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Men need to take their health more seriously

It’s hard to stay healthy in this modern day of fast foods, binge-watching and instant gratification.

The good news is the life expectancy at birth for South African men has increased from 54 years in 2009 to an estimated 61.2 years, according to the latest figures from Statistics SA, announced in a media release by Profmed.

However, women live an average of almost six years longer than their male counterparts. Why is this?

Listen to your body

“Over the last 20 years men have become more and more aware of their health,” says Profmed CEO Graham Anderson. “People today are far more aware of the functioning of their bodies, thanks to the increasing popularity and promotion of health clubs and gyms, community events like parkruns and even competitive sporting events like the Comrades and the Argus. “When I ran my first Comrades in 1980, there were about 4,000 people at the starting line. Today it’s 20,000 to 25,000 entrants.”

It’s more important than ever that men take their health seriously, as early detection can play a significant role in the outcome of treatment. According to the South African Men’s Health Society, most women are taught from a young age to do health checks like breast examinations and go for regular check-ups, while men are more reluctant to address their health concerns.

Know the signs

“Not all men are comfortable discussing symptoms, especially ones they find disconcerting,” says Anderson. “Men need to prioritise their health: get enough exercise, drink less alcohol, drink more water and quit smoking.”

Most common problems for men


In South Africa, diabetes is the second biggest killer after tuberculosis (StatsSA, 2016 Mortality and Causes of Death in South Africa). However, many men don’t know what the symptoms are, and only seek medical help when they experience kidney disease or vision loss.

“You should have your blood sugar tested once a year; look out for increased thirst, frequent hunger, urinating more often and blurred vision.

Heart disease

According to John Hopkins Hospital, the risk of heart disease rises steeply after age 45 for men, and obesity is a contributing factor, as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The Heart & Stroke foundation says more people die of cardiovascular disease in a year in South Africa than of all the cancers combined.

Look out for tightness in the chest, dizziness, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomach pain.

Prostate cancer

More than 4 000 South African men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and the lifetime risk is 1 in 18, according to the 2013 National Cancer Registry.

“Prostate cancer is a genuine concern for men over the age of 40, and you should have your prostate examined on a regular basis,” reminds Anderson.

Look out for problems urinating as an early symptom.

Colon and rectal cancer

It’s the second-most common cause of cancer-related death in South African men, with an incidence of 1 in 75. The symptoms are rectal bleeding, changes in your bowel movements, pain in the stomach, weakness, and weight loss.

Throat and lung cancer

Coming in third, lung cancer affects 1 in 76 SA men. You can prevent most lung cancers by making one lifestyle change: quit smoking.


In South Africa, 14 men of all ages die by suicide each day, according to research done by AfricaCheck.

Men are five times more likely to die from suicide than women.

“Men don’t like to talk about their feelings,” warns Anderson, “Especially if he is struggling with unemployment and can’t support his family.”

If you are feeling ‘empty’, ‘numb’, hopeless or worthless, you need to see a doctor. “The first step is acknowledging that depression is a disease like any other with clinical treatment options.” If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, be proactive and make an appointment to see your GP for a check-up.

“Being proactive about your health increases your chances of picking up problems early. Early detection can make all the difference,” says Anderson.