If diet and weight are as important to health and wellbeing as experts believe, American men need to make changes to what they eat and how often they exercise. They are too overweight and suffer years of ill-health despite the fact that per capita health funding is the highest in the world.
As a health and performance coach for more than a decade, what I’m going to cover below has directly affected me because prior to becoming a full time coach, so I'm not one of those coaches preaching from above while shaking a finger in your face. I was a broadcast media advertising executive for almost 20-years. If you don’t know, Advertising is consistently in the top-5 most stressful jobs on the planet!
Between my family’s health history and my own personal battles with stress, high blood pressure, long work hours, and plenty of high end parties with top notch food & adult beverages several nights per week, I’m passing this along in an effort to help you thrive for years to come if you make subtle changes. Let’s dive in!
The statistics make interesting reading. First, an estimated 27.7 percent of American males aged 20-74 years are obese.
By comparison, obesity affects 19 percent of Australian men, 12-percent of French men and only 3.6 percent of Japanese. Second, the average lifespan of American men is 74.9 years, (Japan 77.8) of which an estimated 8 years are lived in ill-health (Japan 6.5). Also significant are the negative health effects of the American diet on male immigrants from countries such as Japan, who typically experience a noticeable rise in diet-related illness such as obesity and heart disease.
Back in November 2015 I lost my father to a major heart attack just two months after my son was born. He was 75-years old. When I look at all of the data he was the avatar described above for American men. He was on blood pressure medication, had significant belly fat, did not exercise regularly, and ate whatever he liked despite the efforts by my mom and me to get him to change.
Now, he wasn't a huge man by any means when he passed away, but at 5'11 245lb. he wasn't a pillar of health either. In fact, the two gentleman from the coroners office that came to remove him from our family home needed my help to get him down the stairs and to the van. This is something that I will never forget as a reminder of why I do what I do for a living. So, take a look at some of the challenges men face when dealing with being overweight.
Health Effects of Obesity In Men
There are several adverse health effects caused by obesity or being overweight. The most serious dangers include hypertension, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, although joint problems and psychosocial hardship can also be very distressing.
Obesity is a serious risk factor for hypertension, which affects 7 out of 10 obese men, and develops as follows. As the amount of fat tissue in the body increases, the heart is forced to pump more blood around the body in order to meet the extra demand for additional oxygen and nutrients. As this extra blood passes through the arteries, it increases pressure on the arterial walls, leading to higher blood pressure. Hypertension, which is sometimes referred to as "the silent killer", is a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Obesity is also classified as a major risk factor for heart disease, with almost 70 percent of diagnosed cases occurring in obese patients. The prevalence of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) is 10 times higher in obese men compared to those who are not obese. This type of coronary artery disease occurs when fatty deposits build up on the walls of arteries that supply the heart, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack.
Although the link is not fully understood, there is a clear association between obesity in men and an increased risk of colon and prostate cancers. It may be due to specific eating habits, such as overconsumption of red meat allied with an insufficiency of antioxidant-rich foods like fresh fruit and vegetables. The prevalence of prostate cancer in American males is 18.7 per 100,000, compared to 10.2 in Japanese men.
Obesity is the major cause of type-2 diabetes. Almost 8 out of 10 type-2 diabetics are obese. Even mild obesity significantly increases the risk of diabetes. Weight gain after the age of 18 is a particular contributor.
Think about it, have you ever noticed any of your friends from high school looking significantly different at the 20-year reunion? I know this is an uncomfortable topic to digest (yep, pun intended), but obesity is also closely associated with insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels and pre-diabetes.
Abdominal Obesity Even More Dangerous
While obesity in general is a major predictor of serious ill-health in men, abdominal obesity - excess fat around the stomach - is an added health risk, which is bad news for men as they typically store fat around their middle. Men under stress are doubly at risk as stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol which appears to stimulate fat storage around the stomach and abdomen.
Abdominal obesity is one of a number of interlinked conditions (the others being high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high levels of inflammatory and clotting components in the blood) that comprise the condition known as metabolic syndrome. This disorder has been identified as a complex risk factor for cardiovascular disease. An estimated 1 in 3 overweight or obese men have metabolic syndrome.
Health Benefits of Modest Weight Reduction
Although untreated obesity may have serious health consequences, even modest weight loss can bring noticeable health benefits. For example, a weight loss of as little as 10-20 pounds can eliminate the need for hypertension or type 2 diabetes medication.
In addition, it can raise HDL cholesterol (the good blood-fats) reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (the bad blood-fats) and thus reduce the risk of heart disease. Even so, the more weight you can lose in a steady sustained way, the greater the health improvements, especially if you can reduce the amount of fat around your middle.
Diet Advice for Men
A nutritious calorie-controlled diet is the foundation for lasting weight loss. And don't worry about cutting down on junk food. In my experience, a person's appetite for high-fat or high-sugar foods falls dramatically within a couple of weeks of healthy eating. So if you want to lose weight but can't enjoy a meal without a huge slab of fatty red meat, a large helping of mayo, or a bag of tortilla chips, try switching to a healthier diet for 2 weeks and see what a difference it makes to your taste buds.
