Small changes in diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference when it comes to men’s health. Here are some prevalent health conditions in men and how nutrition and lifestyle can make a significant impact on disease prevention.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in men. According to the American Heart Association, at least one third of adult men have some form of cardiovascular disease. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are key factors in reducing the risk of heart disease. In addition to weight control, the American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, and nuts. Consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, red meat, and sugary foods and beverages should be limited. This style of eating is essential for preventing and treating hypertension, high LDL cholesterol, and diabetes. Getting at least 30 minutes per day of physical activity is also important for heart health, since physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, close to 1 million men will be diagnosed with cancer this year. A man’s risk of developing cancer increases with poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity. One third of cancer deaths have been linked to poor diet, limited physical activity, and obesity. The best way to reduce the risk of developing cancer is to consume a plant-based diet high in antioxidants, limit red meat consumption, and to avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and lunchmeat. Men should also exercise for at least 30 minutes each day and maintain a healthy weight to reduce their risk of developing cancer.
Over 15 million men older than 20 years old in the United States have diabetes. Research shows that just a modest weight loss of only 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can significantly reduce a man’s risk for developing diabetes. A reduction in overall caloric consumption coupled with regular, daily physical activity is the best way to lose excess body fat and sustain a healthy weight.
While most men experience visual changes as they age that require reading glasses and bifocals, more than 8 million men in the United States suffer from significant vision loss or blindness. The leading causes of blindness include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Since some people can have signs of macular degeneration many years before symptoms appear, regular eye exams are recommended. There appears to be a significant link between the impact of diet on macular degeneration. One large research study concluded that a diet supplemented with vitamins A and C, zinc, and beta-carotene reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration. Diets containing both lutein and zeaxanthin (which are found in leafy green vegetables, squash, and broccoli) have a lower risk of developing this disease.
Approximately 20 percent of men in the United States have arthritis, and this inflammatory condition becomes more common as we age. Antioxidants and polyphenols found in plant products may help decrease inflammation. These include leafy green vegetables, nuts, tomatoes, and fruits such as cherries, oranges, blueberries, and strawberries. Olive oil and fatty fish are also high in compounds that help ease inflammation. Foods such as refined starches, fried foods, sweetened beverages, red and processed meats, and fats such as shortening and margarine been shown to increase inflammation. Exercise can also play an important part in helping with arthritis pain.
The bottom line
Small changes in diet and lifestyle can make a huge difference when it comes to disease prevention. Most studies show that even a small weight loss of 5 to 10 percent can impact insulin resistance, inflammation, and hormonal changes. Regular exercise and a balanced diet can prevent further weight gain as men age. This includes eating a plant-based, nutrient-rich diet that includes whole grains, nuts, dark leafy greens, and fatty fish. Being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day can not only help to control weight, it can also assist with development of obesity-related diseases.
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Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.