10-point plan aimed at encouraging better health for men

Time for SA’s men to put their healthcare needs first

“The time has come for South Africa’s men to put their healthcare needs first,” says Dr Guni Goolab Principal Officer of the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS). Speaking in commemoration of Men’s Health Month, he indicated that South Africa’s second largest medical scheme has advanced its efforts to educate and inform members about several important Men’s Health issues.

Dr Goolab cautions that preventative healthcare for men is not receiving sufficient attention. “Around the world women are outliving men by an average of seven years, a clear indication that men have their own unique healthcare issues that they need to consider and urgently address. In view of this, GEMS has compiled a special 10-point plan aimed at raising greater health awareness amongst men.”

  1. Prostate cancer: To illustrate the importance of early prostate cancer detection Dr Goolab highlighted the case of Vusi Tshabalala* a 55-year-old civil servant from Cape Town.

“About a year ago Mr Tshabalala thought he saw blood in his urine and decided to see his doctor just to make sure that everything was in order. His doctor gave him a PSA blood test to check if he was suffering from prostate cancer, a cancer that starts in a small gland, the prostate, which is part of the male reproductive system. This type of cancer occurs mostly in men over the age of 40.”

“Unfortunately, Mr Tshabalala’s PSA test came back with a high PSA reading and he was referred to a specialist for further tests. It turned out that he had prostate cancer but fortunately it had been caught early and had not spread from the prostate gland to other parts of his body.”

He has since had surgery to have his prostate removed and is completely cancer free today. Mr Tshabalala’s decision to visit to his doctor ensured that the prostate cancer was detected and treated early. This may well have saved his life,” asserts Dr Goolab.

  1. Men’s health problems: Prostate cancer is one important male health issue, but there are a number of others including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases (such as asthma and emphysema), mental health problems and accidents. Other forms of cancers such as lung, colorectal and skin cancers are also relatively common among men and are important health concerns.

Dr Goolab cited a number of studies that have looked into why women live longer which have shown that men tend to be more reckless with their health than women. “Men drink alcohol, smoke, drive at higher speeds and engage in more unprotected sex than women. In other words, as men we are generally more irresponsible with our health. The good news is that we can go a long way in avoiding many of our health or potential health problems if we paid greater attention to our wellbeing and improved our lifestyle.”

  1. Don’t smoke: Dr Goolab indicates that many more South African men than women smoke. “This is not a healthy habit as smoking has been shown to help cause a range of cancers and also heart disease.”

“Quitting smoking has numerous health benefits and should be done without delay. There is a range of products available to help you to give up smoking including nicotine patches and gum, which help reduce cravings. You can also ask your doctor about medications that are available to help reduce the desire to smoke,” he notes.

  1. Eat healthily and lose weight: Dr Goolab furthermore warned against the perils of an unhealthy diet and becoming overweight as it can increase the risk of developing type II diabetes and heart disease as well as certain cancers.

    “A healthy diet can help prevent you from developing these conditions and should be started as early in life as possible. Avoid too much red meat and pastries and rather eat vegetables, fruit, and high fibre and whole grain foods,” he added.

  1. Get some exercise: Dr Goolab also highlighted the importance of exercise which has many benefits for your body stating that we should all engage in some or other form of exercise, be it sport or an enjoyable activity, such as walking, at least four or five times a week. Regular exercise is good for the heart and helps reduce high cholesterol levels. It has furthermore been shown to lift one’s mood and have an anti-depressant effect.
  1. Limit alcohol intake: “Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can potentially increase your blood pressure and can damage your liver over the long term. It also tends to cause people to engage in high-risk behaviour such as drunken driving and unprotected sex. Such activities place your and other people’s health at risk. If you decide to drink do not overdo it and limit the amounts you have,” cautions Dr Goolab.
  1. Manage stress: Ongoing stress can have an extremely negative impact on the body and cause your diet and other lifestyle habits to suffer. Take steps to manage your stress better. Learn some stress management strategies and get some exercise. Exercise is a good way to help your body to better deal with stress
  1. Have regular checkups: Since his brush with prostate cancer, Mr Tshabalala has realised the importance of having regular medical checkups with his doctor. All men over the age of 40 should have an annual check-up to ensure that they remain in good health.
  1. Manage chronic medical conditions: Dr Goolab suggests that men who have chronic medical conditions such diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol should make sure that they manage these conditions properly with the help of their doctor. Medical conditions such as diabetes can damage the organs of your body if they are not managed properly.
  1. Taking responsibility for your health: Dr Goolab concluded by saying that in many ways caring for your body is not dissimilar to caring for a motor vehicle. “Service your car regularly, drive it carefully and look after it, and it will provide you with many years service. Similarly, if you look after yourself by having a sound diet and lifestyle, and undertake regular visits to your healthcare practitioner, your body should stay healthy for many years to come.”

*The member’s name has been changed in order to protect his identity.