June is National Men’s Health Awareness Month. So we thought it very fitting to compile some of our greatest tips for being a better man (and if you’re a woman reading this, pass it along to your husband, boyfriend, brother or any guy you care about).
- Sleep. More. Yes, this is by far at the top of the list. You don’t get enough sleep. From burning the candle at both ends, putting in too much time at the office and then trying to get to your daughters soccer game, dance recital, or sons karate practice. You’re exhausted. Oh yeah, and then experts tell you to eat together as a family and you also want to spend time with your spouse all while trying to finish a big project at work and you’re on your email until the wee hours of the night! Power down and get some solid sleep (7-8 hours/night). You’ll do better at all those other things when rested.
- Eat breakfast. Intermittent fasting is all the rage right now. While that may work for some, for me, my clients and in most of the scientific literature a high quality breakfast is best. And that’s the key — high quality, meaning some color (veggies and/or fruit), some protein and fiber. A veggie omelet, for example. A couple hardboiled eggs with a piece of fruit. A homemade protein smoothie. The list can go on, but fueling your body in the AM is best.
- Power down. You may be physically present with those who matter, but being mentally present is most important. Set deliberate “no electronics” time each night with your family and actually talk. To real people. It’s amazing.
- Start your day smarter. Rather than immediately checking your IPhone as soon as your eyes open, try a new routine. Maybe pick up a magazine and read. Take a few extra minutes to play with your kids. Or spend 5 extra minutes making a quality breakfast. Down time is necessary and will boost your brain function.
- Move. More. Over the last few years, I’ve seen “experts” suggest cardio is bad. Cardio isn’t bad. Though slow cardio is not the most efficient way to lose fat, any and all movement is excellent and necessary. So in addition to your sprints or higher intensity short duration training, add general movement too. Maybe it’s walking, cycling, playing tennis or swimming – whatever you love – do it.
- Eat Bacteria. I mean, not all bacteria. Kind of weird to think about, but your body is not your body. Well, it’s not JUST your body. You share it with around 100 trillion bacteria in and all over your body. It’s known as your microbiome and it plays a major role in human health, so much so that it is often referred to as the “forgotten organ.” There are data showing your specific microbiome affects everything from immunity to skin and heart health, vitamin D status, digestive health and more – and while your microbiome is “set” by the age of four, you can alter the microbiome through diet, antibiotic use and the use of probiotics. You’ve surely heard about “live, active cultures” in yogurt, right (AKA, probiotics)?
There are at least 350 specific strains of probiotics that each have unique benefits. While many of the benefits are well established, one that’s particularly interesting to me is a specific strain, Lactobacillus reuteri (NCIMB 30242), that has just become available on the market and is backed by more than 10 years of research. In clinical research it has specifically been shown to lower total and LDL (the bad) cholesterol by 11.6% by reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food, as well as the amount of cholesterol produced by the body. Most recently, it’s also been shown to increase circulating vitamin D status. Right now it’s only available in supplement form under the brand name Cardioviva and is certainly something to check out. I’ve partnered with them as the research and potential benefits for so many impressed me.
In addition to this natural probiotic supplement, including foods like Greek yogurt and Kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut and Kimchi, among others, is a wise idea. Embrace the bacteria, since they clearly embrace you. You will continue to see more and more about this entire area of nutrition research. It’s time to move on beyond just carbs, fat and protein.
- Write Your Kids Letters on Their Birthdays. If you have kids, this one is for you. I admittedly started later than I wished on this and though I can’t take credit for the idea, I’m doing it now and that’s what matters. Each year, they get a letter. Not sure when I’ll show them — maybe when they go to college or when they get married. We’ll see, but I am sure they’ll appreciate it or at least laugh at their dad sobbing like a baby as I give these to them.
- Eat protein more frequently. While I surely think people can benefit from eating more protein as a whole, at least eating it more frequently is a start. As of now, most eat the majority of protein at night. But it would be better to spread intake more evenly throughout the day. Include a fairly equal amount with all meals and snacks. Eggs, nuts, cottage cheese, fish, chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, protein shakes — mix it up, just be sure to eat it frequently!
- Eat Your 3’s. Our daughters take fish oil daily — we call it their “3’s” for (omega 3 fats). They also eat fish regularly. With heart disease the #1 killer of men (and women) in America, eating more fish or replacing other protein sources with fish is a wise, wise idea.
