November 17, 2016

The Message Behind the Mustache

by Ari Levy

Guys, let’s talk about your health. Your health is important and it is time to take it seriously.

Throughout my medical career, I’ve working closely with executives and athletes, many of them men. Listening to my patients and following them over many years, I’ve noticed some patterns.

In your 20s, you’re invincible. You’re young and strong and focused on starting your adult life. You work hard and play hard and nothing can stop you. And, unless you or someone you love has had a health scare, your health isn’t top of mind.

In your 30s, you start to settle into your adult life, balancing your career and your personal ambitions, maybe starting a family. You still work hard and play hard but for the first time, you start to really feel the effects of stress, both physically and mentally. You know your health is important but you tell me you’re too busy to make it more of a priority.

Typically, it’s not until you get closer to 40s that it hits you like a ton of bricks. You can’t eat the things you used to without putting on weight. Maybe your knees don’t feel as good after a long run or all the long hours at the office and cross-country flights are taking a toll on your back. For many of my patients this is when we start to notice some pre-chronic or chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and others.

What’s happening over the year? How do we so often move from thriving in our 20s to surviving in our 40s and beyond? What is it that sneaks into our lives and starts to wear us down? The answer is clear: stress.

Much of my work with patients has focused on our body’s ability to metabolize stress and the wear and tear that comes with insufficient or ineffective coping strategies. Nowhere has this been more persistent and more unspoken than in the men I’ve cared for.

For the past 5 years, I’ve supported The Movember Foundation, raising money and awareness for men’s health issues. Their mission is to help men live happier, healthier, longer lives.

Our ability to manage stress has the potential to impact the physical and mental health issues that are a very real threat, especially for men.

Traditionally speaking, men often have a harder time processing stress and asking for and getting the help they need. We all process stress differently – the question becomes are you doing it in ways that serve you or harm you. What’s even more dangerous is that the effects of this aren’t typically outwardly noticeable, which means the negative effects are felt most acutely in the body and the mind.

Our careers are important, but running hard from early in the morning to late at night without carving out time to invest in our bodies so they can keep up with us isn’t a recipe for success.

Hands down, the number one argument I hear for not taking better care of yourself is “not enough time.” But here’s the secret, we all have exactly the same number of hours in each day. The difference comes in what we prioritize and how we choose to use those hours. Health is earned and whatever stage you’re at in life, you can start now.

So, the real question I have for you is… what are you doing to earn your health?

The answer is different for everyone, and in order to be meaningful and sustainable, you must take into account the very real factors of your life – your schedule, your demands, your interests and hobbies, your values and long-term goals.

To help you on your journey to better health, start by asking yourself, “What are my daily habits?” and “Are they helping or harming me?”

Food. When you get stressed, what are the things you let yourself cheat on – big heavy meals, sweet treats, alcohol? What indulgences can you trade out for something that will better serve you?

Move. Can you wake up 30 minutes earlier or stay up 30 minutes later and squeeze a little more movement into your day? Even light exercise can have tremendous benefits when battling stress.

Sleep. Start tracking your sleep. How much are you getting? How do you feel the next day after 5 hours, 6 hours, 7 hours or more? Ditch the snooze button and start committing to the sleep your body needs.

Connection. Emotional and/or physical connection to people who are safe, secure and trusted can do so much for our health and overall sense of wellbeing. Reach out and catch up with an old friend, enjoy a night out with your spouse, or simply hold hands with or hug someone you love. You’ll be amazed how a little connection can go a long way.

This November, let’s carve out some time to be more intentional about our health habits. Let’s look at how we’re spending the hours in our days and start taking some small, sustainable steps in the right direction. Our family, our friends, and our bodies will thank us for it.

Every time you see one of us with our Movember mustache, let it be a reminder to spend a little more time thinking about how you’re taking care of yourself. Otherwise, I’m just walking around with a fuzzy caterpillar on my face.

Want to know more? Ask Ari…



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