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VIBERT: Maritime men among the least healthy

It likely didn’t take a national survey to tell us that more than three-quarters of Maritime men are unhealthy slugs – most any Maritime woman would tell you that – but now that we have data, we’re supposed to do sometime about it.

If you like silver linings behind your rolling clouds of flab, we can take the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation’s (CMHF) word that it’s not that hard to start changing the bad behaviour and get healthy.

That seems counter-intuitive since virtually all of us are fully aware of the five poor health behaviours the foundation identified, and we haven’t changed yet. But hope springs eternal, which It why so many are going to start a rigorous exercise program, tomorrow.

There’s an easier way out for down-east layabouts. We can listen to the devils of our worse nature and take solace from those portly prairie boys. At least we’re not quite as slovenly as they are.  

In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 78.6 per cent of men are deemed unhealthy, compared to 77.5 per cent in the Maritimes. Nationally, 72 per cent of the male population exhibits two or more of the bad five behaviours that get you labelled unhealthy by the CMHF.

The behaviours are predictable – poor diet, insufficient exercise, too much booze, smoking (tobacco), and too little or too much sleep. They’re hard habits to break. I’ve licked two of them but giving up booze and smokes made me so crotchety I took up residence in a big easy chair and binged on cable news and pie. I’d exercise, but my sweats seem to have shrunk.

The men’s health foundation wants us to think of these unhealthy behaviours like a ladder. Their metaphor lets you climb a rung by switching a bad behaviour for a healthy habit. They don’t say what happened to the six per cent of Canadian males who’ve already made it to the top and there’s no suggestion you get to climb back down. 

The reward is apparently good health itself, and you know what they say: If you have your health you have everything. “They” as usual are incorrect. If you have your health, you have your health. “Everything” includes the motorcycle of your choice and a beach house in Maui.

There’s no escaping the fact that the lifestyle of the Canadian male is overtaxing the nation’s health care system.  CMHF chairman, Dr. Larry Goldenberg says that 70 per cent of men’s chronic health conditions are caused by lifestyle.

So, if Canadian men give up the smokes, cut back on the booze, eat better, sleep seven hours a night and exercise 150 hours a week, we’ll all live longer, healthier lives. There is no promise of happiness included.

There must be tipping point when the benefits to the health system from the decrease in overweight, wheezing middle-aged guys is overtaken by the increase in really old men who lived right. 

If, hypothetically, all men get healthy and live longer, the cost of caring for the aged will surely skyrocket. To strike a healthy balance, as it were, we must need a certain percentage of men to smoke, drink excessively, over-eat and generally carouse themselves into an early grave.

But apparently there’s no shortage of volunteers willing to risk a shorter more drink and dessert-filled existence rather than opt for a long life of kale and calisthenics.

The CMHF released the national survey results to kick off Canadian Men’s Health Week, which starts today and runs to Father’s Day.  It’s the first national survey of men’s health behaviours and sampled 2,000 Canadian men aged 19 to 94 reflecting the demographic mix determined in the 2016 census.

An unhealthy diet is the biggest problem. Sixty-two per cent of Canadian men don’t well; 59 per cent don’t get enough exercise; 39 per cent drink too much and 20 per cent still smoke. Fifty-four per cent get too little or too much sleep.

So, standing here on the second rung of the CMHF ladder, it’s decision time. What’s first, cutting out the pie or squeezing into the old sweat suit?  Maybe, a little nap time will do the trick.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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