Let’s get right down to it — there is a dearth of resources out there, both online and off, focused on men’s well-being. Oh sure, there are lots of so-called men’s health websites that tackle topics like turning women on, dressing better, improving virility, and building huge muscles. They usually use words like “ripped” or “shredded,” and sometimes “blast” or even “supercharged.” But what about those men who don’t aspire to grace the pages of a wall calendar someday and just want to be healthy and enjoy daily life?
The lack of resources for real guys is a shame, because the need for increased focus on men’s wellness is so great. Government data reported by USA Today show that men lag behind women almost across the board when it comes to health and longevity. At the same time, experts from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago caution that men’s attitudes toward their own health could be potentially dangerous. They note that gender roles encourage women to be nurturing and men to be tough, meaning that men are more likely to eschew routine check-ups or even medical care until the problem becomes catastrophic.
But there are small steps that men can take right now to turn the focus back to better well-being. First, numerous sources advise that one of the best things a man can do is to maintain a relationship with a primary doctor, and that includes talking through family history of disease and not just making a office visit when things are really really bad. It’s also not a bad idea for men to familiarize themselves with the recommendations to screen for things like cholesterol, colon and prostate cancer, and other health concerns.
And when it comes to promoting better health, let’s be honest—oftentimes women prefer to be around other women when engaged in health-related activities, and men are not so different. So why not look for a broga class (that’s men-only yoga) that focuses more on strength and less on stretching. Or maybe consult with a guyetitian (that’s a male dietitian) to explore better eating? There may not be a ton of these offerings out there, but there is a growing number of health brofessionals (that’s, well, you get the idea) who can relate to men and can help them meet their goals.
Speaking of being around other guys, there are so many ways in which men can use the power of social connections to improve well-being. The CDC helps guys nudge other guys in the right direction, by suggesting a simple eCard that encourages them to “man up” by scheduling a doctor’s visit. Another social approach to improving well-being is to turn the focus outside by volunteering to help others. Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters provide an opportunity for guys to help boys find a positive male role model, and in the process volunteers can learn a lot and boost their own self esteem. Then, let’s not forget the scads of technology at our disposal, something men tend to make more use of than women anyway. Instead of just playing Words With Friends, how about having a few words with friend? That could mean using that phone to give your friend a quick call, text to set up plans to hang out, or send an e-mail of encouragement.
Finally, if those small steps seem manageable, consider what could be the next big one—marriage. Research suggests that men in a strongly committed relationship have lower rates of mortality and disease than their single counterparts. There are different guesses as to why this is. Some peg it to the nagging effect—the idea that spouses are there to provide reminders and encouragement, and sometimes flat out nag each other toward better health. And it appears that it’s not just the nurturing tendencies of women that keep married men in good stead; in places that provide for same-sex marriage, men who are married to other men also show improved health vs. singletons. The health effects of marriage also more generally point to the power of social connection, and how forming those meaningful bonds with others can helps us improve our own well-being.
With the tools and insights at their disposal, there’s no excuse for men to lag so far behind women in the well-being game. By making good use of their social networks and making improvements little by little every day, men can go a long way to improving personal well-being.