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Health for the Long Haul

As I was putting together the Newsletter this week and trying to work out what to talk about in Warwick’s absence, lo and behold an article shows up about the town of Warwick in Southern Queensland, where they’ll be holding a breakfast later this month to talk about men’s health and fatherhood. It must be fated that we look at the issue of men’s health, especially in the lead up to International Men’s Day on the 19th of November, something that Dads4Kids is passionate about.

Unless you’re extremely lucky, odds are you’ve had a health scare some time in your life. As you get older, it becomes more and more likely to happen, despite our tendency as men to ignore things in the hope that they’ll go away.

Unfortunately this doesn’t work, as I found out recently when I was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney with a suspected heart attack despite being only 33. I had been feeling “under the weather” for several days with increasing levels of pain in my chest and back, along with heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Eventually I spoke with a friend of mine who is a GP, and he immediately bundled me in the car to take me to emergency. One overnight stay, and a week of tests followed, which resulted in a diagnosis of Viral Pericarditis; a nasty condition in which a virus tries to eat the protective sac around the heart. I’m on the road to recovery now, but it certainly gave me a wake-up call about how I look after my body.

You see, we like to pretend that we’re invincible as guys. Ten foot tall and bullet-proof, that’s how we want to be viewed, and if we’re honest, how we view ourselves a lot of the time… we’ll push ourselves until our body gives out on us, then get up and try to keep going anyway. The reality is that no-one will thank you for dying before your time, and no matter the justification there is no excuse for working yourself to death. Let’s face it, that extra overseas holiday you might be able to afford from doing all that overtime will be cold consolation to your son or daughter who looks at the empty seat where you should have been at their wedding. You can’t be a good dad if you’re six feet under.

By comparison, I know a man in his 80s who has cancer, who still runs a farm and delivers fruit, veggies and eggs to people in need in his home town. How does he do it? How did he manage to get to such a rich age and despite the breakdown of his body, continue to lead an active and productive lifestyle? When I asked him about it, here’s what he shared with me:

Know your limits
It’s no good looking at what others are doing and gauging yourself against them. Each of us is different, and we will have different limits. Learn what yours are, and understand them. Something as simple as genetics can mean that what one man can do at forty, another will be able to do at fifty, and a third will have to stop at thirty. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to improve ourselves, but no matter how much we train, most of us will never be Olympic level athletes, and we should be aware of that.

Listen to your body
Did you know that pain is your body’s way of saying that something is wrong? That shortness of breath can indicate a problem other than simply being unfit? Reading never hurt anyone, and there is a wealth of information available about how our bodies work, and how we can understand what they are telling us. It’s really important that we learn to listen to our bodies, so that we can pick up the subtle clues before they become alarm bells.

Listen to your spouse
Our spouses will often pick up changes in us that we ourselves will miss, whether they’re physical, emotional, or psychological. I know that my own tendency is to be dismissive of such things, but they really do care and they will often be one of the first lines of awareness about our health. Spouses are especially helpful when we have been pushing ourselves too hard, as they might be the only ones with the guts to tell us to take a break.

Listen to your doctor
Whilst doctors only get paid when they treat patients, which seems a bit like a fire fighter who is only paid to put out fires, the vast majority of them have our best interests at heart. We need to get into the habit of having regular health checks, of asking questions about our diets, our sleeping habits, our exercise regime (or lack thereof) and what health issues we need to be aware of. In the same way that you ask a builder how to put up a wall so it lasts, speak to your GP about how to make sure you live a long and full life, and don’t be afraid to get help when you need it.

Lovework
This week love your family by making the time to speak with your GP and get a health check done. You never know, it might save your life.

Yours for good health,
Ben Pratt

Ben is a father of four and a devoted husband who hails from Armidale in rural NSW. He is currently studying ministry and is a keen advocate for men’s issues at a local, national, and international level.

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