Did you know that deaths from injury are 2.6 times more common for men in Australia than women? That men are more likely to die from preventable diseases? Or that Australian men living in very remote areas are twice as likely to be hospitalised for, or die from, injuries than men living in major cities?
While these statistics paint an alarming picture of Australian men’s health, the good news is we’ve got some practical, expert advice to improve your chance of living a long and healthy life. Whatever age, here’s what you should look out for, starting with boys.
1. Actively help boys deal with trauma
Childhood trauma can have lifelong health impacts that may be physical, mental, or both. Events that can be traumatic for children include:
- family dysfunction
- separation from a parent or caregiver
- violence (experiencing and/or witnessing)
- intergenerational trauma (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and boys in particular experience high rates of intergenerational trauma that can impact their long-term health)
- war (about seven out of 10 refugees in Australia have been tortured or gone through some kind of war-related trauma)
- stress caused by poverty.
Parents and carers play an important role in helping boys during, and after, times of trauma. Sticking to a regular routine, being understanding, giving your boy extra attention, and making sure he gets enough rest and sleep are all ways that the impact of trauma can be minimised. Parents and carers can also access support and advice via their GP, a counsellor or psychologist.
With the active support of parents, carers and mental health professionals, boys who have experienced trauma have a better chance of experiencing fewer negative health consequences across their lives.
2. Anxiety and asthma are the two leading causes of poor health in boys
Even though we live in ‘the lucky country’, young Australians are still at risk of many serious health issues. For boys aged 5 to14, asthma and anxiety are top of the list.
Estimates suggest around one in 10 Australian children have asthma. Asthma symptoms and triggers do vary, so it’s important to seek medical diagnosis and management advice. If a child in your care experiences difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or chest tightness, see your GP to discuss whether he could have asthma. If it’s managed well, boys with asthma can lead happy, healthy lives.
Anxiety disorders are a common mental health concern in young children. It's estimated that around one in seven Australian children experience mental health issues and about half of all serious mental health problems in adulthood begin before the age of 14.
Families are often in the best position to pick up any issues with boys’ thinking, emotions or behaviour. It’s important to remember that not all anxiety is a disorder. It is common for boys – including babies, toddlers and boys aged five to 14 – to be fearful of situations or objects that adults don’t find threatening.
Parents can help boys successfully deal with their fears. If you’re concerned that your child may have an anxiety disorder, or that he is particularly burdened with fears or phobias, seek help from a mental health professional. Your GP, school psychologist or counsellor are all good starting points.
3. Encourage adolescent boys to take fewer risks
The adolescent years are typically a period of experimentation for boys. They can also be a time where boys are vulnerable due to low levels of risk-perception coupled with high levels of risk-taking.
Peers play a significant role in the lives of adolescent males – social connection and friendship is vital for boys and men throughout their lives.
Yet peer pressure can result in poor choices and risk-taking behaviours that may be harmful to physical and mental health.
Alcohol is responsible for most drug-related deaths in the teenage population. Many adolescent boys experiment with alcohol, however drinking too much can impact boys’ physical and mental health, as well as their ability to make good decisions.
Parents and carers can help combat peer pressure to drink by modelling sensible drinking behaviours such as:
- drinking moderately or not at all
- not drinking every time you socialise
- never drinking and driving
- dealing with stress in healthy ways that don’t involve alcohol.
It’s also important for parents and carers to talk to adolescent boys about the links between drinking and dangerous behaviour, such as unsafe sex, drink driving and fighting.
Research shows that confident adolescent boys, who feel supported by their families and friends, are less susceptible to peer pressure, make better decisions and can more safely negotiate the challenges of adolescence.
Good mental health is very important for adolescent boys. Close, stable relationships at home, school and in the community can help to protect adolescent boys’ mental health and wellbeing.
4. Practise safe sex – it’s crucial to health
Sex is a fun and healthy part of life, but unsafe sex can lead to potentially lifelong negative impacts for adolescent boys and young men, including sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy.
Access to comprehensive, factual information about sexuality helps adolescents and young men negotiate sexual relationships safely and responsibly. Sexuality discussions should cover a broad range of topics, including the biology of reproduction, healthy relationships, making decisions, sexual and gender diversity, contraception and STIs. Research shows that talking to boys and young men about sex does not encourage them to experiment sexually.
Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) can be passed on during unsafe vaginal, oral or anal sex – any young man who is sexually active can catch an STI. Most STIs can be prevented by practising safe sex: correctly using barrier protection such as condoms, female condoms and dams.
It’s important for young men to have access to information about safe sex and preventing STIs. While some STIs can be treated, some (including genital herpes, HIV, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus [HPV]) have no cure so can impact a man’s whole life.
Young men who are not ready to be fathers need detailed information on, and access to, contraception.
5. Look after your mental health – 15 to 24 can be a challenging time for young men
Young adult males experience higher than average levels of mental ill health – From 15 to 24 years of age, suicide and self-inflicted injuries as well as alcohol use disorders are the two leading causes of health burden in males according to the National Male Health Strategy 2020–2030
. Men are also more likely to die from preventable causes such as self-inflicted injuries
. Death by suicide is more than three times more common in males than females and twice as common in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males.
