What you need to know:
- Most men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer have been found to have ignored early symptoms or put them down to the ageing process – a decision which has cost some of them their lives.
- Although the body changes as one ages, it is important to take heed of any subtle health changes that occur in your body and mention them to your doctor.
- Heartburn that does not respond to antacids could be an indicator of a heart attack.
Many men reading this article are visionaries in their different fields who are either leading or are part of teams that are having a positive impact in the lives of Kenyan people.
However, despite being great leaders, most of our men are not aware of how to take charge of their physical well-being.
Often, they have had diseases creep up on them unexpectedly when they could have been prevented or detected at an early stage thus preventing undue pain and suffering.
How to take charge of your health
Do not ignore subtle health symptoms
Most men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer have been found to have ignored early symptoms or put them down to the ageing process – a decision which has cost some of them their lives.
Although the body changes as one ages, it is important to take heed of any subtle health changes that occur in your body and mention them to your doctor.
Heartburn that does not respond to antacids could be an indicator of a heart attack.
Erectile dysfunction can be a warning sign for impending stroke/heart attack. That wound on your foot that is not healing could be a sign of underlying diabetes. Matters related to the human body are not always straightforward.
To be on the safe side, always talk to your health care provider about any small but unusual changes in your body.
Go for regular health check-ups
If most Kenyan men were honest, they would tell you that the last time they went for regular, scheduled health check-ups was when they were taken for vaccinations by their mothers as infants. The average man avoids going to the hospital for routine check-ups (even when he has health insurance which covers for it).
We were brought up with the understanding that you only go to hospital if you are sick. Modern medicine has, however, shown that prevention is better than cure. Most common diseases can easily be detected at an early stage with proper screening thereby avoiding unnecessary complications.
Many private hospitals across the country have now started ‘screening clinics’ which carry out regular routine check-ups (including any necessary tests) for men.
Discuss emotional health problems
If you ask a Kenyan man how he is feeling, you are unlikely to get an honest answer. Most will brush off your question and further probing is likely to get you ignored. Emotional wellbeing is a big contributor to mental and physical wellbeing.
You are more likely to under-perform at work if you are stressed and your relationship with family and friends will suffer. It is also common to get physical symptoms like recurrent unexplained headaches and sexual dysfunction as a result of emotional health issues.
Don’t hide behind work/alcohol
Very many alcoholics and workaholics are men. They are more likely to try and avoid dealing with health (especially emotional and financial health) issues by turning to the bottle or their jobs.
If you find yourself spending more hours in the office rather than going home or when you would rather sit and have a couple of beers instead of spending time with your wife, you have a problem. Step back and re-evaluate your life and priorities. If you continue down your current path, you are likely to permanently damage the relationships that mean the most to you.
Stop avoiding the dentist
Most Kenyan men only visit the dentist when they have a tooth ache. However, by this time, permanent damage has happened to your tooth. A single bad tooth is an indication of the general health of your entire mouth. If one tooth is aching, it means that your other teeth are generally unhealthy (they just have not developed symptoms yet).
Most of the time, gum disease accompanies unhealthy teeth. Severe gum disease has recently been linked to heart problems. To prevent dental problems, visit your dentist at least twice a year for a check-up and cleaning of your teeth.
Don’t ignore diet issues
Due to influence from the global fashion industry, there has been more emphasis on women to watch what they eat and maintain a particular physical appearance. Although some of these global trends are unrealistic and not necessarily suited to the Kenyan man, there are things you should consider when deciding what you should eat.
We live in an agricultural country with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. When serving your food, ensure that at least half of what is on your plate is vegetables (and not starch/carbohydrates as most of us were brought up doing).
Foods like potatoes and yams are considered to be starch and not vegetables when discussing diet plans. Meat/protein should form a quarter of your plate and starch the other quarter. In addition, avoid adding salt to your food once you put it on your plate.
Avoid deep fried foods and processed meats. Always finish your meal with a fruit instead of a cup of tea/coffee. If you are thirsty, take water/fresh juice instead of a caffeinated drink. This diet plan has been found to be effective in preventing/controlling high blood pressure and diabetes.
Avoid alcohol binges over weekends
Research has shown that binge drinking is worse for one’s health than taking one or two drinks a day. Unfortunately, most Kenyan men who drink tend to binge on it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Although this is considered socially acceptable, the liver is not meant to process such large volumes of alcohol in one sitting. As a result, liver damage occurs. In addition to liver damage, too much alcohol has been known to cause heart and brain/nerve damage.
As a doctor who has worked in trauma units in different parts of the country, I can also tell you that almost all accidents that occur on Saturday night are due to drunk drivers/motorcyclists.
Most men who binge drink drive themselves home. We have yet to fully adopt a ‘don’t drink and drive’ culture despite the dire consequences that occur when one does so.
Do not ignore your family history
A lot of medical conditions run in families. Find out if there is someone in your extended family who has (cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney issues, diseases related to blood circulation, sickle cell disease (or who died from these) or if someone has an auto-immune disease (this is where your immune system attacks your body).
Give your doctor this information during your next visit. This will help him/her tailor your health check-up according to your risk factors instead of just doing a general exam. Inform your child’s paediatrician of these things as well – especially if your child is sickly.
Put down the ‘cancer stick’
Cigarette smoking has been linked to a large number of cancers both directly and indirectly. This includes mouth, throat, lung, bladder, intestinal and blood cancer.
It has also been associated with heart disease, stroke, vision issues and some digestive/bladder problems. Smoking has even been found to affect fertility.
In addition, nicotine addiction makes you a slave to cigarettes. There have been no proven benefits to smoking. Given all this information, why are you still smoking?
This article was first published in the Business Daily.