My forties have been a tumultuous time for me, healthwise. Essentially, I went from someone who had few problems physically or psychologically — at least ones I was willing to acknowledge, even to myself — to a rare diagnosis of bladder cancer, a bout of clinical depression, and some of the stresses and damages that go along with the clock.
I’ve lost a parent, a parent-in-law, and a number of friends. And one of the things that I’ve learned through my experiences and those of friends and loved ones is the value of being a self-advocate for your own health.
It’s not just a cliche that men don’t take care of themseves. It’s a fact. A 2011 article in Monitor on Psychology points out that not only do men take worse care of themselves than women, they are far less likely to seek health care out. That double whammy could contribute to men’s shorter life expectancy.
So how do we become better self-advocates?
First, we need to go to the doctor (or, in my case, the nurse practitioner), and we need to be more clear about why we’re there. A WebMD article tells the story of one man who visited Dr. Paul Haidet:
“A 50-year-old Boston dockworker with no serious illness in his past, the patient said the cough had been hanging on for three weeks. Haidet noted the details, performed a physical exam, and diagnosed an upper respiratory tract infection. “The guy had a cold,” Haidet tells WebMD. He recommended cough syrup and was about to leave, but something gave him pause. The patient “just had this weird look on his face,” Haidet recalls.
Haidet learned that the man’s best friend had recently died of lung cancer and when his friend was diagnosed, he had a very similar cough. As a longtime pack-a-day smoker, the patient was afraid his number was finally up.”
Second, do some research. I read a lot of stuff. And I try to read it critically, to understand the context. For example, if I read an article about a lawsuit over a bladder-cancer drug, I don’t have an immediate fear reaction; I learn the particulars. Be sure to use reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, the NIH, the AMA, or associations concerned with a disease.
3. When you’re in a doctor’s office or at a clinic, don’t just nod your head. Come in with questions, and be prepared to ask for clarification of terms or concepts that you don’t understand. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a great checklist of questions for tests. That’s just one resource you can use.
4. Be politely persistent. I recently was searching out a referral to a specialist. Turned out the referral was being sent to the wrong place by my family practice. If I hadn’t been persistent in asking, who knows how long it might have taken to make it work. Because I discovered the error by checking with both sides of the transaction, I was able to ensure the connection was made, reducing my wait time.
These are just a few things we can do. If you’re looking for more ideas about self-advocacy, check out these resources:
- Seven Counties’ Introduction to Health Policy and Advocacy
- Be Your Own Health Advocate by WebMD
- The Center for Advancing Health
- “Be The Squeaky Wheel” by Care2
And remember: As of January 2014, Guyside will now be taking over the Wednesday Bubble slot, and if you’ve got something to say around the topics of men, health, and aging, we want to know. If you are interested in contributing, drop us a note at email@example.com.Read More
It’s easy to reach for the top. We’re almost mandated to do it, right? Nike told us: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” Vince Lombardi exhorted: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Steve Jobs said: “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life.”
I think men have a particular cultural script that says “more, bigger, better, faster.” It’s powerful. And the tech revolutions of the world have led to startups where the goal seems to be to work harder, pull the allnighters, and generally devote yourself, body and soul, to pursuing your ambition.
Not to say that ambition is bad. But over the last few years, I’ve made decisions — and some decisions have been made for me — that have started to make me think that perhaps we don’t give being average enough credit. Let me tell you a story about a guy who, as a kid, was pretty much the worst sportsman you could imagine.
This guy wasn’t … OK, let’s say it “I wasn’t… much of a skater. Or a baseball player. Basketball? Oh, man. Hopeless. I was pretty tall. But my teenage limbs made me look like a stick insect, and I was about as coordinated as a used-car salesman’s suit. I was pretty much the death of any sporting event I was press-ganged into during phys-ed class. It took me until my thirties to find a sport that I could be passionate about.
I was working at a university about 5 miles from where I lived, and parking there was quite expensive. And, my new house was just a few hundred yards from a network of bike paths. So I bought a used bike from a friend and became a cyclist.