There are many reasons young men experience mental health issues, including:
- stressful experiences such as a relationship breakup or traumatic life event, grief after the death of someone close, losing a job or failing a big exam
- loneliness and social isolation – feeling totally alone and without any friends or family can increase the risk of poor health and decrease life expectancy for young men
- alcohol misuse can negatively impact young men’s mental health. Alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of over 200 chronic conditions, as well as violence, assault and road accidents.
Rates of help seeking among young males are low (13 per cent), yet seeking support is a vital step in addressing and improving men’s mental health. Support services for young men include BeyondBlue, ReachOut, Kids Helpline, Suicide Line and Lifeline, as well as doctors, counsellors, psychologists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers.
Being engaged socially and in the community is also an important preventative factor for men aged 15 to 24. Family and friends provide invaluable support to young men during life’s inevitable tough times.
6. Keep stress levels under control – stress levels rise in adulthood
For adult men, heightened levels of stress can significantly impact health and wellbeing, even leading to serious conditions such as anxiety and depression
Some level of day-to-day stress is to be expected in almost every sphere of life, but for adult men, stress can be more pronounced in particular areas or at particular times. For example:
It’s important for men to seek support during times of increased stress. Reaching out can take courage, but can help men deal with, and recover from, the impacts of stressful life stages. Talking to a trusted friend can be a good place to start. You can also seek support from services such as PANDA or BeyondBlue, which offer support online as well as over the phone.
7. Taking good care of your insides is a must for adult men
From 25 to 60, it’s important for men to have regular medical check-ups and to make lifestyle choices that support good health for the heart, lungs, brain, muscles and reproductive system.
Reproductive health should also be a priority for adult men as it significantly contributes to the chance of conceiving a healthy baby. Smoking damages the DNA in sperm, while excessive drinking can affect erectile function and impact sperm quality. Infertility affects five to seven per cent of all males and is a biomarker of overall health. Having a general health check, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, eating well and staying active are all actions men can take before starting a family.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in men than women and the risk of developing it increases with age. See if you’re at risk of diabetes and what you can do to prevent it.
Coronary heart disease, lung cancer and musculoskeletal disorders are among the leading causes of poor health for midlife men. For example, men die from coronary heart disease and lung cancer at twice the rate of females.
Some of the risk factors for these conditions – such as family history and age – are beyond an individual’s control. Things men can do to reduce health risks through midlife include:
- losing weight
- reducing alcohol intake
- quitting smoking
- being physically active
- managing high blood pressure
- reducing cholesterol and consuming a healthy diet.
Research shows that depression and social isolation are risk factors for heart disease, so staying socially connected and maintaining good mental health are important disease prevention strategies.
Bowel cancer is also a risk for midlife men, so when you receive your kit at 50 and onwards, it’s important that you complete it.
8. Check your prostate – prostate disease is common in older men
Prostate disease is a significant health risk for older men. Around 25 per cent of men aged 55 years and over have a prostate condition
. This increases to 50 per cent by the age of 70.
Prostate enlargement (BPH) is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland and is the most common type of prostate disease. Some men with BPH do not notice any symptoms. For others, problems with urination are a common sign. Lifestyle changes can help stop the symptoms of BPH from getting worse, for example:
- reducing or cutting out caffeine and alcohol, which irritate the bladder
- avoiding things that make you constipated
- reducing your weight
- controlling diabetes and blood pressure
- quitting smoking
- increasing exercise.
Prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in males, affecting one in 11 Australian men. It is most common in the over-65 age group.
If you have a family history of prostate disease, have regular check ups and mention anything unusual to your GP. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet are ways men can decrease their risk of prostate cancer.
9. Focus on maintaining good physical and mental health as an older man
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, keeping active and staying socially connected are simple ways men over the age of 70 can give themselves the best chance of staying healthy and living longer.
Older men are more likely to experience health conditions such as coronary heart disease and dementia, and to suffer negative health impacts caused by a fall.
Coronary heart disease is among the top 10 causes of death in males, so keep your heart healthy and prevent coronary heart disease by:
- quitting smoking
- staying active
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol
- looking after your mental health and wellbeing – depression is a known risk factor for heart disease.
As life expectancy has increased, so has the number of men being diagnosed with dementia. The prevalence of dementia is expected to increase by 90 per cent over the next 20 years. While there is currently no cure for dementia, keeping your mind active can help minimise your risk. Staying socially active and being connected with community, family and friends can also lower dementia risk.
Falls are a major cause of injury for older men. Tips to avoid falls include:
- Have regular eye tests.
- Improve safety in and around your home.
- Discuss medications with your GP – taking multiple medications can increase your falls risk.
- Look after your health. Have regular health checks, eat a healthy diet, and exercise to improve balance, strength and flexibility.
- Wear comfortable, well-fitting footwear.
To find out more about the nine health risks for boys and men, and what to do about them, check out our infographic or explore more of the Better Health Channel’s men’s health resources.