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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

15 June 2021

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Shifting the mindset on men's health

‘Prevention is better than cure’. It’s the age-old adage you’ve probably heard many times before, and it’s a fantastic approach to take on your health. But as Cairns GP and JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry Senior Lecturer Dr Lachlan McIntosh can attest, the trick is getting men to put the advice into practice.

From 14-20 June, we mark Men’s Health Week, an initiative raising awareness of the health issues affecting men and boys. As a clinician with a special interest in men’s health, Dr McIntosh is aiming to motivate his male patients to be proactive and manage their health by engaging with their GP.

“Often the challenge we face is just getting blokes in the door," Dr McIntosh says. "We know men tend to visit the GP less frequently than women, and they tend to have monitored health conditions or symptoms for longer before visiting the doctor. It means men are presenting later in the course of an illness where there may be less I can do for them or interventions are more severe.

“Particularly for younger blokes, there is a common misconception that they're bulletproof. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity tend to be more of an issue for middle-aged to older blokes. But a lot of the groundwork is laid earlier in life in terms of things like inactivity, smoking, and diet,” Dr McIntosh says.

A proactive approach to addressing health issues

According to Dr McIntosh, mental health is another primary concern for many of his male patients. It’s an issue that has been exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People have been facing a lot more stress at home and work. I know there are a lot of blokes who struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. I think the pandemic has really brought these issues to the forefront.”

Dr McIntosh works in the JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry to equip medical graduates to pursue a career in General Practice. His focus includes teaching hands-on practical skills to undergraduate students, including the skills needed to engage male patients and conduct sensitive or intimate examinations. His advice to future GPs is to take a broader approach when male patients visit.

“Given the lower rates of GP visits among men, you may not know when you’re going to see them again. So with each visit doctors must take the opportunity to not just unpack the main reason the patient has come in, but to look at those preventative health activities and get them thinking more broadly about their health.

“There is a lot of scope to be proactive and preventative in the health issues men face. That’s why I took a special interest in men’s health. If you're able to engage with blokes, you can potentially prevent conditions or minimise the impact down the track."

Dr McIntosh hopes that men will take the same approach themselves, checking in regularly with their GP rather than waiting for a major issue to present itself.

“It's a lot like taking a car in for service. You take it in, even when it’s running well, for an oil change, tune-up, tyre pressure check, those sorts of things. You do it because you know otherwise you may end up broken down, stuck on the side of the road. The same should be true with your health. Regularly visiting your GP, checking things are running well, your blood pressures good, screening for conditions – it can really benefit you in the long term,” Dr McIntosh says.

Lachlan riding at sunrise
Lachlan after the Cairns Ironman 70.3
Left: Dr McIntosh enjoying the sunrise on an early morning ride. Right: Feeling good after participating in the Cairns Ironman 70.3 team event 2021

Putting the advice into practice

“A lot of blokes know what they need to do, but they might need some assistance putting things into practice. JCU does a fantastic job training GPs who are equipped to guide people through those processes. They work with you to find solutions that are right for you.”

Dr Lachlan McIntosh, JCU Senior Lecturer and GP Fellow

Dr McIntosh has three tips for men to make simple changes to their lifestyle which can improve their health and wellbeing.

  • Get huffing and puffing! Getting out for some moderate exercise a few times a week can make a big difference. Ideally, 30 minutes five times a week of heart rate rising activity in which you are breathing heavier than normal but can still carry on a conversation.
  • Ditch the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. Be proactive about your health and go to see your GP (or find a GP if you don’t already have one!) Even if you’re feeling well, having a chat with your doctor can optimise your health now and into the future.
  • Call a time out. Make time for mindfulness activities, such as yoga or breathing exercises, to press pause on the stresses and busyness of your daily routine. Just a few minutes regularly can help you look after your mental and emotional wellbeing and play an important role in overall health.

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