Taking Care of Our Whole Selves

Andy Mickel
Twin Cities Men’s Center

The deep-rooted view of a man’s health residing in the hands of his physician must change. We can educate and inspire the men in our lives; our fathers, sons, brothers and friends (regardless of age, status in life, education, color of their skin or sexual orientation) to improve their own health and provide the means to achieve greater health and well-being. What is a man to do if he wants to learn how to improve his health? If a man’s health is “pretty good,” where can he go to find out how to make it really good? What constitutes “men’s health?” According to Jim Lovestar, co-founder of the Twin Cities Institute for Men’s Health and Well-Being, the following points characterize a man who is living a life of health and well-being:

  • He is physically energized and knows he is in control of his own physical state.
  • He is discovering his self-worth.
  • He accepts his emotions, faces his fears and works to open his heart on a daily basis.
  • He embraces his sexuality.
  • He serves his community and the world at large.

Integrative or holistic health addresses our bodies, minds and spirits in a connected way. Another approach suggests five dimensions of health: physical, emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual. Today, men are choosing these more holistic approaches to health in large numbers. We emphasize balanced living and take personal responsibility for our health (including nutritional awareness, stress reduction, environmental sensitivity and physical fitness, as well as nurturing our immune systems). Balance in all aspects of our lives becomes evident if one practices the following:

  • Restful sleep.
  • Balanced nutrition, that includes macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (dozens of essential vitamins, minerals and elements).
  • Unblock energy paths in the body through yoga, acupressure, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment.
  • Meditate. Allow the body-mind to energize its natural healing state.
  • Maintain a balance of time spent in the physical, emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual aspects of our lives.

Fear of dying shows up in our lives in many ways. The facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are alarming. As of the end of 2000, men constitute 79% of the American HIV/AIDS-infected population, 59% of whom are heterosexual. Thirty-one thousand men will die from prostate cancer in the U.S. in 2001, and 6,900 American men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer. Experts estimate 445,000 men will die from heart disease this year; with half of these deaths occurring suddenly, without prior symptoms; the tragedy is that as many as 95% of the sudden death victims need not die prematurely. Where do men turn for health resources? Compared to any other metropolitan area in the country, Twin Cities residents have access to advanced medical facilities. These include hundreds of small holistic practitioners and neighborhood clinics, pioneering HMO networks, well-funded regional emergency hospitals, a first-class Federal Veterans Administration hospital and the internationally-renowned Mayo Clinic. The University of Minnesota Medical School continues to perform cutting-edge medical technology research and development and provides the technology base for our region’s numerous, large, state-of-the-art medical technology companies. This year saw the 2nd International Conference on Men’s Health in California, the 1st World Congress on Men’s Health in Vienna, Austria, and the 1st Twin Cities Men’s Health and Well-Being Symposium (MHWS) produced by the Twin Cities Men’s Center (TCMC). Since the mid-1970s, men’s groups have highlighted a fundamental men’s issue: in the U.S., men die (on average) 7-9 years earlier than women. Contributing factors: men work in the most dangerous jobs in our society, they have a higher rate of incarceration and (traditionally) live higher-stress lives. What can Twin Cities men do to improve their health and make it really good? They can incorporate the wisdom of self-care in all areas of their lives. Men who are conscious of their growth as individuals know that confronting grief, fear or depression can open the door to emotional (and physical) health. By utilizing the workshops and support groups conducted by local men’s centers, as well as the wealth of other resources in our community, men can actively achieve health and well-being.

Male Mid-Life Passage (Andropause)

Jim Lovestar, Institute for Men’s Health and Well-Being

A challenge to the health and well-being of men in the “boomer” generation is andropause or male mid-life passage. As women age, they experience a well-recognized change of life – menopause. The changes in the aging man are often less obvious, but have a profound effect on his physical, emotional and social life. The failure of our culture to give healthy recognition to these effects leaves a man feeling desperate and lost. With an understanding of male mid-life passage, men (and those who love them) can:

* Recognize the subtle and dramatic signs of andropause.
* Cope with the challenges a man confronts as his internal hormone balance shifts.
* Discuss natural alternatives to conventional medical care.
* Develop strategies to address the inevitable changes in the aging man.
* Discover healthy outlets for the emotions that accompany andropause.

The intense self-questioning that accompanies this mid-life passage leads to withdrawal from others, attempts to live out unrealized fantasies (these include affairs with younger women and red sportscars), depression, self-medication and erectile dysfunction. Some men experience hot flashes, night sweats or difficulty sleeping.

I have described some of the aspects of this “crisis” from the perspective of a man experiencing it. What do the people in that man’s life see? They find him to be short-tempered and defensive. They may see him suddenly and unexpectedly pull away from his regular means of support, quit his job, decline a promotion, divorce a woman he has been married to for many years, develop an alcohol or chemical abuse problem, engage in an affair with a woman or man (many married gay men finally act upon long suppressed desires during this time), put on weight by overeating, devote obsessive attention to his physical appearance through exercise or dieting or behave recklessly while driving.

While these above are destructive behaviors of a man in midlife, there are constructive behaviors, too. He may sober up, begin an exercise program, get out of an unhealthy marriage, come out of the closet, leave an oppressive job, start his own business, require more authenticity from those around him, discontinue relationships with people who held him back (As the bumper-sticker says: “Those Who Have Abandoned Their Dreams Will Discourage Yours”) or take on a volunteer project.

See Also: Arts: Stress Arts: Women’s Health: Cancer and Women Arts: Women’s Health: PMS

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