The age-old adage that men do not go to the doctor is still alive and well even in today’s modern age of life-prolonging medicine. Self-care is not only sexy, but it’s smart. Many men and women alike value caring for their looks, but we keep missing the biggest piece of our puzzle: what is happening inside our bodies.
In my chiropractic practice, men who present themselves in office for physical pain-related needs are often doing so either because they are in such extreme pain that their quality of life is directly affected, or because a spouse or partner has prompted them. The leading causes of death in males are a heart attack, cancer, and accidents. Two out of the three of these are preventable with annual screenings, yet we still see a stark difference in which sex is more likely to maintain wellness care. To drive the point further home, the CDC currently reports women are 33% more likely to visit the doctor than are men, and women are 100% better at maintaining screening and preventive care. It invites the question, do men not value their health and health prevention in the same capacity women do, and if not, why?
In an ever-evolving culture where men are given more and more space to be the feeling beings they truly are, we are still shaking off long ingrained ideologies about masculinity and strength. This is directly present in health; if we believe health equals strength, and strength equals being “manly” then the expression of illness or pain is attributed to being weak. Although it is a flawed concept, it doesn’t alter the notion that men don’t prioritize their health as women do. When it comes to concepts of masculinity men often feel pressured by the societal expectations of them to appear strong, yet they often truly feel selfish or needy if their own health care takes time away from work and family, whether for preventative medicine or pain care.
Socially, men are not always given the space they deserve to express their softer emotions, such as vulnerability and pain, in comparison to the space created for harder emotions such as anger, frustration, and hate. With little to no emotional support from male peers —especially in manual labor fields– it seems safe to generalize that most men see their pain as weakness. The best example of how society perceives illness in males is the common cold: How many tired jokes about “the man cold” have we all heard?
When a man courageously addresses this perceived weakness and allows himself to get the health care he deserves, doing so could lead to resolving the health issues that were affecting his quality of life, whether those issues were potentially life-threatening or not. Another example and a common scenario most men power through is low back pain. Chronic low back pain can indicate insidious conditions such as colon cancer, nerve root compression, or disc degeneration. Seemingly innocuous low back pain can be a signal of life-long problems that were not appropriately treated.
Simple blood tests including cholesterol, liver enzymes, A1C, and blood sugar provide a baseline and can catch preventable diseases before they occur. With proper screening such as prostate and rectal exams, some types of cancer can be caught and treated well before they become life-threatening. With one quick, routine annual visit, men can have their doctor monitoring their whole health with ease—also preventing the likelihood of any life-threatening situations.
Caring for the physical and emotional body can lead to a man’s ability to create more, whether it is work life or hobbies. Caring for self also allows one to be more active, which doesn’t pertain just to exercise and productivity around home, like helping with house tasks, but it also leads to a better sex life.
Not only is sex important for bonding in relationships, but also fundamental to good health. Sexually active individuals experience less stress, and chemicals released during sex reduce pain. Other studies indicate sex helps decrease the risk of heart disease and boosts your immune system.
Whether it’s yearly visits to a general practitioner or a monthly visit to a chiropractor, convincing men to prioritize their mind and body care is paramount to each man experiencing the best quality of life possible. One could argue that for a man with his own family, in order to provide the best love and care to his kin, he must start by caring for himself. The happiness of the whole unit is dependent on the well-being of each individual.
So men, when it comes time to make that decision to go to the doctor, allow yourself to put your well-being first. Trust that caring for yourself is the only path to caring for others. Honor the reality that with each man who comes forward and asks for the help he deserves, we shift our social paradigm. Above all know that what makes a man a man is not how strong he is, but how much stability he provides others. By prioritizing your well-being, you, in turn, provide well-being to your entire family and those you love.
Also on the subject of men and self-care:
The reason men see a licensed massage therapist tell us much about our society’s gender norms.
Most men suffer silently. Caring for ourselves can be as easy as taking a 7 day challenge.
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