Improve Your Health and Save Money
Instead of simply cutting calories and thinking "I must diet", make a point of choosing healthy foods and think "I want to eat healthily". You may even motivate yourself by focusing on the reduced health insurance costs you will achieve by getting into shape.
Personalize Your Eating Plan
There is no single diet plan that fits every man. Moreover, eliminating all your favorite foods is not a winning weight loss strategy. As long as your regular daily diet is calorie-controlled (1500-1850 calories) and contains enough healthy foods, you should be able to include a few treats without interfering with your weight reduction. If the idea of joining Weight Watchers doesn't sound appealing, working directly with a coach to customize an online nutrition plan or seek an individualized eating plan is the way to go, which is one of the things we do here at Lockdown Athletics to also help keep you accountable and on task.
Healthy Eating Guidelines for Men
As a general guide, choose foods which are low in fat, especially saturated or trans-fats, low in sodium, and less refined. To be more specific, eat at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables - more is better! Also, eat a wide variety of both, because different fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients. Eat whole grains such as brown rice or whole wheat bread rather than white rice and white bread. This isn't to say that you can't have to latter on occasion, but we're talking about creating new habits here.
Whole grain foods are richer in nutrients and higher in both soluble and insoluble compared to more processed products. Their extra fiber content means they help to maintain healthy blood glucose levels, which reduce the risk of appetite swings and cravings.
Go easy on fat. Enjoy low fat dairy products - remember, full-fat cheese is a huge source of saturated fat - and don't add extra fat to food in the form of mayo or sour cream. Stay away from chips and other high-fat/high sodium snack foods.
Men Who Enjoy Red Meat
This is me! I love red meat. Red meat, like beef, lamb and pork, is highly nutritious. Unfortunately, it's also one of the main sources of saturated fat - the type implicated in atherosclerotic heart disease. If you enjoy red meat, make sure you remove all visible fat before eating, and limit your intake to 3-4 3oz. servings per week.
Go for leaner cuts as much as possible. Fish is a healthy alternative protein source, especially oily fish like mackerel, herring and salmon, and I can't forget skinless chicken and turkey.
Eating Out For Men
If you are serious about losing weight, be extra-choosy when dining out or ordering take-out food.
Here are some important tips:
1. Do not order deep-fried food.
2. Look for light appetizers, such as salads, non-creamy soups, or fish platter.
3. Avoid entrees with sauces. If necessary, ask for them "on the side". Choose plain fish, broiled lean steak, or tomato-based pasta.
4. Make sure half your plate contains vegetables, without added oil or butter.
5. For dessert, choose any fresh fruit dish, and if offered cream say No. If these suggestions are too arduous, it may be best to skip eating out until you feel more confident.
Men Who Enjoy Alcohol
For many men, giving up alcohol is a complete No-No. So let me give you some facts and you can choose accordingly. To begin with, alcohol contains zero nutrition. In addition, its calorie content is quite high - about 7 calories per gram.
Drinking one regular Martini per day ads up to about 58,400 calories per year - the equivalent of about 16.5 pounds of body fat. One beer a day amounts to nearly as much. A better option is one 4oz glass of wine a day, which contains about half the calories of a Martini.
Another problem to consider if you are male, is the contribution that alcohol makes to your fat stomach. In my experience, overweight drinkers who give up alcohol experience an immediate reduction in their stomach size, which is very good news for their health.
Weight Reduction Exercise for Men
Men typically do not find it easy to incorporate regular physical exercise into their daily schedule. More than 50 percent of American men do not take enough physical activity. Which is not good news because the medical benefits of regular exercise are compelling.
Keeping active is one of the most effective methods of protecting ourselves against serious disease, and maintaining a good quality of life. This introduces the basic male dilemma. In order to achieve a comfortable standard of living for himself and his family, a man typically has to spend extra hours working instead of exercising.
But by not exercising he runs a much higher risk of serious disease, a crippling rise in insurance bills, as well as an illness-prone retirement. No easy choices here I'm afraid, although the rational decision must be for us to make exercise a higher priority. This is particularly true for men over 40.
For men who really want to lose weight, I suggest you first see your doctor for a quick check-up. Then, if all is well, I advise you start with 45 minutes/day of light exercise. Do this for 2-3 weeks or until you notice obvious benefits such as improved breathing, sleeping, and overall appetite. Upon improvement, gradually increase the duration and intensity of your training program up to 60 minutes a day.
The best way to avoid overstrain is to loosen up with stretches at the beginning of each exercise session, and wind down with stretches afterwards.
Improved Lifestyle for Men
Quitting smoking is the top priority for any man with weight-related health problems. Another essential improvement is stress reduction or at least better stress management. This is because any stress which leads to a feeling that life is out of control, is a major contributor to disordered eating, excessive alcohol intake and disease, as well as family problems.
Moving to a less stressful job, reducing your work schedule, or taking regular physical exercise are useful ways to reduce stress, and will definitely assist weight loss and general health. Spending more time with your family is also a great stress reliever.