GENDER IMBALANCE Physical inactivity among men is one of the greatest contributors to their poorer health outlook compared to women.
Men. Apparently we are the root of all evil, oppressing women, children, other men, even small puppies if we get the chance. With increasing frequency, we see reports of ‘toxic’ masculinity causing all of the world’s ills. Maybe some of it is true, and maybe some of it is noise from a noisy minority who make a lot of noise.
But toxic masculinity and the evils of the patriarchy are for others; it’s my job to discuss health matters. And with regards to health, it seems the world isn’t entirely stacked in favour of men. Quite the reverse in fact.
That may seem an outlandish claim, but it is backed up by statistics.
According to the Central Statistics Office, Irish men have a shorter life expectancy than Irish women; just under 80 years, compared to 83.6. The average age at which a man will have a heart attack is 65, for women it’s 72, while 63 percent of men are overweight or obese, compared to 48 percent of women. Men are more likely to smoke, twice as likely to die in an accident and four times more likely to die by suicide.
In any age range, from birth to over 75s, men are more likely to die than women. This difference is highest in the 15- to 24-year-old age group, where accidents are highest and the ratio is 3.6 males for every female.
These numbers are shocking. Stranger still, despite all that, men are less likely to present to hospital and more likely to be discharged if they do. Things are, you will agree, pretty grim. But, if statistics can point to the mess, perhaps they can point the way out of it.
According to the World Health Organisation, the six main risk factors for death are: high blood pressure, tobacco use, high blood glucose, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, and high cholesterol. They’re an interesting blend of all of the things we know to be unhealthy, and yet there’s one thing in that list that, when reversed, is a potential solution: physical inactivity.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce blood pressure, assist in quitting smoking, decrease blood glucose, facilitate weight loss and lower cholesterol. In other words, five of the six main risk factors for dying are heavily influenced by the sixth.
It’s also worth pointing out that physical exercise can improve the symptoms of mental illness in people with depression, anxiety and even severe schizophrenia. Oh, and exercise is associated with lower risk for most cancers.
You might think, ‘He’s banging on about exercise again, but this time trying to dress it up as pertaining specifically to men’s health’. And you’d be right, except that I have another statistic to note. According to Sport Ireland’s annual report in 2017, increased participation among females aged 45 and older means that they are now more likely to participate in sport than males of the same age.
That’s right, in the age group of men that is most at risk of dying due to heart attacks or strokes, and somewhere between 1.7 and 1.5 times more likely to die than women, these men are doing less exercise – the one thing that could significantly reduce their risk.
There are numerous reasons people don’t do enough exercise. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US found that the three main barriers to physical activity for adults are time, energy and motivation. I think pain could be included on that list as well. But are these genuinely valid reasons, or excuses to hide behind? How many of us believe we don’t have enough time to do something, but happily waste an hour scrolling on our phones?
In many ways, energy is a self-perpetuating resource, by doing more exercise, you will get more energy. Over time, more energy can beget more motivation. There are other ways of improving motivation – joining a club, entering an event or simple self-bribing all work.
When starting out, you may feel pain because you aren’t accustomed to the exercise you are doing; by gradually increasing the load, you will build resilience and it is less likely to hurt.
Obviously, there are other potential causes of pain, and seeking the guidance of a chartered physiotherapist is certainly recommended if you are suffering. The key point here is that while we can’t blame men for all the world’s ills, we can blame ourselves for some of our own.
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.