline of defense for discovering and treating medical conditions. For the most part, they specialize in helping patients to manage their general health and offer basic medical treatment. They maintain records of your health and should be the go to person to ask questions and to advocate for your treatment.

Be Prepared for Your Visit: The value of a visit to your primary care doctor is greatly dependent upon your preparation before the visit. You should be prepared to provide an assessment of any changes in your health status you’ve noticed, no matter how small. You should also do your research before you arrive and be prepared to ask as many questions as you can think of. All of this can be vital to determining if there is an issue that requires treatment.

Find Someone You Trust: Because they need to know some details about your health, your habits and behavior, as well as the conditions you are experiencing, your primary care doctor should be someone who you feel comfortable confiding in and someone who you feel you can trust. They should also be someone who understands you and that you can talk to. Consequently, not every doctor will necessarily be a good fit. You do have options when selecting a doctor. Don’t be afraid to shop around until you find someone who is the best fit for you. When you find the right doctor, it is important that you do not withhold vital information from them during your visit. The more you are willing to share, the better equipped they will be to help you.

Learn to Advocate for Yourself: It cannot be overstated, although your primary care doctor is there to help you, you are always responsible for advocating for your healthcare. There will be times when you have to advocate for the tests and treatment that will give you peace of mind as well as work within your value system and lifestyle. Knowledge is power when it comes to advocating for your healthcare; the more you know, the better you will be able to advocate for yourself. That said, remember that, unless you have medical training, your doctor is most likely going to have more expertise in the area of health and medicine than you. Most of us are NOT medical experts. Therefore, you should value the advice of your doctor and trust that their opinion and advice is coming from an informed place. Be willing to work with them to come up with the best solution that works for you.

Seeing a Specialist

Understand Specialist Care: Primary care doctors are often the starting place in your medical journey. Like a mechanic that does a general check of your vehicle and performs basic things like changing the oil and rotating the tires, primary care doctors are generalists that treat basic health conditions and manage overall care. For more acute issues, you will need to see a specialist. Specialists focus on specific areas of health, such as the heart, skeletal muscular issues, or diet and nutrition. Their job is to help you to diagnose or determine clearly what your health challenges are and to partner with you in your treatment.

Do Your Research: If you are seeing a healthcare specialist it is most likely because you have a condition that requires advanced or long term treatment in order to manage or resolve. As is the case when you are going to see any medical professional, the more research you do beforehand, the better equipped you will be to partner with them in your treatment.

Managing Expectations: Doing your research beforehand should help you to better manage your expectations. Some conditions can be resolved through treatment while others are chronic and may only be managed. If your condition can be resolved through treatment, you should understand the length of time it will take to resolve and what are the potential side effects. Knowing this will help prepare you to ask better questions when seeing a specialist and to manage your expectations for outcomes from your visit.

Finding a Specialist: Oftentimes you will be referred to a specialist by your primary care doctor or some other medical professional that has examined you. Additionally, you may have to choose a specialist based on your insurance coverage. Either way, work within the parameters you are given to find a specialist that works best for you. Just like with a primary care doctor, a specialist is someone who you may have a long term relationship with as you work through treatment. They should be someone you trust and feel comfortable working with.

Stay Engaged in the Process: When seeing a specialist, the first objective is often to come up with a complete diagnosis of the problem before deciding on treatment. Some issues are clear while others are not. Oftentimes identifying the problem and finding the treatment is a process of elimination. Don’t be afraid to advocate for the test that is going to give you the clearest idea of the issue you are facing. Health Insurance companies often play a role in the sequence of tests that are administered. Furthermore, as a patient, it is important for you to clearly understand what each test shows and what it means for your treatment. Again, you must be prepared to ask as many questions as you can. As much as possible, never leave your doctor’s visit without a clear understanding of what is going on. To make sure you understand, repeat back to the doctor in your own words what you think is being communicated.

Decide What Treatment is Best for You: After your health issue has been clearly diagnosed as best as possible, now it is time to decide on treatment. As with everything else in managing your healthcare, as a patient, you are ultimately responsible for working with your doctor to decide on the treatment that is best for you. Find all the options and alternatives and talk with your doctor about each. Also, you should know the potential side effects of the medication and treatment your doctor prescribes before you begin. Finally, you should have a clear understanding of the long term prognosis of the treatment, that is, what outcomes you should expect and the timeline for recovery.

Get a Second Opinion: Never feel compelled to stop your research with the first diagnosis or treatment recommendation. Doctors often have differing opinions on a diagnosis and treatment. If you are unsure or uncertain in any way, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. At best, you may discover something that your first doctor missed. At worst, you may gain additional confirmation of the original findings and treatment recommendations. The more information you know, the better equipped you will be to make the best decision about your health.

Stick with the Plan: Once you and your doctor decide on a treatment, be sure to stick with the plan. If you are prescribed medicine, make sure you take it as directed by your doctor. If you are given a treatment regimen, make sure you keep it. During the process, keep a record of your progress and be sure to share your observations and questions you have with your doctor. This information is vital to shaping your treatment and making adjustments when needed.

Long Term Health Planning and End of Life Care

Having Difficult Conversations: Death is inevitable. There is no way to get around that. The best thing we can do is to prepare for it. The best place to start is by having much needed, but often difficult, conversations with those we love. You need to talk about your wishes in terms of how you want to be treated if you are incapacitated and can’t advocate for yourself. You should also have someone who can access your medical history and who is equipped to make decisions concerning your treatment. You are never too young to start having these conversations.

Be Prepared to Advocate for Others: Not only should you have these conversations for yourself, you must also be willing to have these conversations with your parents or older relatives that you may have to manage care for. One of the biggest challenges for families is being able to make decisions for elderly or sick relatives when they are unaware of their wishes. You can be best prepared to advocate for those you care about when you have conversations with them ahead of time.

Preparing Financially: Unfortunately, managing end of life care for yourself or your loved ones can come at a tremendous financial cost. So much so that, in some cases, people may lose all that they worked their whole life to achieve covering the costs. It doesn’t have to be this way. To avoid this, start planning early. First, understand you or your loved one’s financial position and potential end of life needs. Then, plan to see a financial advisor to map out the best strategy that will work for you and your family.

Getting the Proper Documents: For legal purposes, there are a couple documents that you should have for yourself and your loved ones in the event of incapacitation or death. You should create an Advance Directive which spells out your wishes for those advocating for your end of life care. This includes who will have power of attorney to make decisions. You should also have a Will that spells out what you want done with your belongings once you pass. Although this may be morbid to think about, making these decisions ahead of time and making sure they are clearly documented for all parties evolved, can be a tremendous help to those managing your end of life care.