How to Make Food, Fitness and Feelings Your Go-To Prescription

Men’s emotions have cracked wide open and the sweetener points to better health


Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

A shred of positivity to already emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic and the amplification of racial justice is a breakdown of stigma regarding our emotional well-being – and that’s particularly good news for men and their overall health.

The extended pandemic lockdown has prompted more people to consider how social isolation and anxiety impact our mental health. It’s more common and accepted for people (men included!) to acknowledge their challenges and even talk about emotional self-care practices. As institutional racism comes in to clearer focus, more are checking in on their mental state, making the connection to their physical health and taking corrective action like taking breaks, dialing back, or offering support to others. This may be the key to cracking the code for a healthier, happier, longer life and Men’s Health Month provides a good opportunity to take a closer look.

 The Health Conditions That Can Kill You

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men followed by lung cancer; both of these commonly point to smoking, excess drinking, and related conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, as causal factors. Prostate cancer follows, and although highly treatable, one in nine men will be diagnosed at an average age of 66 years. Homicide is a top cause of death for Black men (and more recently, higher rates for COVID-19), and unintentional injury, like traffic accidents, round out the top causes of death for men.

As for the top three, your medical professional will screen you for these right off the top. Other highly ranked health conditions for men include colon and testicular cancer, and high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. Stress can contribute to and exacerbate all of these conditions, so your emotional well-being makes an even bigger play in your overall health.

For those of you who shrug off the annual physical, take a beat on any doctor visit because we’ve heard it all: ‘ It will go away,’ ‘I don’t even want to hear it,’ ‘I don’t know a doctor,’ ‘They don’t know anything for sure anyway,’… Yeah, OK, if elite athletes are smart enough to know they need a coach for their game, then how about you for your life? Be coachable. And if you don’t have insurance to help with cost, research community health resources in your area for affordable and scalable options.

 The Health Conditions That Can Love You

Some say the foundation of good health is what you put in your body, how fast/long and how often you move that body, and whether you enjoy your potency. (One of these gets more attention than the others – guess which one?) All are important in the kind of choices you make daily and their intersection becomes beneficial.

Can I choose a fruit today instead of chips? How can I lovingly resist that second helping of Mama’s mac-and-cheese (i.e. portion control)? Snacks irresistible? Cool, make that snack 40% carbs/30% protein/30% healthy fat and have it anywhere but sitting on the couch. How can I fit the gym in and also catch up with friends? Add a regular group get-together to run, bike or hike to your calendar. Avoid the all-or-nothing mindset – small choices build on each other; it’s a marathon, dude, not a sprint.

As for virility, blood flow is everything, so anything you do to protect your body tissues and lower the risk for heart disease, like eating foods high in antioxidants and dense in Vitamin B-12, will help. Oh, and smoking not only stinks, it shrinks tissues, so smoking is shrinkage. Just saying.

 The Health Conditions That Can Soothe You

Sadly, stress unites us, and about now many of us have entered a stage of chronic stress — a hormonal response to emotional pressure over a long period. This state of being takes a toll on both our bodies and our brains. For men, chronic gastrointestinal problems, like acid reflux, ulcers and heartburn are common stress responses. Anxiety can make your gut slow down or speed up. You now know what stress can do to your health; identifying what triggers it and how to manage it so that you can create more stability is essential.

Functional fitness, like lunges and wall push-ups, a three-minute meditation, exercises to do while sitting at your workstation, or even a mindful hot shower can be welcome brain and body stimulators that move your flight-or-fight response to one of more calm and peace.  Counseling and social connections are vital for serious mental health conditions like depression, and suicide, where the rates are higher for men. Again, the current shift toward the awareness and importance of emotional well-being signifies much promise for men’s improved overall health.

Let’s talk fatherhood and the associated health benefits reported by men. Being active in your kids’ lives gives you a reason to make positive changes. You’re a more careful driver; you eat better and exercise more; you’re less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or alcohol; you have more friends and a stronger romantic relationship; and you manage stress better — fatherhood does a body good. You also live longer as a dad, so more time for story time, games, recitals, building stuff, camps, graduations, weddings…ah!

The Long View

2020 can be the year more men will hear, see, and talk about their emotional well-being, and inevitably better understand how closely it’s intertwined with physical health. The incentive is a payout that could be seen for decades. The game of a healthy life is not about toughing it out. It’s now about opening it up.