It’s Men’s Health Month, so this edition of HCA Today is all about the guys. As we close out this important observance, HCA Healthcare leaders encourage men to rise above these worrying men’s health statistics.

On average

Don’t be an average man.

We’ve picked the brains of some of HCA Healthcare’s top health authorities to help men on the quest for fitter, happier and healthier tomorrows.

Read on to be informed, inspired and to reduce your risks!

(Top L) Dr. Jonathan Perlin, HCA Healthcare’s president of clinical services and chief medical officer; (Bottom L) Dan Roberts, RN, ACNP, PhD, vice president of care delivery and performance, nursing clinical services; (Top R) Dr. Ravi Chari, president of HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division; (Bottom R) Dr. Christopher Ott, chief medical officer at HCA Healthcare’s Physician Services Group

The keys to living healthy

Perlin: Healthy living means living your life in such a way that emotional and physical wellness allow you to do the things you want to do. The little choices you make every day not only affect your life, but determine the quality of your life. Whether it’s time with family, sports and recreation, or being effective at work, I know that regular exercise, a healthy diet and sufficient sleep let me live my life to the fullest.

Ott: Living healthy means we must be personally accountable to and make impactful decisions about our individual health.  We must, be ever-mindful of what we eat, drink and consume and actively build strong social networks.

The key to all of these goals is maintaining an appropriate weight by avoiding excess and creating personal guardrails to prevent over-consumption that is a direct result of being overweight and sedentary. Obesity has become an epidemic in this country singularly caused by our over-consumption of calories in relation to our metabolic needs, period. We must take ownership of our health as adults and set good examples for our families, peers and children.

Roberts: Healthy living is a personal journey of mind, body, and spirit balance, where positive choices continue to ensure a healthier me.

Chari: Our health is the most important thing we have, and sometimes I take it for granted. I am reminded about the importance of health when I have a setback, or when I learn about a family member or friend who is suffering from an illness.

Healthy living is about controlling the things in health that we can, and for me, there are three things: (1) exercising and being active, (2) eating well, and (3) Making healthy choices, such as not smoking, managing your blood pressure and getting a screening colonoscopy.

I try to achieve aerobic activity to get my heart rate in the right zone and work out in the gym to maintain strength and flexibility. These both complement each other to help me feel in shape and energetic.

My approach to eating healthy is to make sure I eat fruit and vegetables every day. Though I do like my bacon and chips, my focus is moderation and portion control.

One condition that is particularly important to be aware of, and treat if needed, is high blood pressure. Hypertension is a real driver of cardiovascular disease and often goes untreated.

Colleagues from HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division, raise awareness during Men’s Health Month with a “Wear Blue” day.

Advocating for men’s health

Perlin: Men are notoriously bad patients. I don’t just mean anecdotally; the data show that we don’t reliably seek preventive healthcare or even address symptoms that are present. My wife will tell you that I fit the stereotype, too!

We’ve got a lot of work to do in encouraging men to connect more fully with healthcare. HCA Healthcare’s mission supports the care and improvement of human life, and we have a target population—men—whose health needs are systematically under-addressed. So, we need to make it a norm to get men to take more ownership for their own health.

Meanwhile, the important women in our lives are our best advocates. And, yes, it was my wife’s “encouragement” that got me to the dentist.

Chari: As the HCA Healthcare West Florida Division President, I have the awesome responsibility of leading a healthcare system committed to improving the health of a region in America. To me, that means helping all people in that community live healthier lives: our patients, our colleagues and our physicians.

For me, raising the bar in men’s health is about raising awareness for men on the importance of fitness, balanced lifestyle and healthy choices.

Roberts: I support men’s health, and the health of all patients, by ensuring we provide the best possible nursing care. We achieve this through using evidence-based clinical documentation (EBCD), measuring key performance indicators and providing performance visibility of our care delivery. This allows for understanding the effectiveness of our care delivery models and how we can improve on nursing performance.

Ott: At HCA Healthcare, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. This means providing our patients with targeted healthcare services at every stage of life to keep men active and functional. From immunizations to chronic disease preventative services to laboratory and cancer screenings, we help men address lifestyle and healthcare needs as they age.

HCA Healthcare employs and partners with a wide range of physician specialists, including internists, orthopedists, sports medicine physicians, urologists and bariatric surgeons, who help men improve their overall health and wellness.

Expert tips for a healthy body

Chari: I set goals every week and work to achieve them. I run three times a week and workout in the gym twice per week. The only reason that I would deviate from my routine is due to injuries that can sometimes creep up. When that happens, I modify the regimen. So, if I cannot run, I will bike or swim.

Beyond this structured approach, I love being outdoors and being active. When I am doing this, activities are usually less organized and it is more about being outside and active through biking, hiking and walking.

HCA Healthcare’s West Florida Division president, Dr. Ravi Chari, sets a goal to run three times per week in his men’s health quest

Roberts: I love my wok! I enjoy stir frying healthy vegetables. I cook in my wok very often so I make sure I’m getting plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables and lean protein.

Perlin: Let’s talk about diet: I like to eat. To be clear, eating a healthy diet doesn’t mean starving yourself. It means making better choices every day. So, while I will splurge for something like spare ribs on occasion, pork tenderloin on the smoker is equally satisfying and it has only marginally more fat than skinless chicken breast.

There are a couple of books I recommend: “Eat This, Not That” and “Grill This, Not That”. They offer numerous possibilities to eat “manly” and satisfying meals that are also good choices. By the way, it’s almost impossible to commit to healthy eating alone, so healthy eating has to be a family choice.

