From prostate health or testicular cancer to hair loss and overall fitness, men can face a variety of health concerns. Particularly as we get older. But, when there’s an issue, men are less likely to seek professional help than women.1
Pedro Santos, registered nurse in AXA Health's 24/7 health support line for members, highlights whether you’re feeling low, struggling to keep fit or you have symptoms that could point to something more serious, it’s important not to ignore it.
We’ve gathered data and expert insight to explore a range of men’s health issues and answer some of the most common questions.
It’s increasingly important to look after our physical and mental health as we get older. As hormone levels change and immune systems weaken, we become more susceptible to certain health conditions.
You may also experience gradual changes. You may feel like you have less energy or that your memory isn’t as good as it was. And it could take longer to recover from an illness or injury.
These are natural changes that happen to all of us, so it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and make sure you’re doing all you can to look after yourself. Areas to consider include:
Sleep - Sleep allows our minds and bodies to recharge, repair and relax. Try and get to bed at the same time and aim for around seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Healthy habits - Don’t drink too much alcohol. Stop smoking cigarettes. Make sure you eat enough fruit and veg. This is always good advice, but it’s particularly important as we get older.
Water - Drinking plenty of water is important for the immune system, energy, digestion, maintaining a healthy weight, organ function and healthy skin. So, we need to stay hydrated - it’s as simple as that.
Exercise - Regular exercise is always important. As you get older, try and focus on movements that will benefit you the most. Swimming instead of running, for example, can aid mobility and flexibility without damaging the joints.
Mind health - Brain training exercises, such as puzzles, can improve memory and help you stay alert. Meanwhile, mindfulness exercises are great for easing stress levels and understanding your emotions.
For more information on what to expect and look out for as you get older, check out our article, What happens as we get older?
2) Obesity and weight gain
One of the most common health issues for men is weight-management. In the UK, nearly seventy percent (68.2%) of men are overweight or obese, a statistic that has been rising steadily since the early 90s.2
The word ‘obese’ describes someone who’s overweight because of excess body fat. Obesity increases the risk of numerous health conditions including diabetes, arthritis, various cancers and heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for men in the UK.3
A relatively simple way to find out if you’re obese, and to determine what a healthy weight would be, is to calculate your body mass index (BMI) score. While this isn’t used to diagnose obesity, it’s a useful indication.
You can work out your score by entering your weight and height into the NHS BMI healthy weight calculator. Then cross-reference your score as follows:
- 18.5 to 24.9 = healthy weight
- 25 to 29.9 = overweight
- 30 to 39.9 = obese
- 40 or above = severely obese
The best way to curb weight gain or address obesity is to make lifestyle changes. This could include reducing your calorie intake and making sure you stay active. If you’re obese or severely obese, it’s important to lose weight safely, which could involve speaking to a doctor about the best approach for you.
For more information and ideas on how to look after yourself as you get older, check out our latest article on Obesity and weight gain.
3) Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cause of heart attacks and was the leading cause of death for both men and women throughout the world in 2019.4
It is caused when the blood supply to the heart is obstructed by fatty deposits building up in the coronary arteries. Some of the main symptoms of CHD include:
- angina (chest pain or discomfort)
- shortness of breath
- feeling faint or nauseas.
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and some may not have any. There are a number of risk factors, including obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. If your doctor feels you’re at risk, they might carry out an assessment and conduct tests to make a diagnosis.
To reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, or to treat it in the first instance, doctors usually recommend lifestyle changes. These may include exercise, healthy eating, lowering your alcohol intake and quitting smoking if you smoke. Other possible treatments include medication, angioplasty and surgery.
Our article on coronary heart disease includes more information on the causes of CHD, as well as the lifestyle changes that can help prevent it.
4) Testicular cancer
Though it’s classified as rare, testicular cancer is still the most common cancer among men between the ages of 15 and 49. Around 2,400 men in the UK are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year5, so it’s important to check yourself regularly. The symptoms to look out for include:
- a hard lump on the testicle
- swelling of the testicle
- an ache, pain or feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the area
- one testicle becoming enlarged (please note it’s normal for one to be larger than the other).
We’re talking about a very sensitive area of the body, so there are plenty of other causes for lumps, aches and pains. There’s every chance a lump might be a cyst or damaged blood vessel, for example, so there’s no need to be alarmed if you discover something that doesn’t feel quite right.
But you still need to get it checked by a doctor.
Advice from Macmillan states that, “from puberty onwards, it is important to check your testicles regularly”. The more often you examine yourself, the more familiar you’ll be with what ‘normal’ feels like. This will help you identify any irregularities.
Testing and treatment
Any lump, pain or swelling needs to be checked by a doctor. They’ll test to confirm the cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan if necessary.
The three main courses of action are: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. With early detection, treatment is very likely to be successful, so it’s important to get checked out as soon as possible if you’re concerned.
