06/30/2016 12:20 EDT | Updated 06/30/2016 12:59 EDT

A Positive Approach Can Help Men Take Health More Seriously

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
Doctor talking to patient in office

Two people in their mid-40s have been diagnosed with high cholesterol at their annual physical. One takes their physician's advice and visits a dietitian, eats better, exercises more and takes prescribed medication.

The other waves off the diagnosis, makes a mental note to try and eat a few more salads, and forgets about the prescription.

Guess which one ended up in the emergency room after a heart attack, and must now take a battery of medications, attend cardiac rehab and radically change their life to recover?

What if the man who suffered the premature heart attack had more information about the risks of ignoring high cholesterol? What if he knew that the risk of premature heart attack was much higher for men than women? What if he knew that taking some simple steps might save him from a life-threatening health scare and a long recovery?

Many Canadians who have had a serious health scare are thankful for the technology, expertise, facilities and medicine that have allowed them to sail through rough seas. But we'd all be better off if we could avoid the storm in the first place.

Education and awareness promoting health-care knowledge are among the best and least expensive paths to enjoying a long and healthy life.

But there's another factor: the courage to seek help and take simple action. Women are more likely to possess this courage. It could be because of their experience as mothers and caregivers, but there is no doubt women take health care more seriously than men.

Many men have been conditioned by social mores rewarding "toughing it out" to avoid that approach.

Of course, it helps that health awareness initiatives, and the advertising and promotion supporting them, are far more likely to target women specifically.

But health-care advocates often unintentionally leave men out of the loop when it comes to health promotion.

Men need information and a targeted outreach to live a healthier life and can learn a great deal from women's health.

It's time governments and health-care advocates modify their approach to health-care marketing to proactively include men, especially if the goal is to improve overall family health and reduce pressure on the health-care system.

Most women realize that it's important to see a physician regularly, get certain diagnostic tests if they are at risk, and seek medical attention when they are feeling unwell. But many men have been conditioned by social mores rewarding "toughing it out" to avoid that approach.

As any marketing expert can tell you, men are more likely to resist the same messages that are effective with women. Preventative health messages aimed at men can be more effective if they focused on simple goals that improve quality of life, like getting more sleep, alcohol moderation, quitting smoking and being more active.

It isn't much of a surprise that men take better care of their cars with regular check-ups rather than taking care of their own self. Communicating to men should be an entirely different approach to communicating health matters. The underlying message should stress that taking your health seriously is not a sign of weakness, but courage; it's not just for you, but your family.

Showing men that small lifestyles have a big health impact is a better approach to health marketing to men.

Not doing anything costs our society an immense amount through premature chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, pressure on the acute-care system, lost productivity at work and putting your family at financial risk.

In June, the Don't Change Much health campaign during Canadian Men's Health Week showed remarkable results. Simply put, men don't respond well to pointing fingers on what they are doing wrong. Showing men that small lifestyles have a big health impact is a better approach to health marketing to men.

Drink a glass of water between beers, park at the back of the parking lot and take the stairs rather than the elevator -- getting these ideas into a guy's head will lead to other small steps to healthier living.

I'm pleased to report some decision-makers have realized promoting men's health needs a targeted approach and are taking action. For instance, British Columbia and the government of Canada have committed to specific measures to boost men's health awareness over the next four years.

But in order to make change permanent, all health advocates need to form a coalition with provinces, employer groups, the insurance industry and NGO health advocates to build a social movement recognizing men respond to different messages.

From the time boys hit puberty, health behaviours are framed, such as eating a vegetables or seeing the doctor as not "masculine." When men are more broadly encouraged to pursue healthy lifestyles, our society will see enormous benefits and governments will see big savings.

For more information on what men can do to take charge of their health, go to

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