Today is Father’s Day, a day when we celebrate our dads. However, the best gift one can have is that of good health.

The health of men and women differ in many ways. There are important biological and behavioural differences between the two genders. Various studies across Europe have shown that un­healthy lifestyle behaviours and preventable risk factors explain a large proportion of premature deaths and morbidity seen in men.

In all EU Member States, men who live in poorer material and social conditions are likely to eat less healthily, take less exercise, be overweight/obese, consume more alcohol and be more likely to smoke or engage in substance misuse. 

Along time, there have been various advances in health issues whereby people of both genders are living longer but, time after time, women continue to outpace men in health status. The situation is similar in Malta where women have a life expectancy of 84 years, which is typically higher than the life expectancy for Maltese males, which stands at 80 years.   Lifestyles affect the health status of the population with the problems of obesity and non-communicable diseases being the major causes of sickness and death.

Part of the reason for the health gaps seen between men and women is because women tend to care more for their health than men do. Cardiovascular diseases including heart disease, such as heart attack or heart failure, and cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke, are the leading cause of death in men. Living a healthy lifestyle and preventing or treating any medical conditions through regular medical check-ups help to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Cancer is another major burden on society. Lung, colorectal, pancreas and prostate cancers are the leading causes of death from cancers among men. Cancer is in many cases preventable and early detection substantially increases the chance of cure. Usually, the symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the disease is already in an advanced stage.  The best way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is not to smoke and to avoid breathing in another person’s smoke.

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer (cancer of the large bowel) include a change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days and losing weight without any apparent reason.  The National Colorectal Cancer Screening Programme invites people for screening to effectively diagnose the condition at an early stage whereby treatment is more effective. Those who have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor about early and more frequent screening.

Individuals who have pancreatic cancer usually have no symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs. Smoking is the most important avoidable risk factor for pancreatic cancer. It is responsible for 20 to 30 per cent of pancreatic cancers.

Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. Being physically active, maintaining your appropriate weight and eating a healthy diet decreases your risk of prostate cancer.

Another unfortunate cause of injury and death is road traffic incidents. Men are far more likely than women to be injured or killed in an accident, largely because men tend to engage in riskier behaviour.  Prevention is the key to road traffic incidents whereby one should always wear a seatbelt; wear a safety helmet when riding a motorcycle or bicycle; follow speed limits; not drink and drive, or drive when tired; and avoid distractions (such as use of mobile phones) while driving.

Work-related accidents can be prevented by taking measures to eliminate, control and, where not possible, reduce the level of risk to an acceptable level.  When risks are not eliminated always take appropriate protective measures, such as hard hats, masks etc. Alcohol and drugs may increase the risk of injury and must be avoided. 

Mental ill-health is becoming highly prevalent. Certain situations, such as financial problems, relationship break-ups and chro­nic pain or illness may increase the risk of mental ill-health.  Prevention can keep mental ill-health at bay by finding a balance between work, home and play; prioritisation and doing the most important things first; knowing your limits and don’t take on too much work; taking care of yourself – exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest;  talking to a trusted friend about any problems and by not self- medicating (no alcohol, tobacco or drugs). Seeking help is the best things one can do.

It is also well known that men seek professional medical advice less than women. Men are encouraged to visit their doctor regularly to discuss family medical history and get regular check-ups and age-appropriate screening.  Certain diseases and conditions may not have symptoms, so check-ups help you identify risks early or before they can become a problem. On Father’s Day, give yourself a gift and take care of yourself.

Protect your health

▪ Eat a varied diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, low-fat foods and fruits. Control portion sizes and read food labels.

▪ Drink at least one-and-a-half litres of water per day.

▪ Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle strength­ening activities two or more days a week.

▪ Avoid or limit alcohol intake and stay off drugs. Binge drinking is also harmful. Never drink and drive.

▪ If you smoke, quit smoking or seek support. Also, avoid passive smoking.

▪ Practise safe sex.

▪ Get enough sleep regularly. Get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

Dr Charmaine Gauci is Super­intendent for Public Health.

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