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Men’s Health Month and Your Wellness Program

Men’s Health Month and Your Wellness Program

Some people joke about the “man flu”—the idea that men tend to exaggerate their symptoms when they become sick. Recent research suggests there might be some legitimacy to this mythical ailment, however, with a true immunity gap existing between the sexes.

“Man flu” notwithstanding, men have an increased risk for many other serious, even potentially fatal, conditions. As we enter Men’s Health Month in June, it’s important to acknowledge five significant health risks men face and learn what employers can do to improve the health of this segment of the workforce.

What Is Men’s Health Month?

Overall, men live sicker and die younger. Men’s Health Month was established in 1994 to increase awareness about the preventable health problems among men and boys and to encourage the early detection and treatment of disease among this population.

“Wear Blue Friday”, celebrated the Friday before Father’s Day, was established as a way for individuals to demonstrate their concern for the health and well-being of men and boys. Participants in the event are encouraged to tag photos from their events using #ShowUsYourBlue.

1. Cardiovascular Disease

According to the American Heart Association, more than 30% of men suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to serious, if not fatal, complications when left undetected and untreated.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for U.S. males, killing more than 320,000 in 2013 alone. But heart disease encompasses more than just heart attacks. Cardiovascular issues like strokes and high blood pressure are also on the rise among men.

The Wellness Program Solution

Thankfully, heart disease doesn’t have to be inevitable. Taking control of medical conditions and making smart lifestyle choices can go a long way in extending men’s lifespans. Corporate wellness programs can help by:

  • Offering cardiovascular screenings. Once a year screenings, gives employees the opportunity to evaluate their cardiovascular risk.
  • Encouraging activity. Offer employees discounted memberships to local gyms, and start a lunchtime or after-hours running or fitness club.

2. Respiratory Diseases

When it comes to lung cancer deaths, cigarette smoking is responsible for up to 90% of cases. But smoking isn’t the only risk factor. Second-hand smoke is another significant threat, and even vaping can increase the risk of lung disease.

While lung cancer is easiest to treat when detected early, symptoms rarely manifest or show up on an X-ray until the disease has advanced. Overall, it’s an aggressive disease with low survival rates: Only 17% of patients are alive five years after they’re diagnosed with lung cancer.

But even if men don’t fall victim to lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking, they can find themselves suffering from conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema—all of which can interfere with normal breathing.

The Wellness Program Solution

It’s hard for employees to quit smoking, but these two wellness program strategies can help:

  • Offer support. Start a smoking cessation program in the office, or create a support group for those who are trying to quit.
  • Educate employees. Did you know that tobacco smoke is a toxic combination of more than 7,000 chemicals? Chances are, employees don’t. If stats don’t work, use stories. Bring in a speaker who’s suffering from lung cancer (or someone who has lost a loved one to this condition) and have them share their point of view.

3. Prostate Cancer

The prostate, a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system, is prone to cancer as men age. Although the disease is rare in men younger than 40, many men have at least traces of prostate cancer in their later years.

Although prostate cancer is the second most common type of fatal cancer in American men (just behind lung cancer), most diagnosed men won’t die from it. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, more than 174,000 men will be diagnosed with new cases of prostate cancer, while just over 30,000 will die from the disease.

The cancer is thankfully slow-growing and unlikely to spread, which makes men often reluctant to get screened. Even if prostate cancer is detected, it can’t always detect the difference between fatal and nonfatal cancers. For many men, aggressive treatment could end up causing other health problems, like impotence and incontinence.

The Wellness Program Solution

While there are some risk factors—like age, race, and family history—that employees can’t control, there are some steps employers can take that may help employees reduce their risk.

  • Encourage communication. Men should speak with their doctors about their overall risk and the benefits of screening and any treatment approach, should cancer be detected.
  • Promote a healthy diet. Feature lean meat and plenty of fruits and vegetables on the cafeteria menu, and make sure portion sizes are within reason.

4. Depression and Suicide

Despite the increased focus on emotional wellness in the workplace, many men believe they can’t show their emotional vulnerability. In fact, while depression was previously thought to affect more women than men, research now suggests this isn’t the case. Instead, the data in studies is often skewed because men are less likely to seek help, tending instead to either hide their emotions or express them differently (such as drinking excessively or becoming angry rather than crying).

But depression is about having more than a rough day or being in a bad mood. It’s an emotional disturbance that can have ripple effects on sleep, appetite, and productivity. It can even affect men’s overall health by increasing their risk for conditions like heart disease.

Men are also increasingly likely to end their lives through suicide: It’s the seventh leading cause of death overall for men in the United States. The suicide rate peaks for young men aged 20-24, making it the third leading cause of death for this age group.

The Wellness Program Solution

Although emotional health can be a sensitive topic, promoting a company culture that encourages openness and acceptance can help employees feel more safe and comfortable with seeking out the support they need. Here’s how wellness programs can inspire this positive culture:

  • Offer emotional health screenings. Include mental health assessments as part of regular wellness screenings, helping identify potential mental and emotional issues before they escalate into crises.
  • Encourage the use of employee assistance programs. These free programs for employees let workers speak confidentially with a certified counselor to learn how to better manage their problems and keep them from interfering with work.

5. Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes doesn’t occur overnight; blood sugar levels tend to creep higher over the years, often undetected. It isn’t until the symptoms of frequent urination, unexplained fatigue, and unquenchable thirst drive men to their physicians that many men learn they have the disease.

But while the initial symptoms of diabetes may be only annoying, the effects on the body can be devastating. Excess blood glucose increases men’s risk for heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and amputation. It can even turn fatal: Diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death for men in the United States in 2015.

With an estimated 743,000 cases of diabetes diagnosed in men in just 2015—and with boys born in 2000 having a one-in-three chance of developing the disease in their lifetimes—the condition is being considered a full-on epidemic.

The Wellness Program Solution

Although the bad news is that the increase in diabetes is directly proportional to rising obesity rates, the good news is that type 2 diabetes is mostly preventable through committed lifestyle changes. A corporate wellness program can be an integral part of the solution by:

  • Championing exercise. Getting 30 minutes of exercise daily can help keep weight in check, help the body process glucose more effectively, and can improve cardiovascular health.
  • Encouraging weight loss. Finding the right body mass index and ways to stick to it can help increase health and reduce diabetes risk.

It can be hard for employees to admit they need to make these changes to their health, but not doing so can prove fatal.

Employers can play an important part in helping men make these changes, especially during Men’s Health Month. Not only do these positive changes help employees take control of their health and reduce the risk of serious health issues, but they also help employees become more productive for—and invested in—their employer.

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