While “Movember” may be best known for bringing comical facial hair to offices around the world, it also helps put men’s health onto the agenda for one month out of the year. But only 1 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer – the condition that the campaign is centered around – are under the age of 50. So what health issues do men in their 30s and 40s need to think about as they cultivate their novelty moustaches?
No matter how fit you feel (and remember, the marathon world record is held by a 31-year-old), there are certain health risks that men of this age need to be aware of. Some may be a natural part of the aging process but others result from the lifestyle choices you make.
Two of the potentially deadly conditions most likely to develop at this age emerge without any obvious symptoms. This is part of what makes high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and high cholesterol – the build-up of lipids that narrow your arteries – such a worry for family doctors.
Although they are two separate conditions, these silent killers are linked, not least because the latter exacerbates the former by making it harder for the heart to push blood through the arteries. Both have similar causes and can ultimately lead to heart attacks, strokes and other severe health complications.
But while men at this age are certainly more likely to develop high cholesterol or blood pressure problems, these conditions cannot simply be dismissed as one of the inevitabilities of getting older, according to Dr. Michael Couturie, a general practitioner at Beijing’s International SOS Clinic.
“There is a significant lifestyle component to both of these problems, which is one of the reasons that men tend to be diagnosed with them in their 30s and 40s,” he says. “Many men start families around these years and are also often trying to develop a career. Thus, in addition to what can often be a lifetime of poor dietary choices, decreasing time for exercise and more time performing sedentary activities can lead to weight gain, decreased cardiovascular conditioning and elevated cholesterol.”
Quitting smoking is at the absolute top of Dr. Couturie’s priority list, and he believes that there is “literally nothing more important for your health.” Not only does smoking increase the amount of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in your bloodstream, it also actively decreases the amount of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which is believed to carry the harmful LDL away to the liver.
The other usual suspects are all there. Exercising regularly and losing weight (if necessary) can both help, as can reducing alcohol consumption. A healthy, balanced diet low in saturated fats to counteract high cholesterol, with reduced salt and caffeine to maintain healthy blood pressure, is also an effective method of both prevention and treatment.
It will come as little surprise to hear that leading a healthier lifestyle is the best way to fight off the emergence of these long-term health risks. Most of us know from an early age that eating properly, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol intake can prevent heart disease – or worse.
But there is a difference between awareness and action.
Men often find it difficult to shrug off feelings of invincibility that often accompany their 20s, especially when issues of genuine concern can feel symptom-less and distant.
Although 34-year-old Kenny Hegarty describes discovering that his cholesterol was higher than expected in his mid-20s as a “wake up call,” it was not until he decided to start a family that he began to make serious lifestyle changes.
“I had been fit in the past but when my partner Kat and I moved to Beijing, there were a lot of opportunities to socialize. In the first couple of years I really enjoyed that aspect of life here,” he explains. “When we decided we wanted to start a family, we made the conscious choice to be fitter and healthier, not just for ourselves but for the sake of good parenting. We wanted to have some good habits for [our child]to pick up on.”
For many new dads, the pressure of adding a child to their responsibilities means that there is even less time to prioritize a healthy lifestyle. But for Hegarty, a teacher at Dulwich College Beijing, his partner’s pregnancy was the beginning of a journey that saw him lose approximately 13kg in a little over a year and a half. His cholesterol is now back within safe limits.
When taking on a high-intensity exercise regime he “actually found certain things easier” than when he was in his 20s because of the weight loss. “I’m in much better shape and feel so much better for it,” he says. “We know Bella is too. She’s 11 months old now and she’s just starting to eat solid food. She’s really enjoying all the fruit and vegetables!”
But while Hegarty was able to take matters into his own hands, not all health complaints that surface during your 30s and 40s can be put down to lifestyle alone. Naturally decreasing testosterone is a common problem, for instance; one that may lie behind a lack of motivation to stay in shape, according to Dr. Nizar Al-Salahat, medical director at Puhua International Hospital in Shuangjing.
“Testosterone levels gradually fall as you get older, typically lowering by about 1 percent every year after the age of 30,” he explains. “This can cause weak erections, low sex drive and decreases in muscle strength and mass.
“First of all we need to work out the source of the problem for each patient,” he says. “It could be an ‘acquired’ problem but it could also be congenital, something that you’ve had since birth, like a more complex syndrome for example.”
So while certain lifestyle choices can impact on your hormone levels, testosterone deficiency could be the result of factors beyond your control. That does not mean that there is nothing that can be done after diagnosis, however, and hormone replacement therapy can help when lifestyle changes cannot.
Testicular cancer is another health risk with causes seemingly beyond one’s control. You may be years from reaching high-risk ages for most other cancers, but men in their 30s are especially at risk of being diagnosed with this disease.
Although some sufferers will feel an aching sensation in their lower abdomen, they will rarely experience acute pain. As such, regularly checking one’s testicles for painless lumps and bumps is necessary. But again, while most men are aware of the risk, the evidence suggests that not enough take it seriously. A 2011 study in the US found that 40 percent of men performed self-examination no more than once a year.
There are clearly rare cases where uncontrollable factors take their course, but for the most part your health is in your hands. Taking simple steps to counter silent threats in your 30s and 40s may well mitigate the serious conditions that can follow.
International SOS 北京国际救援中心
As well as offering a variety of medical services at its Beijing clinic, from counseling to dentistry, International SOS operates a 24/7 alarm center hotline and dedicated air ambulance. Dr. Couturie is a general practitioner and specialist in internal medicine. He gives consultations in English and Spanish.
Daily 9am-6pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm. Suite 105, Wing 1, Kunsha Building, 16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District (6462 9112, 24hr hotline 6462 9100) www.internationalsos.com 朝阳区新源里16号琨莎中心一座105室
Puhua International Hospital, Shuangjing 普华国际门诊
Puhua International Hospital offers a range of inpatient and outpatient services at its Shuangjing site. As well as being the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Al-Salahat is trained in family health, emergency medicine, orthopedics, trauma surgery and sports medicine. He speaks fluent English and Arabic, with conversational Chinese.
Daily 9am-6pm. 54 Wusheng Beilu, Dongsanhuan, Chaoyang District (8773 5522, 8911 6665) www.puhuaclinic.com 朝阳区东三环武圣北路54号
Beijing Health Portal (www.puhuaclinic.com/bbs)
A new ask-a-doctor service from Puhua International Hospital. Users can leave a health-related question and qualified doctors will try to get back to them within 24 hours, free of charge.
Photos by KEN
This article originally appeared on p22-23 of the beijingkids November 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com