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Health > More Health StoriesSpring 2012 IS Magazine

Change His Mind … And the Rest Will Follow

Help the man in your life prevent health risks.

By Eric Shearer

Everybody’s heard a story about an uncle, brother, dad, or cousin who waited until a limb was practically falling off before going to the doctor. And because all’s well that ends well, those stories usually celebrate what a manly man he was.

The truth is, the message should be, “men need to be better at preventing health risks.” Renowned psychologist and best-selling author of Dying to Be Men, Will Courtenay, Ph.D., lists a number of troubling trends: American men make far fewer visits to health care providers than women. Twice as many men as women have no regular source of health care and have not seen a doctor in the last year. Men also receive fewer screenings for high blood pressure and cancer – screenings that would decrease their risks for the two leading killers in the United States.

What’s keeping men away? “Being a man in America requires that he be self-sufficient. That means not needing the help of health professionals,” says Courtenay. “Dismissing their health needs is one way that men prove that they are men. ‘Real’ men are expected to embrace risk fearlessly.” If this sounds like the man in your life, you might not be able to convince him to get the care he needs, but you can help him convince himself.

To get your man to exercise more, eat better, see the doctor, or get preventive screenings, the goal is not to change his behavior. “Too often, a woman will try to get her spouse or partner to take action before he’s ready and that only backfires,” says Courtenay. Instead, he points to research showing that “if a man actually begins to think about changing unhealthy behaviors, he more than doubles his chances of being successful.”

Get him to think about the benefits of changing. “For men, benefits are often linked with productivity, performance, efficiency, and maintaining autonomy,” says Courtenay. So it’s not about exercising because he’s overweight, but so he can perform physical tasks with more manly gusto. It’s not about eating right because it will lower his cholesterol level, but rather about providing the optimal fuel so that his body can run at peak efficiency. And it’s not about taking care of his health because his wife told him to; it’s about learning about his health risks and making the command decision to maintain his health with the same dedication that he displays when he maintains his surfboard or car.

In fact, educating men about their health is one of the most effective methods spouses can use. “He’s not going to be ready to see a doctor or to change his bad habits until he learns about his health and can honestly see that he really is at risk,” says Courtenay.

To promote health education, provide lots of information and very little pressure. You can print or clip and leave health-related articles for him to find, watch healthy programs together on TV, or subscribe to a health magazine.

You can also appeal to his sense of competition. “If he sees life as a challenging game, frame health goals as targets to shoot for,” says Courtenay. “Suggest that he use his love of keeping score to track his cholesterol or blood pressure levels. And if he’s self-assured, talk with him about taking charge of his health.” You could send him the link to HMSA’s recommended screenings and immunizations for men as a to-do list.

Once the ball is rolling, do everything you can to keep it going. “Focus on what is working and what you want to see more of,” says Kimberly Ala’ilima, a marriage and family therapist and an HMSA participating provider. “Use lots of praise and encouragement, and focus on how much better you both feel. Something like, ‘this feels so good to me that we can go and walk on the beach together.’”

Be enthusiastic about any positive change and be sure to boost his motivation. Modeling is also a good strategy. “When a patient who really liked his food saw a change in his wife’s portion control, he saw that she ate everything she wanted to, just not in huge portions. When you see someone changing for the better and losing weight, you realize that you can, too,” Ala’ilima says.

If that fails, go for the heartstrings. “Children are always a good motivator,” she said. “Make it about longevity and legacy – you want him to be around for them.”

 
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