Mark T. Jansen, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
Stop Ignoring Maintenance
It’s no surprise to the average Arkansas driver that we’re known as a truck state. In fact, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) estimates there are 84,000 Chevy Silverado and 78,000 Ford F150 trucks on our state roads.
So, what’s this got to do with health? Truck owners will proudly tell you they change their oil every 5,000 miles to maintain their machines. What about another important machine, their bodies? Does that truck run better right after the oil change? No, it is maintenance. So why wait till symptoms of a serious health problem pop up to get real about maintaining one’s health?
Internalizing Health Problems
Too often, media, cultural norms, and tradition have told men in Arkansas and across the country that we need to be tough. This glorification of toughness leads many men to internalize their health problems – whether physical or mental – and lead us to believe we should take care of it on our own.
It shouldn’t have to be that way. What if we flipped the switch to care for our bodies the way we maintain our other prized possessions? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die 5 years earlier than women and die at higher rates from three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries. Providing ourselves the room to take care of our whole health ensures we will be dependable, strong, and able to show up for our communities, colleagues, and loved ones. We can be leaders in talking about men’s health in the state of Arkansas.
Normalize Mental Health Care
In addition to the leading causes of death in men, we also see a glaring trend when it comes to men’s mental health. The American Journal of Men’s Health finds there is a trend of not seeking care for mental health issues, which has wide-reaching and profound consequences beyond the condition itself, resulting in unused services, diminished social connections and amplified economic hardship.
When we show up for our own health, we’re instilling healthy habits and values in the younger generations – our sons, nephews, and grandsons– following in our footsteps to build a stronger Arkansas.
Top Tips for Improving Health
- Increase your physical activity. The CDC recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. That’s just 30 minutes of walking, 5 days a week. Consider taking 30 minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk. It breaks up your workday, relieves any stress you’re feeling and can lead to a more productive afternoon.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and less saturated fats. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, and lower the risk of eye and digestive problems.
- Keep your cholesterol in check. High cholesterol leads to developing fatty deposits in your blood vessels. Just as that engine needs a clean fuel line to maximize performance, the heart needs clear arteries to provide blood and oxygen to the heart. Narrowed arteries due to cholesterol buildup can ultimately form a blood clot that can trigger a heart attack.
- Protect yourself from sun exposure. Protect your skin throughout the year, no matter the weather. Twenty minutes of unprotected sun exposure daily is actually good for you. It gives you the recommended dose of Vitamin D. But 20 minutes is the max without sunscreen for all skin tones. Malignant Melanoma, the most serious and deadly of skin cancers, is much more common in men who get excess sun exposure through recreation or their jobs.
- Screen for common cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends beginning colorectal cancer screenings at age 45. Additionally, many men with prostate cancer never experience symptoms and, without screening, would never know they have the disease. Screening can save your life.
- Normalize the conversation. Starting the conversation is the first step toward normalizing mental and behavioral health. Stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders can be difficult to discuss, but they are more common than many men realize. It’s time to talk about it.
- If you smoke, stop. Globally, nearly half of deaths due to cancer can be attributed to preventable risk factors like smoking. 44.4% of all cancer deaths and 42% of healthy years lost could be attributable to preventable risk factors in 2019. Changing your lifestyle can make all the difference.
At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, our whole person health approach acknowledges that health is influenced by many factors, including physical and behavioral health. As we strive to give our members access to the best quality care, we know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is about more than having access to and coverage of a visit to the doctor or a stay in the hospital. It is time to talk about men’s health in Arkansas for the men we know and care about.
Having a relationship with your primary care provider is a positive step to ensure you actively communicate your health and wellness goals with a licensed professional. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield makes it easy to find an in-network physician within your community. Find your local primary care physician using Arkansas BCBS physician finder.
Additionally, we’ve created a new resource to help start the conversation about your mental health. Browse resources and connect with a mental and behavioral health specialist at NormalizeTheConversation.com.
Together, we can all take steps to put our best selves – our whole selves – forward.