- Pick up heavy things and put them down. As we age, we all can lose muscle mass – around 1% per year after age 30! Combining rule #8, along with lifting weights, will surely help prevent or reduce that normal loss. Use it.
- Floss. And Brush. Hopefully I don’t need to remind you to brush. But I likely need to remind you to floss. Doing one without the other is like riding a bike with a flat tire. Not quite as efficient. The plaque between and around your teeth that linger in your mouth can raise your risk of heart disease. Scary, so pull out that floss at least once a day at night.
- Wear sunscreen. I’ve fortunately been passionate about this since I lifeguarded for years, but all too often I see men skip this step — whether they’re at the beach or just in their daily day to day routine. Skin cancer is a real issue. And, I’ll be honest, when I saw the new study showing not wearing sunscreen daily caused 24% more wrinkles, I became even more of a stickler. My family and I are huge fans of Badger Sun Block Sport products when in the water or the Badger Daily sun product on days we’re just out playing. The ingredients have been shown to be both safe and effective and both recently got the highest safety and effective rating from the Environmental Working Group sunscreen report.
- Eat water. Watermelon, cucumbers, greens, melons and really a lot of fruits and veggies are more than 90% water. That’s a lot of nutrient dense volume for very few calories. In other words, these foods fill you up without filling you out.
- Drink your water too. Along with #13 above, drinking water is smart too. I recently started a habit that helps me feel much better — every morning, the first thing I do after getting out of bed, is fill up a large glass of ice water and drink it before coffee, tea or eating anything. It’s invigorating and gets my day started right. Try it.
- Get regular check ups. Men often feel invincible. It’s not true. Sorry guys — the Man of Steel is just a movie (though my daughter believes I’m Superman, which is perfectly fine). Once you hit 20, you should get blood work done at least every 5 years according to the American Heart Association. I certainly wouldn’t shy away from upping that frequency. Awareness is great and data suggests simple awareness gets about 50% of people to change habits.
- Know your numbers. Then make it a game to improve them. Total cholesterol under 200, HDL ideally above 60 mg/dl (with a ratio between the two less than 4:1, so getting the total lower and HDL higher), LDL under 100, triglycerides under 150, blood pressure 115/75. And these just scratch the surface but are a good start of the happenings in your body. See #15 to make sure these are all in check.
- Learn your Vitamin D status. This is another blood marker to add to your blood workup. You’ll usually have to ask your MD for this one and you need to ask for 25(OH)D test; it’s typically not part of the normal routine. But it should be. Most experts agree the ideal range is between 40 – 80 ng/ml, even though levels above 30 will put you in the “normal” category. I aim for ideal. Not “normal.”
- Get in the kitchen (to cook, not just eat)! The more you cook, the better you look (tweet this). Having lunch with a friend the other day, the topic of men cooking came up … she too is a dietitian and we talked about how men (and women) are moving further and further away from cooking. It’s sad, but I 100% believe this lack of knowledge and skill will single handily destroy our society. Fast paced. Take out. Fast food. All are fine on occasion. None are fine all the time. Get in the kitchen and be a student. Cooking is an essential life skill.
- Know your omega-3 score. This is one most MD’s won’t do. But there are some labs that will. Go to http://www.omega3test.com and order the kit — simple finger stick, you send it back to the lab and get an incredible report back that can help you improve your health even further.
- Grab your nuts. The food, that is. Nuts are one of the healthiest foods available – pistachios, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts – all are amazing for you in their own, respective ways. Some data suggests two – 1 oz servings per day can even help with weight loss. Outside of that, they’re portable, convenient, and not perishable so travel well.
- Eat a high protein breakfast. Not to belabor the points mentioned in #2 and #8, but data shows we’re not doing well in this department eating just 10 grams of protein for breakfast, about 15 at lunch and around 65 at dinner. But protein research has shown that eating around 30 grams of protein at breakfast has such a powerful effect, you’ll voluntarily have a 200 calorie decrease in the evening meal (tweet this). That can mean fat loss or at least maintenance, but it also means your muscles are happier and you can maintain muscle mass. A win win. Consider a little steak and eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or start your day with a whey protein smoothie.
- Flatten Your Spare. You don’t have to have a six pack, but aiming to flatten that spare tire will dramatically improve your health. It’s not just weight that’s an issue, but where you carry it. And the beer belly or spare tire, is a huge risk factor for all sorts of disease.