Well, technically, I became a commuter. Becoming a cyclist came later. What I discovered was that I really enjoyed the riding part. There weren’t traffic jams to contend with. I remembered how free and fun it felt to ride a bike when I was a kid. Sometimes, the weather was not so great. And that was anywhere from unpleasant to nasty to… exhilarating. There was a certain joy in pounding your way home in a sudden rainstorm. Once you got to a certain level of wet, it didn’t matter anymore.
That first commuter bike died a sad death when its frame broke, a mortal injury. So I got another one. Then I heard about a local cycling club’s “Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour,” and decided to try training for a two-day, 230-mile ride.
I put on spandex for the first time. Then I went outside wearing it for the first time. I went from the upright-position hybrid bike to my first road bike. I took a group riding course from my local cycling club and started going out on the weekends to ride. I bought clipless pedals and learned how to ride while bolted to my bike. Commutes became kickoffs to longer early-morning or afternoon rides.
I got to the point that when I went home to visit my family, I found someone who would loan me a bike, got my dad to drive me to the bike, then spent the rest of the vacation taking beautiful summer morning rides.
And for the last 10 years or so, cycling’s been my thing. I can ride 30-50 miles without much forethought; the century (100 miles) is a little bit of a challenge, but not like climbing Mount Everest. But all that is not to say that I’m a good cyclist. Hell no. Let me enumerate the ways in which I’m not a good cyclist.
- My iffy fitness regime means that my hill-climbing ability is awful. In the Tour de France, the “King of the Mountains” wears a polka-dot jersey. They oughtta give me prison stripes.
- I’ve never raced. Never felt the thrill of sprinting past the pack and crossing the finish line in a criterium (closed-streets race on a relatively short track). By the time I started riding, the romance of racing was outshouted by the reality of crashing.
- I possess neither the finances to spend thousands of dollars on the most high-tech components possible to reduce the bike’s weight by a few ounces, or the willpower to reduce my weight by a few pounds, both of which would make me faster on the bike.
- My cycling wardrobe tends to jerseys with Sesame Street characters or illustrations of hamburgers on them, rather than team kit.
- I might go a week without a long ride. Sometimes two.
- In Ottawa, the snow begins in November and the roads clear in March or April. My indoor training regimen is … spasmodic at best.
That’s just a start. And you know what? I don’t care.
One of the things I’ve come to learn is that I don’t mind being a bad cyclist. There’s something to be said for riding slow, and for accepting that the young turk on the $7,000 bike (yeah, that’s not even the top of the top-range) is going to smoke me going up or down the hills of Gatineau Park.
I enjoy going 15 miles an hour as much as I would going 25. I enjoy the feelings of cycling, either alone or with friends, and I enjoy the sensations. Dedicating my life to becoming a top-notch cyclist wouldn’t make me enjoy it more. In fact, it might reduce my enjoyment.
Life is full of things we have to do: obligations. At least mine is. I don’t need to turn a thing I love into another one of those obligations. There’s a joy to being okay at something. And if you’re pushing yourself in one or more aspects of your life, maybe there ought to be room in your life for something you’re … just okay at.
I have tons of friends who are marathoners, triathletes, hockey players, basketballers, and the like. I regularly applaud and admire the ones who are “serious athletes” or “competitors.” But I’m not one of those. And you know what? I’m pretty much okay with that.
Dare to be average. You might just like it.
Photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Fil.Al, used with permission.
This week I called on your help. And you answered by sharing Wednesday’s Team Brilliant post, joining the community, sharing via Facebook and Twitter, donating and buying tee shirts. I am honoured and wowed. Which is why I want to this little gem with you: when you are ill, your resilience appears to highly related to social support, along with the ability to cope, finding benefit in your experience, however difficult, and perception.
So, what is meant by ‘resilience?’
Across the literature and across different illnesses, resilience in the form of adversity refers to one’s capacity to successfully maintain or regain one’s mental health and attitude. It relates to hope, empowerment, acceptance of hardship and determination. Anticipating and envisioning a ‘healthy self’ in the future can help us see past current and immediate physical or illness hardships.
