Oftentimes when you read about Men’s Health Month, you may hear about the importance of colorectal and prostate screening — and we most certainly offer both of those important screenings at Madigan Army Medical Center.
You may also hear about the benefits of tobacco cessation or moderating alcohol use — we offer these services, too — just ask your primary care manager or your behavioral health provider.
What we don’t talk about as often is just why many men — let’s face it — simply avoid going to the doctor. Our excuses always sound good to our own ears — we’re too busy with work, home, family and hobbies; we deny thinking significant illnesses would ever affect us personally; or we adhere to that old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In the military, we’re even more prone to viewing our health that way. It’s part of our culture to just “suck it up.”
Unfortunately, because our bodies and our health can be vulnerable, just toughing it out can mean that a simple shin splint becomes a stress fracture, or that unaddressed elevated cholesterol leads to a heart attack or erectile dysfunction.
We can change this partly by changing our mindset as men in and around the military. Service members learn early the importance of taking care of equipment, whether firing a weapon on a range or maintaining a vehicle in the motor pool.
We didn’t just hope that our equipment worked when we needed it; we cleaned and maintained our weapons and our vehicles on a regular schedule, whether they showed signs of working improperly or not.
We owe it to ourselves to treat our bodies at least as well as we treat our equipment. With very few exceptions, we can’t get replacement parts, and even then it’s usually better to try to keep our original parts working as well as they can for as long as possible.
So how do we keep up the “operator-level maintenance” on our own bodies? While we always encourage you to go to the doctor for regular checkups, chronic disease management, and, of course, any new injury or illness, the good news is that you may be able to self-correct or even prevent poor health with exercise and nutrition.
While everyone knows that exercise is good for your health, did you know that regular exercise can also help with pain management, protect against diabetes, decrease erectile dysfunction and lower cancer risks? Likewise, nutrition can help with stress management, disease prevention, blood pressure, heart disease and even low energy or fatigue.
Behavioral health also gets put on the back burner by many men; overall, men are less likely than women to seek behavioral health help. Again, we encourage you to visit our behavioral health experts at Madigan, to include just stopping by to visit your embedded behavioral health professionals if you’re in a line unit.
I’d also suggest all service members get to know a thing or two about performance psychology, or “sports psychology” to learn how to better optimize your performance. Just like with physical health, you can also improve your behavioral health at home.
The more healthy and supportive relationships you form in your life — whether it’s your spouse, family or buddies — the better your behavioral health will be.
Men, let’s change the way we think about our own health, and the way that we take care of our bodies. We may be tough, but our mental toughness alone doesn’t keep our bodies healthy.
Instead, we need to dust off our user manuals, commit to operator-level maintenance and work to keep our bodies in as good of shape as everything else that is important to us.