- Play. Working out doesn’t have to only be going to a gym and moving heavy iron or moving mindlessly on a treadmill watching the clock tick away. If you have kids, take them to the park, play tag, run around with them, or play in the pool. Or maybe grab some friends and shoot some hoops. Whatever it is you like, do it. This engages your mind and keeps you moving, without thinking that you’re moving. We were meant to move, not sit for hours and hours on end.
- Set a goal and crush it. I challenged myself in 2013 to do 10,000 pushups. That may seem like a lot, until you do the math and figure out it’s just around 27 per day. Easy and a great way break up the day – 3 sets of 9. Gets the blood flowing and gives you something to work towards.
- Stand up. If you’re like most, you’re an active couch potato. Sitting is the new smoking (tweet this). Maybe you hit the gym for 30 minutes each day. Great. But then most of the other 23.5 hours are sitting or lying down sleeping. You need to move, more. Set a phone to get up and move around every 60 minutes. It’s not only great for your body, but data suggests standing for as little as 2 minutes improves blood flow to your brain so you’re more alert to work more efficiently. Maybe you could even swing for a standing desk to boost productivity and improve your health.
- Unless you’re a drunken sailor, don’t spend like one. Managing your money and managing your body weight go hand in hand. In one, you’re tracking your dollars and cents – the other, you’re tracking the calories you’re eating each day. If you don’t manage your money, it will manage you, cause more stress and that can lead to weight gain. Viscous cycle.
- Color Your Diet. I’m not talking Froot Loops or Frooty Pebbles. I’m talking veggies and fruit. For every 2 veggies, eat 1 fruit and aim to include some with each meal and snack.
- Time for an oil change. The fat in your diet can have a huge impact on your health. In addition to adding the 3‘s mentioned above, the fats you use in cooking are important. Replace the junky fats – soybean oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, margarine – and swap them out with olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, avocado oil when cooking or adding to salad. I personally love an egg omelet, with a handful of arugula on top, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Mangia!
- Finish Just 80% of your plate. I’m out to dinner with friends the other night at a fantastic steak house in Chicago. The smallest steak on the menu? 12 oz (3/4 of a pound). The smallest. Not counting the sides, that’s a bit more than anyone needs in one sitting. That may be a little extreme, but in general we all eat too much when served at a restaurant or serve ourselves too much when at home.
- Eat Grains, but Use them as the Condiment. Grains are not the enemy when you choose high fiber grains. But don’t build the meal around them. Instead, fill your plate with veggies (2 handfuls) and protein (2 handfuls) as the base, then include just 1 handful of grains.
- Beans, Beans, They’re Good For Your Heart. Yeah, yeah — you’ve heard the rhyme. Beans are awesome. Eat them. Try this – Egg Stir Fry. Grab some leftover steak from the night before, slice it thin, mix it with 2 whole eggs, a handful of spinach, 1/2 cup of black beans and cook. I like it with some fresh herbs, too, but we don’t have to get carried away. Cook this up, top it with salsa. Voila. An awesome, high protein breakfast (or anytime meal).
- Take Deep Breaths. Belly Deep. When we’re putting our 4 year old to bed, we often start the routine by telling her to take deep breaths. 1. It’s super cute hearing her breath through her nose. 2. It’s great to take nice, deep belly breaths, whether you’re 4 or 54. It invigorates the mind and breathing is the newest area of health and fitness you’re going to start hearing about.
- Try something new. Maybe this is learning to cook, like in #18. Or maybe you’ve always want to play tennis, try yoga, or sign up for a short triathlon. Heck, this can be as small as trying a new food. Whatever it is, set a goal, a deadline and crush it.
- Gobble Up Berries. Tiny little berries are one of the most powerful, heart disease fighting foods available. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries – you name ‘em, you should eat them. These are concentrated little nutrient packed powerhouses. Fresh and frozen are both great, so mix them up in shakes, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt – or just by the handful.
- Embrace Quiet Time. Every single minute doesn’t have to be filled with stimulus. Quiet time is good. Take advantage of it.
There it is – 35 Ways to Make You a Better Man — just in time for National Men’s Health Week. If you enjoyed this article, please click the ‘like’ button below to share it on Facebook. Thanks!