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Middle-aged men should make time to stay fit and healthy

Most of what is said and written about diets and weight seems to be directed at women. But in truth, weight is even more of a problem for men.

In 2010, 71 percent of American men were overweight or obese, compared with 57 percent of women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Men often wait until they are at least 50 pounds overweight before becoming concerned about it. Add to that a cultural bias that puts more pressure on women to be slim and one can see why some men might "let themselves go.''

This is unfortunate. While we know that being overly preoccupied with weight isn't healthy, neither is ignoring seriously escalating weight.

But as the story of my patient Jon shows, men and women face many of the same reasons for gaining weight.

"It seems that my weight problems started after we had children,'' he told me. "I was focusing on my career and making money to provide for my family. I lost sight of myself and before I knew it, I was 60 pounds heavier."

We all tend to become more sedentary through the years. However, the pattern with men is a bit different. Men tend to be more active in their youth, and remain active longer than women. But once they slow down — often when they're preoccupied with career, marriage and children — they become significantly less active than women.

Numerous male patients have told me that once they married, their eating habits changed. They report coming home to a sit-down dinner with more food than they needed after a long day of mostly sitting, followed by hours of TV watching or computer work (more sitting) and snacking. Add to all that the stress of work and family life, plus no formal exercise, and you have the perfect recipe for eventual obesity.

The middle-aged male who finds himself stressed, overweight, lacking energy and sleep-deprived has to change his priorities to regain his health. But everyone has an excuse for putting it off. How many of these sound familiar to you?

"I don't have time." If you wait passively for the time to appear, it will never happen because the real issue is that you have to give your health your top priority. It may be difficult rearranging and getting rid of other things that fill up your life, but it has to be done to accomplish a real change. Make yourself important and time will appear.

"I need to focus on making money now. I'll take care of myself later." This is a mistake many men make. Postponing your health is extremely risky. Too often, after each monetary goal is reached, another is put in its place. Secondly, you may just end up too old, too sick — and perhaps too dead — to enjoy the money you worked so hard to make. Work hard at your profession, but also leave time to work hard on your health. What you do with your health today will determine your future.

"I want to give my family all the things they want." What your family wants most is for you to be healthy and happy as long as possible. They don't want the "things" without you.

"I'm fine." Denial is a dangerous psychological defense mechanism when it comes to your health. We've all heard of sudden heart attack or stroke cases occur in people whose ill health was obvious to everyone but themselves. It's best to give up denial and replace it with sound concern that motivates healthy behaviors.

If these sound like you, it's time to stop procrastinating, rationalizing and fooling yourself. Time is passing. You're the only person that can take care of you properly, so take on the job and live well. You'll be proud of yourself and your loved ones will thank you for it. You might even inspire them to do the same.

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." She can be reached through her website: FatMatters.com.

Middle-aged men should make time to stay fit and healthy 04/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 4:30am]

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