The mustache, a prized possession among baristas, barbers and artists, becomes the symbol for a national campaign to raise awareness of men’s health concerns once a year in the month of November.
You may have noticed bearded men worldwide shaving down to the baby-soft, bare skin underneath in order to grow their nose-neighbors once again over the next four weeks. Since 2003, the nonprofit Movember Foundation has asked men to grow a mustache in hopes of being asked, “Say, why are you growing that mustache?” at which point said mustachioed individual would speak on the need for men to have regular checkups and get fit.
Now, mustaches are as commonplace as artisanal cereal bars and flannel. In order to continue the campaign — and to open it up to women and others who wish to take part — the Foundation has launched MOVE, a 30-day exercise challenge to get men not only to become more active but to think of their health in general.
Physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, causing upward of 3.2 million deaths per year, according to the Foundation, and in Ventura County, where Men’s Journal and other national publications have named our seaside county as the best place to live due to our proximity to outdoor activities, we have no excuse not to explore the world around us and get fit in the process.
Exercise can help in the prevention of many maladies affecting men, from prostate and testicular cancer to depression, heart disease, stroke and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And with the startling fact that men, on average, live six fewer years than women due to health complications, it’s high time to get off the couch and get men talking about these deadly, and sometimes preventable, diseases.
According to the Ventura County Health Care Agency (VCHA), lung, prostate and pancreatic cancers are the No. 1 cause of death in the county — with 716 deaths in 2014.
Adding to the risk factors, men are more likely to be cigarette smokers than females, at a rate of 13.6 percent. Smoking can be a factor in the development of lung cancer and other health complications (bladder, mouth and throat cancer; emphysema; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or C.O.P.D, etc.).
Men also tend to wait longer to get potential problems checked out.
Kirk Hamilton, 62, of Oxnard says that he was one of the lucky ones. In 2010, while showering, Hamilton felt a lump in his left breast. “I thought, I wonder what that is?” said Hamilton. Consulting his sister, who happens to be a nurse, got him into the doctor’s office a week later, and 20 days after that, Hamilton was undergoing surgery for a modified mastectomy to remove his left breast.
Hamilton had been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, though it was beginning to enter into stage 2 before being removed. Five years later, Hamilton is cancer-free and has completed his course of medications.
“It was a total shock. I was five feet, 11 (inches), 175 pounds, I was active, I skied, I was like, wow — this is odd,” said Hamilton, and though 57 at the age of diagnosis, breast cancer has been diagnosed in men as young as 30.
Breast cancer in men is rare, with near to 2,000 men diagnosed nationally each year, or one out of every 100 cases, but it is oftentimes more fatal due to it being diagnosed at later stages by misdiagnosis or the aforementioned lack of urgency.
For cancer of all kinds, Hamilton says that the best preventive technique is self-examination.
“How often have you done just an examination of your own body from your foot to your head?” asked Hamilton. “Is there something there? Do you feel something in your calf and go, ‘What is that?’ That’s the type of thing that you’ve got to be careful and aware of.”
TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART (WITH PLAQUE BUILD UP)
Plaque isn’t just the gunk that builds up on your teeth; it can also form in your heart’s arteries.
Disease of the heart accounted for 597 deaths in 2014, according to the VCHA, but Dr. Robert Levin, public health officer with Ventura County Public Health, says that the number of deaths should be 761 if adding cardiovascular diseases to the count.
“Instead of focusing on heart disease, and we called it cardiovascular disease instead, it would place it in our county above malignant neoplasm,” said Levin.
Ravi Dave, M.D., board president of the American Heart Association, greater Los Angeles division, and cardiologist with the UCLA Health System, says that heart disease is far and away the No. 1 cause of death in both men and women nationally.
Risk factors include the obvious: smoking, bad diet and lack of exercise. In Ventura County, men are more likely to be obese than are women, to have high blood pressure and are more likely to develop diabetes, all factors that could also lead to heart disease. Dave says that a new risk factor is also beginning to be acknowledged.
“Stress is a high risk factor, especially in men,” said Dave. “With the economy how it is, it’s hard to keep a job and be the primary bread winner. Plus, the loss of a job creates much anxiety.”
To lower your risk, Dave suggests a brisk exercise three to five times a week for 15 to 20 minutes and to get more sleep — at least six to eight hours a night.
“Over the years, the death rate [from heart disease] has gone down as the treatment has gotten better,” said Dave, adding that only half of Americans with a common condition that could lead to heart disease (such as high blood pressure) are treated, and of those, only half are treated appropriately.
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE (AND PREVENTABLE) EVENTS
Rounding out the top 10 ways a man can be taken from this world are accidents (which include drug overdoses and motor vehicle deaths), stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.
According to the VHCA, 15 percent of men put off going to a doctor when they’re having an issue versus 10 percent of women; and to compound matters, men are less likely to be insured — 75.7 percent versus 82.6 percent.
Mark Hedstrom, U.S. Country Director for the Movember Foundation, says that men are simply following orders instilled in them since childhood.
Mark Hedstrom, U.S. Country Director for the Movember Foundation
“Oftentimes we’re not told to address our issues or to talk about them openly,” said Hedstrom. “We’re told when we’re growing up that you’re meant to rub dirt on it and be fine.”
Since 2003, the Movember Foundation has raised over $650 million in funds and supported 1,000 men’s health programs worldwide. In January, the Foundation’s TrueNTH program to help men diagnosed with prostate cancer get access to information, care and lifestyle advice will launch in several countries.
Hedstrom says that there are steps you can take to prevent the development of one or more of the most unwanted ailments, and — surprise — it begins with getting active.
According to the Foundation, regular exercise may dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer by up to 50 percent and lower your risk of early death by 30 percent, which is, according to Hedstrom, one of the reasons why MOVE was initiated — along with giving women an opportunity to raise awareness sans mustache.
“MOVE is as simple as taking a 20-minute walk. It’s not trying to predefine what that moving looks like,” said Hedstrom, noting that Crossfit, bike rides and walking are all forms of exercise. “Get yourself to the point where you feel a little bit more invigorated and active, and then possibly think about continuing that, changing your diet and thinking about more exercise.”
There is no 100 percent effective technique or treatment to prevent the likes of cancer or heart disease, but Dr. Robert Levin believes that most of it, especially accidents, is preventable.
“I would encourage you to eat healthy, stay physically active, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol to excess — nothing to excess — and, finally, be kind.”
For more information on the Movember Foundation and how to get involved, visit www.movember.com.