On the heels of back-to-back reports showing that the health of U.S. men compares poorly to those in other affluent countries, and that American women are now living almost 6 years longer than men, clearly it’s the time to restate the case for healthy behavior, and to do so in a powerful way.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my journey as a men’s health advocate, it’s that message framing carries equal weight to the message itself. If I can’t capture your attention quickly and describe healthy behavior in a way that brings strong meaning to you – that conveys a personal return on investment – then I’ve lost my opportunity.
Longstanding misconceptions that positive living is all about drudgery, pain and negative images dominates our culture – despite the glorification of fitness and health. As I’ve reminded you over the years, barely 3% of Americans (men and women) lead healthy lifestyles and, upwards of 70% are obese or overweight.
That’s why I’ve been ranting since the publication of these recent studies and asking, will the fate of men ever change?
A strong case for healthy living
I believe that there is indeed a very strong case to be made for a healthy lifestyle – if presented in the right way. A case built on the vast benefits derived from just a little attention to your daily habits. Outcomes that are intensely personal and meaningful in the core of your soul. Dividends that are well worth your investment.
In presenting this case, I draw on the evidence of scientists and medical experts shared in my columns over past two years. By consolidating these individual vignettes into a comprehensive list of benefits, my goal is to “super-size” (pun intended) the cause for healthy practices, increasing the potential to create the value proposition you need to trigger action and sustain your commitment.
At the center of the case, the value proposition I keep referencing, are the activities enabled by better health: quality time with children and grandchildren, encore careers, travel and whatever else you aspire to do that requires physical capacity – essentially, everything in life.
These are what I call social motivators. The factors that create your “why,” your purpose, your meaning. With a clear focus on your social aspirations, you’ve got the platform to sustain your habits and get you through the ups and downs that everyone encounters.
The experts on benefits
Before I jump to my list of reasons to live healthy, let’s review a few high-level points from the experts to reinforce the fact that my list is grounded in science.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. The benefits of exercise include brain health, a reduction in disease risk, weight management, stronger bones and muscles, and an increased ability to perform everyday functions.
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that healthy habits can make a big difference in your life. They studied the impact of health habits on life expectancy and found that both men and women who met a 5-point criteria for good habits lived impressively longer lives than those did not: 14 years for women and 12 years for men. The report notes that people who met none of the 5 criteria were far more likely to die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
The Mayo Clinic provides a great practical example, suggesting that a daily, brisk walk can help prevent or manage heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Finally, the Cleveland Clinic reminds us that the benefits of working out extend to both your body and your mind.
My top 25 list
So, with the experts on record documenting the science behind these outcomes, here are my top 25 benefits of a healthy lifestyle. When looked at in this very direct and consolidated fashion, I think it makes a compelling case. Now, this is totally old school, but feel free to print this list and post it somewhere prominent so that when you’re ready to shut the alarm and roll over, you may get a peek at them and muster up the drive to get up and start moving. Here you go.
1. Longer life
2. Better sleep
3. More energy
4. Reduced pain
5. Natural testosterone
6. Natural immunity
7. Reduced risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes
8. Improved cardiovascular health/reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
9. Save money
10. Better mood, more happiness, less depression
11. Reduced anxiety
12. Improved mental functioning
13. Fewer headaches
14. Less gastrointestinal problems
15. Lower blood pressure
16. Lower levels of inflammation
17. Lower risk of vision loss
18. Weight loss
19. Improved sex life
20. Better skin
21. Fewer respiratory infections
22. Better oral health
23. Stronger muscles and bones
24. Delay in the onset of disability
25. Prevention of falls and hip fractures
Inspired? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, if you can get your spouse or significant other to join you, not only will you increase your chances to maintain your habits, but you’ll lay the groundwork for a closer and improved relationship – which in-turn, serves as the best source of motivation to keep up the healthy habits. Do you see how this reinforcing circular dynamo works?
Once you get in this rhythm, there’s no telling what you can achieve and how good you’ll feel. And, most importantly, you’ll have a better shot at keeping up with an active social calendar (the kids, grandkids, spouse and the like) which is ultimately, what life’s all about. A pretty good dividend for about 2 and 1/2 hours a week and just a little bit of discipline.
In my next column, I’ll rundown the details on the full scope of healthy behaviors. Yes, diet and exercise are at the heart, but you’ll be pleased to know that there is a lot more you can do to contribute to your health and well-being. Until then, I hope this list makes the case and convinces you to start a new journey. The benefits are ample. Give it a shot.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of “Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” Read more from Louis on his website.