As the fitness supervisor of the Harry Jerome Recreation Centre in North Vancouver, Rob Wynen is excited about a new group weight-training class being offered there exclusively for men aged 50 and up. The kinesiologist has been working in the health field for more than two decades, and he says that more needs to be done to reach out to that group when it comes to health promotion and disease prevention.
“What I have noticed over my career is that there is rarely advice geared towards men,” Wynen, a former Vision Vancouver school trustee who’s also a registered exercise physiologist, says in a phone interview. “We need to figure out a way to hook them into support services and the health system earlier. For a lot of men, the first sign of any problem is when they’re 75 years old, laying in the hospital because they had a stroke, and it’s too late at that point. We need to reach out to guys much earlier on.”
Men may be reluctant to visit the doctor, but they certainly have reason to be concerned about their health. The male suicide rate in Canada is about three times that of women, according to the SFU-based Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction. More men than women are expected to develop cancer during their lifetimes (45 percent of men and 41 percent of women), while more men than women are likely to die because of cancer (29 percent and 24 percent, respectively), according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Statistics Canada reports that men die four years earlier than women, on average.
If Wynen would like to see more conversation and action take place around men’s health, that’s exactly the point of an upcoming free workshop presented by the Cancer Prevention Centre, a partnership between the Canadian Cancer Society and the University of British Columbia. Called Men’s Health Works, the one-day seminar will discuss strategies to improve men’s wellness, particularly in the workplace.
John Oliffe, a men’s-health researcher at the UBC School of Nursing who will be speaking at the workshop, says that it’s not just a stereotype that men aren’t as engaged in health-care services as women.
“We do see guys attending family physicians and GPs less often than women, with the biggest disparity being between the ages of 20 to 55, the working years, the family-life years,” he says in a phone interview. “Inversely, there are more numbers of men than women in emergency rooms across Canada. So they do see doctors, but they tend to see them for injuries.
“If they are feeling okay physically and doing all right at work, keeping up mentally with things, they assume there’s no real reason for them to see a doctor,” he adds. “There’s very little engagement with men around screening for disease; they don’t necessarily see it as a priority.”
Oliffe points to the advantages of screening for disease, using the prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) test as an example. Although not perfect, the test allows doctors to flag potential problems sooner rather than later.
“If you can identify something earlier or when it’s just beginning, you have way more opportunities to have a curative measure,” Oliffe says. “If you have problems or urinary symptoms show up when you’re 70, they may be harder to treat than if you’d been monitoring them. Colorectal cancer has another simple screening test. There’s good benefit in being monitored, because if you see changes, you can act fairly quickly.”
B.C. is home to several innovative and effective health initiatives, Oliffe says, citing the development of several grassroots resources, such as the Dudes’ Club (Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity), which is for men living in the Downtown Eastside, and support groups for men with prostate cancer.
“Avenues that are really authentic, homegrown, and community-based might help us to think about men engaging in their health not in hospitals and other traditional settings but in the community,” he says, adding that Movember has also been very successful in getting men to pay more attention to their health.
At the same time, one area where health-promotion strategies seem to be falling short is in the workplace, says Carolyn Gotay, professor and Canadian Cancer Society chair in cancer primary prevention at UBC, who will speak at Men’s Health Works. According to the Cancer Prevention Centre, 88 percent of Canadian men work outside the home and spend more than a third of their waking hours at work, yet women make up the vast majority of participants in workplace-wellness programs, even in male-dominated organizations.
“We want to break down some of the barriers, and, hopefully, that will translate into more awareness and eventually men taking good care of themselves,” Gotay says by phone. “Living in Vancouver, there are a lot of opportunities for keeping fit and being active; we have a great yoga culture. It’s not exclusively female by any means, but it’s heavily female, so maybe there are certain things men just aren’t as comfortable doing. The workshop is a chance to bring people together to change what we know about work-wellness programs and other programs.”
Also presenting at Men’s Health Works are Dr. Larry Goldenberg, chairman of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation and UBC professor of urologic sciences; Joan Bottorff, director of the Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention; and Mary Collins, director of the Secretariat of the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance. There will be presentations on men’s-health promotion by the Don’t Change Much campaign, mental health (MEN-tal Health: It’s Personal), gay men’s health, and tobacco cessation (QuitNow Men campaign).
“Men’s health, in general, has been a neglected area,” Gotay says, “and we’re hoping to shine a little light on it.”
Men’s Health Works takes place April 14 at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (580 West Hastings Street). More information is at the Cancer Prevention Centre website.