Boys to men, this one’s for you: How to protect your health
November is Men’s Health Month and presents the opportunity to support and celebrate the men in our lives.
To mark Men’s Health Month and International Men’s Day this year on 19 November, we highlight some of the most important health tips that men and boys can follow to live healthier lives.
Dr Abdul Sungay, who works at the Metro Men’s Health Centre in Bellville, has encouraged all men to take charge of their health and to support the boys in their lives, in line with this year’s theme “Helping Men and Boys”. “Young boys should be encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle by their caregivers. We should teach and show our boys how to respect each other and especially all girls and women. With growing number of gender-based violence cases in South Africa, the place to start is with young men and teaching them the importance of respect. It is equally important that we teach young men how to care for their health to protect their futures.”
Know the risks
The Western Cape Burden of Disease Report from 2009 – 2016 indicates the top five causes of death for men in our province. The Western Cape Burden of Disease Reduction project was released in 2008. This project looked at the state of wellness and ill health in the province. The project also identified possible upstream interventions to prevent and reduce the burden of ill health in the Western Cape.
The interventions focused on risks for the five main causes of ill health. These include:
- Infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
- Mental health conditions.
- Injuries, including road traffic injuries and violence-related injuries.
- Cardiovascular diseases.
- Childhood diseases.
From 2009 to 2016, the rate of early deaths decreased by 17%. The league table below shows the change in ranking of conditions causing early deaths from 2009 to 2016 overall, and for men and women. The ranking is based on the percent of all early deaths from each condition.
In men, intentional injuries have become the leading cause of early death. HIV/AIDS & TB remains the leading cause of early death in women and overall. The increase in violence-related deaths, especially in young men, is a concern.
The top 5 causes of death for men in the Western Cape from 2009 - 2016 are:
- Intentional injuries (i.e. violence).
- HIV/AIDS and TB.
- Other NCDs.
- Cardiovascular disease.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: 4 HEALTHY LIVING TIPS
Adopting healthy habits when you’re a boy can add years to your life. Whether you’re 13 or 50, Dr Sungay and mental health practitioner Mr Marcus Frieslaar share tips to help you make healthy choices.
1. Take care of your mental health: It’s often overlooked, but mental health is important for all boys and men. Mr Marcus Frieslaar is passionate about men’s mental health. Marcus has worked at the Metro Men’s Health Centre and is currently based at the Bishop Lavis CDC. He says it’s important for boys and men to acknowledge their feelings.
“I speak to men every day about their mental health and support people from all walks of life. As men, it’s important to remember that we are human, we have feelings and there may be times when some things become unbearable or stressful. I encourage you to seek help. Try not to bottle up your feelings,” says Marcus.
Marcus says societal beliefs may affect boys and men who believe that they cannot share their feelings or seek support. “It’s okay to seek help to ensure you don’t collapse or burn out. If you take care of your mental health, you can take care of the things that matter to you whether it’s school, your career or family interests.”
Like other men, Marcus has experienced mental health problems. “I have overcome my problems by reaching out to my spiritual support group and remaining physically active. Running and training is very therapeutic for me. I have learnt to not only invest in others but to invest in myself as well. You need to take care of yourself in order to help others.”
Marcus has hosted various events to support boys’ health in his community and has called on local communities to band together for boys’ health. “It’s important that we protect all boys as they are the men of tomorrow. We need to host engagements that allow boys and men to talk. We need to take care of their physical health and protect them from gangsterism and other unhealthy habits. It is also important that parents and caregivers are mindful of their boys’ mental health.”
It is important to talk to your children every day, especially if you detect any changes in their behaviour. “Try not to scare your boys when you talk to them. You want them to feel safe and to trust you. It’s important to listen when they speak, hear them out. Pay attention to their behaviour in different settings. This can help you to detect if, for instance, your child is experiencing bullying.”
Boys and men can access mental health support at their local clinics at no cost.
2. Exercise daily: You don’t have to go to gym or own a treadmill to take care of your physical health. You can make physical activity part of your boys’ daily routines. Children who are five and older can participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Activities can include walking, running or dancing. Find an activity you can do together with your children and have fun!
Men aged 18 and older should do at least 150 minutes of exercise every week. This can increase your energy, help you to sleep better and reduce your risk for developing illnesses.
“It is important to make time to exercise daily. This reduces your risk of developing lifestyle diseases and can help you to maintain your health,” shares Dr Sungay.
3. Eat healthy foods: Healthy eating is critical as boys develop and grow into men. Boys and men should have a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, a variety of protein foods, and low-fat dairy products. Do your best to avoid junk foods and fizzy drinks.
Dr Sungay says men should not take their health for granted. “Eating healthy food is critical. It’s always taken for granted until one has a chronic illness, such as diabetes.”
Healthy food does not need to be expensive. It is important to include foods that are high in fibre to your diet. Foods to include daily would be foods that are unrefined such as whole grains, like oats and lentils, a variety of vegetables (be mindful of the type of vegetables, they should not be sweetened or covered in sauce), lean meat or beans, limited amounts of starch and starchy vegetables, and fruit (be mindful of the type and size of the fruit).
4. Visit your clinic or local doctor
It’s important to seek help if you are ill. Dr Sungay says warning signs that you need help includes: “Feeling short of breath, reduced effort tolerance, slurred speech, sudden weakness in arms and legs.”
If you are living with a chronic condition, you must take your medication every day and do your best not to miss your clinic appointments. If you have missed any appointments, visit your clinic as soon as possible.
BUILD A HEALTHY FOUNDATION
Every stage of a man’s life can impact his health and ability to live well. Good health starts in the womb. A child’s health is most vulnerable during the first 1 000 days of its life. This period, from conception until a child’s second birthday, offers a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures.
The correct diet (and nurturing environment for both mother and baby), building a bond with the parent or caregiver in a safe and loving environment as well as regular, stimulating play are crucial aspects of healthy child development. It is also important to ensure that your boys receive all vaccinations, as advised in your child’s Road to Health booklet. If you have missed any vaccinations, visit your nearest clinic.
At the same time, we should teach all boys good hygiene practices. No matter your age or where you are from, hand washing remains key. It prevents the spread of germs and keeps you from getting sick. Western Cape Government Health also appeals to parents and caregivers to take special care of their children during the Paediatric Surge Season, which runs from November to May annually. During this period, the number of diarrhoea and pneumonia cases typically increase. Always keep your kitchen clean by using warm water and soap to wash surfaces and teach children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.
WHERE TO GO TO FOR SUPPORT?
Boys and men can access healthcare services at their local clinics. You can also visit the Metro Men’s Health Centre in Bellville. The facility is based at Karl Bremer Hospital.
All men are encouraged to access services at the centre. Boys who are aged 15–18 years old can also access the facility, but they will need a guardian to accompany them. Men who visit the facility can expect the following services, at no cost, to promote early diagnosis and treatment:
- Health education and promotion
- Wellness screening
- Vasectomy service
- Chronic disease screening (to identify and reduce the risk of any chronic diseases, such as strokes and diabetes)
- Voluntary medical male circumcision and aftercare treatment
- HIV counselling and testing
- Condom education and distribution
- STI treatment and education
The centre is open from Monday to Friday, from 07:00 until 16:00. Men can easily access this service by using the mobile appointment line to book their appointment. You can call or send a please call me to 079 530 2593, or use WhatsApp or your SMS service by sending the word “HI” between 08:00 and 15:30 from Monday to Friday. A healthcare worker will return your call to book your appointment.