Social support from family and friends also plays an essential role. Social support has been associated with better psychological health, finding benefit in one’s situation, hardiness and self-esteem. Moreover, studies show that social support actually boosts success in living with an illness.
Over the past several weeks, we have seen that in action, as a community of people, many with only two people in common, joined together to help and support someone with a critical illness in need. When I asked that person how that effort impacted his outlook, he told me that he looked forward to the future when he could pay it forward.
Social support is powerful. According to a recent review in Psychosomatics Journal, “social support is clearly vital to most patients to enhance resilience.” The researchers say that factors that further enhance this support include active coping, positively assessing one’s situation, acceptance, and spirituality. Ultimately, these factors in concert can help many individuals with illness form a new framework, identify new and positive inner strength that they never realized they were capable of and even improve overall functioning.
Goethe once wrote “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
Whose garden will you inhabit?
p.s. Julie Pippert. I have a tee shirt for you.
Have you seen the headlines? Yup, that’s right! That morning caffeine fix might just be the ticket to a longer life, at least according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week. Mind you, whether or not daily consumption of coffee directly causes a longer life or simply associated with it has yet to be determined. But this is truly the type of news that all of us can use, right?!
In this study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined data compiled from over 220,00 men and 173,000 women who participated in a larger diet and health study. They analyzed intake of a broad variety of foods ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat and other source of saturated fat, and coffee consumption was assessed terms of frequency, i.e. 0 to 6 or more cups daily.
Although coffee is rich in antioxidants, its consumption has been linked with increases in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. And, in this particular pool of individuals, coffee drinkers were likelier than nondrinkers to smoke cigarettes, have more than three drinks (alcoholic) a day and eat more red meat.
And yet, after adjusting for all of these confounders — in particular smoking — researchers found that drinking coffee actually appeared to prolong life. In fact, men who drank 6 or more cups a day had a 10% lower risk of dying and women who drank this much had a 15% lower risk of dying compared to non-coffee drinkers. Even better? It didn’t appear to matter whether or not the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated.
The researchers say that their findings add evidence to other data that show inverse associations between coffee drinking and risk of diabetes, stroke and death from inflammatory diseases. Importantly, they caution that even though smokers appeared to gain the same benefits as nonsmokers, lowered risk from dying appeared to be the strongest amongst participants who never smoked or had stopped smoking.
So, should you start drinking more coffee than ever? Well, this study is an observational study and one that relied on self-reports. Therefore cause and effect is inconclusive. However, in this extremely large pool of men and women, drinking coffee more frequently appeared to confer a moderate degree of protection from dying of heart and respiratory disease, stroke, injuries, accidents and infections. Of course, more coffee may mean less sleep and more jitters, depending on your constitution and the degree of caffeine. Regardless, it appears that more is less when it comes to dying.
Got life? Have another cup!Read More
Are you familiar with the end of the year crunch? I’m in the midst of it and although life is scheduled to slow starting next week, I am finding that I am having difficulty keeping up. So, today, I’m bringing back the woo woo in hopes that it might influence my own inability to calm down the adrenals right now.
Apologies for being self-serving. To be truly honest, this is one of my favourite posts of this year so I’m bringing it back. One word at a time. Let’s start with the first:
It’s so elusive for many of us. And yet, so important to our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, researchers are finally discovering how relaxation actually counters changes that occur in our bodies that result from exposure to constant stressors.
For decades, Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Institute in Cambridge, MA and an associate professor at Harvard University, has been writing about the relaxation response, a “mind-body intervention that elicits deep changes in the physical and emotional response to stress.” Strategies that elicit the relaxation response include meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi gong, deep breathing, controlled muscle relaxation and guided imagery. And although many would like to point to the “woo woo” factor at-play, an evolving and wide body of published literature is indicative of how interested the medical community is in the mid-body connection and the positive changes that these practices promote, including a slowing or heart rate, a reduction in blood pressure, improvements in blood sugar and fats, and even boosts in our immune system. However, what has long eluded researchers is what actually happens in the body to achieve these improvements.
