A Healthier Husband
By Sari Harrar
How to get him to shape up - without nagging or driving yourself
Last winter, Eric Lagergren caught a stubborn cold. "I was exhausted for
a week and a half and just not getting any better," he says. He also was
drinking water constantly and getting up eight or nine times a night to go to
the bathroom. "Then I got clumsy," says Lagergren, 33, who's an editor
at the University of Michigan English Language Institute. "One weekend, I
broke two or three things around the house — dishes and a vase."
On his own, Lagergren would have waited until things got even worse before
seeing a doctor. But his wife, Kathryn Taylor, stepped in. Taylor wasn't
worried about her tableware; she was worried about her husband. An
endocrinologist delivered the diagnosis: type 1 diabetes. Lagergren's doctors
suspect that his respiratory virus caused his immune system to go into
overdrive, attacking the insulin-producing cells in his pancreas. His body's
ability to make insulin, the hormone that tells cells to absorb glucose (blood
sugar), was shutting down. "I give Kathryn all the credit for my quick
diagnosis," says Lagergren, who now uses an insulin pump to control his
illness. "Catching diabetes early reduced my risk for long-term
complications like heart disease. Thanks to my wife, I'm healthier now than I
was before I had diabetes!"
Like Lagergren, many guys need a big — or little — nudge from a caring
spouse at crucial turning points in their health. In a recent American Academy
of Family Physicians survey of some 1,100 men, 92 percent admitted they wait at
least a few days before getting care when they feel sick or have pain — and
almost 30 percent will hold out "as long as possible." They skip
routine care, too. More than half hadn't had a complete physical in the past
year, even though 42 percent had a chronic health condition, including high
blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, or cancer. Many are also
lax about recommended screenings, such as cholesterol tests, prostate checks,
and colon exams. "One of the biggest obstacles to improving the health of
men is men themselves," says AAFP board chair Rick Kellerman, M.D.
"They'll wait to see a doctor until their symptoms are really severe. And
if they're feeling fine, they won't go at all."
But there's hope: You have the power to motivate your guy to do the right
thing for himself. "Nearly 80 percent of men in our survey reported that
their spouse or significant other influences their decision to go to the
doctor," Dr. Kellerman says.
Best of all, you can make a difference without badgering him or making
yourself nuts. In fact, your actions may do your talking for you. When health
economists Tracy A. Falba, Ph.D., from Duke University, and Jody L. Sindelar,
Ph.D., from Yale, analyzed the lifestyle habits of some 6,000 couples, they
found that a woman's own healthy changes often prompted her husband to follow
suit. Men whose wives quit smoking were eight times more likely to kick the
habit, too, compared to those whose spouses continued to light up. If women
started having yearly flu shots, their husbands were six times more likely to
get vaccinated themselves.
There are other motivators as well. Here's what top men's health experts and
regular guys say works.