Understanding what health is can put you in a better position to look after it. Many of the factors that affect our health are modifiable and men can be proactive about managing them. This doesn’t mean going it alone – ensuring you have a strong, connected team who cares for your wellbeing is essential for making your physical, mental and social health the best it can possibly be.
What does health mean?
Good health is more than being free from sickness or disease, it’s about being in an optimal state of physical, mental and social wellbeing to enjoy life and navigate the bumps in the road (rather than breaking down) when they do arise. Health is fundamental to our function in society and improved health can affect everything from our finances to our family.
What influences our health?
Our health isn’t solely dependent on the body we were born with, it can be influenced by lots of things, like our education, where we live, how we get to work, and what we do for work, just to name a few. These are called social determinants of health, which include economic, political, cultural and environmental forces. These social determinants interact with our physical and psychological make-up, as well as interventions or actions taken to improve health such as seeing a doctor or getting medical treatment.
Some of the things that impact our health we can’t change, but many of them we can.
What is physical health?
Your physical health is how well your body is functioning, covering everything from illness to fitness. Physical health is maintained by getting the right quality and quantity of sleep, eating a nutritious diet, moving regularly, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking and drug use. Looking after your physical health also means reducing your risk of injury or illness such as using contraception to prevent sexually transmitted infection or a helmet to prevent head injury, practising good hygiene, and minimising your exposure to hazards.
Physical health problems can also be prevented, and put right, with the help of a doctor so ensure you’re booking a regular check-up regardless of whether or not you think something is wrong. Many men tend to self-monitor health worries1 and see a GP only as needed, rather than planning a visit on a regular basis. A study of over 13,000 Aussie men found that only 39% reported having an annual health check at their GP2, which could be a missed opportunity for discovering overlooked symptoms, discussing other concerns, and learning how you can take better care of your health.
Who can help your physical health?
- Exercise physiologist
- Allied health services, such as physios, dietitians, and podiatrists
- Aboriginal Health worker/practitioner
- Other health specialists
What is mental health?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as, “A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”3 Mental health isn’t just the absence of mental illness such as depression or anxiety, it’s how we think, feel and act. Mental health can be influenced by a range of overlapping factors including biology (mental health is affected by your genes and related to your family history of mental illness), your current circumstances (whether that’s stress at work, money problems or isolation), life experiences (such as trauma, abuse or grief), and individual coping styles.
There are ways to maintain your mental wellbeing and build resilience to cope with life’s unexpected challenges. These include regular physical activity, good sleep, creating strong connections, drinking sensibly and limiting other drugs, eating well, making time to do things you enjoy, being open and honest about how you’re feeling, and seeking help when you need it. Everyone’s mental health has its ups and downs, but if you’ve noticed the signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties for a few weeks or more, or it’s impacting important areas of your life such as relationships or work, get the right support as soon as possible.
Who can help with your mental health?
- Friends and family
- Mental health professionals and services such as counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists
- Online and phone support services such as Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), or MensLine (1300 78 99 78)
What is social health?
The concept of social health might not be as familiar to you as physical and mental health, but it’s critical for your quality of life, and the length of it. Social health is based on our ability to form and maintain strong, meaningful relationships with others. Dimensions of social health also include inclusion and participation in society, well-functioning social networks, and expression of sexuality, and can be influenced by things like unemployment, injury, illness, accessibility and major life changes. Strong relationships are linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, a stronger immune system, and greater longevity. On the flip side, loneliness can have a greater impact on health than obesity and smoking4.
Catching up with mates, checking in with family, or connecting with your community might not seem like priorities but without a bit of attention, your relationships can suffer. One way to strengthen your social connections is to reach out to the people you already know and catch up regularly. If you feel like you don’t have anyone in your life to turn to, there are plenty of ways to meet new people that aren’t as awkward as you might think. Find more opportunities to connect over shared hobbies or interests by looking into local programs, clubs, classes or communities, like Men’s Sheds.
Who can help with your social health?
- Sporting teams
- Community groups
Our physical, mental and social health affect each other in countless ways – investing in one area can help the others. If you want to maintain or improve your overall health, make sure you’re thinking about each piece of the puzzle and create a team around you that ticks all the boxes.
 Smith, J.A., Braunack-Mayer, A., Wittert, G. et al. "It's sort of like being a detective": Understanding how Australian men self-monitor their health prior to seeking help. BMC Health Serv Res 8, 56 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-8-56