In a novel study published in 2008 in PLoS ONE, Dr. Benson and his colleagues looked closely at 19 volunteers who had practiced relaxation response strategies (e.g. meditation, yoga, repetitive prayers) for as long as 20 years and compared them to 20 novices, individuals with no relaxation practice experience. These novices were provided with training sessions for 8 weeks that included information about how to reduce daily stress and the relaxation response and a 20 minute, individually-guided session comprising diaphragmatic breathing, a body scan and meditation.For 8 weeks thereafter, the novices then used a 20-minute relaxation CD at home and were asked to review the informational brochures. Blood samples and analysis of gene expression between experienced and novel relaxation practices, and pre- and post-training were then compared.
Importantly, while the researchers observed distinct changes in the genes in experienced relaxation practitioners compared to novices, when the novices started to incorporate relaxation practice into their lives, they also started to express similar positive alterations in their genes. Moreover, these changes are directly related to how cells respond to stress and create free radicals and inflammation that can lead to long-term damage. Additionally, type of relaxation strategy that was practiced was of no important; by achieving a relaxation state, individuals could make positive changes in their cellular structures thought to promote health.
Both inner and outer psychological states and environmental factors play a role in how women experience peri and post-menopause, their self-esteem, attitudes and severity of symptoms. If a daily practice of some sort of relaxation strategy can actually alter genes in a way that improves health and well-being, why can’t that daily practice also improve the menopausal/midlife experience?
While I’ve long embraced the idea, I’ve never actually made a concerted effort to incorporate some sort of relaxation strategy into my daily activities. I’m going to change that. Ain’t no woo woo but a woot woot so far as I can tell.Read More
Bet you think I’m talking about vaginal dryness or dry skin. I’m not.
Actually, I am referring to another dry condition that affects women in peri and postmenopause: dry eye.
Yikes. Do women really need more dry in their lives?!
Dry eye affects almost 5 million people over age 50 and is one of the most common reasons for an eye doctor visit. It is related to an imbalance in the tear system that interferes with the ability to produce tears, tear quality (meaning that it’s mostly water and less lubrication needed to moisturize and protect the eye) and function (meaning that the three layers of oil, water and mucus surrounding and protecting the eye — the tear film — starts to thin and loses its stability). This imbalance can lead to symptoms like itching, burning, irritation, redness, tearing, light sensitivity and blurred vision, as well as infection and injury.
Sounds like fun, right?
Even worse? Recent estimates suggest that dry about twice as common in women than in men, especially as they age. And while environmental factors like insufficient intake of fluids, excessive alcohol, excessive exposure to air conditioning or forced hot air and excessive bathing all contribute, one of the most important factor are the sex hormone receptors in the eye.
It’s true that sex hormones, namely estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, are produced by the ovaries in females. However, they are freely available to all tissues in the body, and in fact, regulate tissue in the eye as well. In fact, researchers are increasingly discovering that hormonal changes may directly influence certain eye disorders, and it is believed that the altered hormonal balance at and around menopause may affect tear production.
What can you do about dry eye?
Quite simply, the easiest way to combat dry eye is to hydrate! Lifestyle measures like drinking lots of water and other hydrating fluids, modifying alcohol intake, using humidifiers, avoiding too much air conditioned or heated air and not drying completely post-bathing before moisturizing can help. Practitioners also recommend the use of artificial tears, gels and ointments (not the type that “get the red out”) can help to increase the humidity of the surface of the eye and improve lubrication. If you are suffering from dry eye and using any medications, you should also speak to your doctor. Anticholinergic-containing drugs like Benadryl for example, can cause dry eye. Eyelid hygiene is also important as any offenders like infection or inflammation can just make things worse.
Importantly, taking hormone replacement therapy appears to worsen, not improve dry eye, especially as it relates to the ability to produce tears. This is especially true for women taking estrogen-only. Yet another reason to stay away from HRT.
There are prescription treatments for moderate to severe dry eye and at the extreme, surgery may required. The best course of action is to try some of the simpler measures and if they don’t work or if dry eye worsens, see your doctor.
I don’t know about you but I do see the humour in this, however deeply it may be hidden. Throughout menopause, many of us sweat and flash and produce all sorts of moisture. Except in the areas that matter most.Read More