Read our article, Testicular cancer – the symptoms and treatment, for expert insight and detailed information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for testicular cancer.
5) Prostate health
The prostate is a small gland, around the size of a walnut, which sits under the bladder and in front of the rectum. It produces the fluid that mixes with sperm to create semen and, as you get older, it tends to increase in size.
It’s very common in men over the age of 50 to have an enlarged prostate, or ‘benign prostate enlargement’.
An enlarged prostate can affect urination, though not everyone experiences any issues at all. If symptoms become troublesome, they can be treated but an enlarged prostate isn’t cancer, nor does it increase the likelihood of getting cancer.
Read our article on Prostate health and prostate cancer for more information.
6) Prostate cancer
According to Prostate Cancer UK, an eighth of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.6 Prostate cancer develops slowly and often has no symptoms, particularly early on.
The symptoms that do exist tend to be subtle and difficult to detect, but they include:
- needing to urinate urgently
- difficulty in urinating (if the flow stops, starts or you have to strain to urinate)
- urinating frequently (particularly at night), or feeling like you can't fully empty your bladder
- pain when urinating, or blood in the urine or semen (these are rare)
- severe weight loss
- lower back pain or bone pain.
There are, of course, plenty of benign conditions that could cause these symptoms, but it’s worth seeing your GP if you’re concerned. Particularly if you’re over 50, as the chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older.
7) Mental health
Over a third (35.2%) of men think they’ve had a mental health condition at some point7, but many still keep quiet when they’re struggling. Societal expectations and outdated macho stereotypes can make it difficult for men to open up or even admit they have an issue.
But not seeking help can have serious consequences. Since the mid-1990s, men have accounted for around three quarters of registered suicides in England and Wales. This trend continued in 2021 with 4,129 male suicides, out 5,583.8
Take a moment to read this article from our Mental Health Consultancy Lead, Eugene Farrell, where he explores the question, Why do men find it difficult to ask for help?
It’s as important to look after our mental health as it is our physical health. And just as there are multiple factors that affect us physically, there are many issues that can cause us to suffer mentally, including:
- stress at work, and / or burnout
- relationship problems
- isolation, which was a particular issue during the pandemic
- drug / alcohol use
- physical health problems
- financial issues.
These issues affect us all, and everyone struggles from time to time. It’s important to maintain our mental health to make sure we can cope with setbacks and ensure they don’t turn into long-term issues.
There are plenty of ways you can manage your wellbeing, from exercise and meditation to speaking to a professional. Our Mental health hub has lots of articles that can help too.
Fertility is often something people don’t worry or think about until it’s time to start a family. But around one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving9 and it’s thought that problems with sperm, including a low sperm count or quality, are a factor in around a third of those cases.10
There are genetic and hormonal conditions that can affect the sperm, but our lifestyle can also play a big part. Some common causes of a low sperm count include:
- being overweight or obese
- using recreational drugs
- drinking too much alcohol
- some medications
- sexually transmitted infections.
So, by cutting out smoking and other toxins, moderating alcohol intake and exercising, you stand a better chance of maintaining a good sperm count, whether it’s a concern now or in the future.
But if you and your partner have been struggling to conceive for over a year, it’s worth visiting your GP. They’ll be able to conduct tests and offer advice as to next steps and available options.
9) Hair loss
Hair loss is extremely common for men. It’s thought that around a fifth of men experience significant hair loss by the age of 20.11 This includes everything from male pattern baldness to a receding hairline or thinning of the hair. It’s different for everyone, and there’s no set age that it happens, but several factors can cause it.
Genes - It’s thought that most men go bald due to an inherited condition called androgenetic alopecia.
Diet and nutrition - Being deficient in certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin D, can impact hair loss.
Smoking - Smoking can cause hair loss by affecting hormones and damaging hair follicles.
Stress - Stress hormones have many potential effects on the body, one of which is hair loss.
Supplements - Taking anabolic steroids or testosterone hormone replacement can replicate the causes of androgenetic alopecia.
Hair loss is a natural part of aging, and nothing to be ashamed of. However, for further information and suggestions on how to treat the causes of hair loss, check out our article, What you should know about male hair loss.
- Men’s Health Forum – Understanding of health and access to services
- House of Commons Library – Obesity Statistics
- Office for National Statistics – Deaths registered in England and Wales 2021
- British Heart Foundation – Facts and figures
- Cancer Research UK – What is testicular cancer?
- Prostate Cancer UK – About prostate cancer
- Priory Group – Mental Health Statistics
- Office for National Statistics – Suicides in England and Wales, 2021
- NHS – Infertility overview
- NHS – Low sperm count
- Dr. Alan J. Bauman, Hair Restoration Physician featured on GQ – How to know if you will go bald