Simple steps to look after your self
For Men’s Health Week, the male population is asked to examine their lifestyle, be honest with themselves, and have niggles checked early
Golfer Paul McGinley and his father, Michael, who had blocked arteries and underwent a quadruple heart bypass.
Men have been conditioned from a young age to hold their tears and “be a man” whenever they’re in pain or feel scared.
So it’s hardly surprising when it comes to looking after their health, many will bury their heads in the sand and ignore symptoms that should be treated before they can develop into something sinister.
This is Men’s Health Week where the male population is encouraged to examine their health and lifestyle and see where they can make changes.
And, crucially, if they have any niggling symptoms, to make an appointment with their doctor and get them checked out.
Michael McGinley prides himself on being fit, eating a healthy diet and staying away from alcohol and cigarettes. His son is the golfer Paul McGinley, whose line of work ensures he is always healthy and on top of his game.
So it was a bolt out of the blue when Michael, a father of five, was diagnosed with blocked arteries and had to undergo a quadruple heart bypass.
‘A weakness in my chest’“I had never been in hospital in my life but on July 15th, 2011, I was out playing golf with my wife Julia and friends when I felt a little weakness in my chest,” says McGinley. “I didn’t say anything but just waited for it to pass before taking my shot.
“The same weakness returned when I was putting my clubs into the car later on but, again, I didn’t tell the others and let them go off into lunch without me while I sat in the car and rested.
“Again it passed and I felt great until the following day when I was walking up a hill to see a match and got very weak and felt actual pains in my chest.
“As I was on my own, I just waited five minutes until I felt well enough to watch the match. But it happened again on my way back to the car afterwards so I decided to tell my wife and daughter, who said I should get it checked out as soon as possible.”
When Michael went to hospital the following morning he was told he needed a four-way bypass as all his arteries were blocked. The operation was a success, but he spent several months recuperating.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard my diagnosis; it didn’t seem possible because I thought I had such a healthy lifestyle,” says the former Donegal footballer, who is 73.
“But I needed surgery quickly so two days later underwent an 11-hour operation. I spent 10 days in hospital and afterwards was so exhausted I could hardly walk 40 yards.
“But I was determined to get back to my old self so every day I went out for a walk with my son Michael and each time I went a little farther. I was still very weak and tired but as well as the exercise, I also changed my diet radically. Even though I had never smoked or drank, the blocked arteries were caused by high cholesterol and this was down to the amount of sugar and salt I was consuming.
“So I cut them both out completely. Nowadays if I fancy something sweet, I might have half a biscuit but I know how lucky I am to be alive so I’m not taking any more chances. And I would encourage all men to have their cholesterol checked regularly, drink plenty of water, exercise daily and visit their doctor routinely. It could make all the difference.”
Dr Angie Brown, the medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, recommends simple steps to help men look after their heart health. “It’s important to give up smoking and cut down on alcohol. Take time to de-stress, visit your GP regularly and know your family history.” Other important steps are: nBe active for 30 minutes five days a week
nEat well: Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, try to include some grains such as rice in your diet, and eat fish at least twice a week.
nBe aware of your healthy weight range and try to stay within it.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan is the director of human health and nutrition at Safefood. She says obesity is a rising problem in Ireland and can lead to many health issues.
“Obesity rates in men have trebled in the past two decades,” she says. “In 1990, it was 6 per cent and by 2011 it was 26 per cent. Only 30 per cent of men are of a healthy weight compared with 47 per cent of women.
“The rate of being overweight in younger men, between 18 and 35, is 52 per cent but as men get older, they gain weight and in the 51-64 year age group, 86 per cent are either overweight or obese. Older men and those who are less educated are most at risk of high blood pressure and hypertension caused by obesity.”
Dangers of being overweightGreg Starr from Tipperary knows only too well the dangers of being overweight.
“I had weight issues for a long time but always ignored it, blaming rugby, amongst other things, for being big,” admits the 37-year-old.
“My friend and I decided to lose weight for charity and when I stood on the scales and saw 20 stone, I was speechless. I had visions of funerals and that moment of clarity was what I needed to make a change.”
The father of two suddenly realised his future was at stake and decided to do something about it.
“For years I had fallen into the trap of eating breakfast rolls, fast-food lunches and takeaways,” he says.
“I had various medical complications including hypertension, gout, breathlessness, knee and back pain and dermatological issues, but I used them as an excuse not to exercise, despite numerous medical warnings.
“I lost three stone on the charity fundraiser and then joined Operation Transformation, where I lost another three, so I am now down to 14 stone and have a whole new lease of life.
“Gone are the cigarettes, blood-pressure tablets, medication, knee and back problems and skin disorder. My overall attitude and energy are at an all-time high and I feel 20 years younger. I was killing myself one stone at a time, but ignored all the signs.
“So I urge everyone, especially men, to take a cold, calculated look at how they are treating their body and win the fight against fat.”
Dr Foley-Nolan recommends a number of things men can do to reduce their risk: nBe aware of your weight and waistline
throughout life. Men tend to be less aware of weight issues than women are.
nStay physically active. While men are more active than women, particularly in sports in an overall sense, this declines with age and with parenthood.
nCut down on portion sizes
nEat less meat and more vegetables
For more information about staying health, see the Men’s Health Forum on mhfi.org. See also
irishheart.ie, safefood.eu, cancer.ie and getirelandactive.ie