Ott:. I avoid all liquids with calories unless they also have a proof. I leave out additives, such as croutons, shredded cheese, most dressings and sauces from my regular meals. To avoid mindless eating, I create a barrier to over-consumption – meaning, I take time to prepare most of my meals so I can intentionally avoid processed or readily available “box” foods.

I exercise five to seven days a week; both aerobic and weight lifting but do not partake in extreme forms of exercise, such as marathons or cross-fit, that create excessive wear and tear on joints. Most importantly, I reserve time on my schedule to participate in these wellness activities at home and on the road. You cannot give 12 daily hours of your life to work and ignore your need for exercise, healthy food, sleep and socialization.

Dr. Christopher Ott, chief medical officer at HCA Healthcare’s Physician Services Group, reserves time for wellness activities at home and on the road. Pictured on a recent trip to Iceland.

Keep your mind healthy, too

Chari: I think it is important to have activities that allow you to disconnect, unwind and help your mind healthy and balanced. Two key things that are important for physical health, exercise and eating well, are also critical for my mental health.

I also like to keep my mind active: I love to read and learn about science and technology: both fiction and non-fiction. Healthcare is an area that is really based on science and accelerated by technology, so seeing these areas advance and  unfold helps me think how we at HCA Healthcare can use science and technology with our size and scale to unlock possibilities to improve how we deliver care to our patients.

Roberts: My mental down time is usually spent reading autobiographies. I find it fascinating to learn about other people and how they became who they are. The journey of the person is more fascinating at times than the person.

Perlin: HCA Healthcare’s CFO, Bill Rutherford, introduced me to the concept of “The Corporate Athlete”. Developed at Johnson and Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, the concept they evolved is you can’t bring your best game to work unless you are physically, mentally and spiritually fit.

After learning more about this from Bill, I made a life-changing commitment: I now get up every morning and do yoga, weights and run for an hour before breakfast. I can’t tell you how much better I feel, and I am sure it sets me up to be more effective at work, at home and at play.

Ott: There are some simple psychological exercises that work hand-in-hand in achieving optimal health and overall wellness. Behavioral psychologists recommend practicing “envisioning” exercises that challenge us to picture the “future us.” And, studies suggest that by doing these exercises, we are more likely to take better current care of ourselves – exercise more, save more, etc. – when we picture what our unhealthy habits and financial investments, or lack thereof, might lead to over time.

How to get healthy NOW

Perlin: When you think about diet, live your life like you’ve had a heart attack. Don’t think about the decision in the context of “going to the doctor,” think about it in terms of how you want the rest of your life to unfold.

Do you want to be there for your kids or grandchildren? Do you want to be able to travel, hike or enjoy life in retirement? Taking care of yourself is something you do to be able to do the things you want to do, and it’s also something you do for others. And, by the way, it’s never too late to stop tobacco, eat healthier and exercise more.

Chari: Life can get busy. But, you have to make your health a priority.

Focus on activities that fit into your lifestyle and schedule so that the activities can actually be accomplished. Find someone who will help you hold yourself accountable. For me, my wife is a work-out friend, and while I can’t keep up with all her activities, her self-discipline encourages me to up my game. On weekends we do things together outdoors so we stay active together.

See your doctor and check for treatable conditions, such as high cholesterol; have your blood pressure checked and manage hypertension; make sure and get a colonoscopy at 50 years old to screen for colon cancer.

If you are feeling unwell, or you notice a bump or lump, don’t ignore it; have it checked out early. I do want to stress that feeling unwell also refers to your mental health: stress, anxiety and depression are leading causes of disease and need to be addressed and treated.

Ott: Often times, it takes an external influencer to change personal behavior. For instance, if a physician talks to a patient about the risks of smoking, he/she is more likely to quit than if a family member were to have that conversation. Physicians and healthcare providers can be those activators and influencers to guide healthier lifestyles.

I encourage patients to have those regular touchpoints and open conversations with their physicians, know their current state of health and potential risks (such as high blood pressure or pre-diabetes) and hardwire a health and wellness plan in place that addresses those.

Roberts: It is never too late for patients to get serious about their health. My advice is to start small. Do little things first, creating “micro habits”. Then, add and incorporate “micro habits” into routine healthy steps.

And remember, it’s your own journey and no one else’s. So, be kind to yourself when you don’t quite make it to your goal or retain the habit. Learn and try again.

Ultimately, what’s your “WHY” for making health a priority?

Roberts: I was once told by a psychic that I would live to be 94 years old. I want to do my part simply to see if she got it right!

Ott: Simply put, my “why” is to reduce morbidity and improve my functional longevity. Humans are in a constant state of decay and degeneration and our unhealthy habits and behavior, such as being sedentary, smoking, drinking or eating in excess accelerate this decay. We should actively seek to forestall accelerated degeneration. Increasing exercise and lean body mass, as well as eating and drinking in moderation are key.

Perlin: I’m pretty high energy. I like to work hard and play hard. I want to be able to keep up that intensity throughout the remainder of my working life and in retirement for both myself and my family.

Chari:  For me, the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ is about (1) family, (2) friends and colleagues, and (3) me.

Ultimately, we all love life, we want to experience the joy and happiness with family and friends. I also know that a healthier and happier me is a better person to work with. When people feel good about themselves, others want to be around them and everyone is more productive.

In the world of healthcare, our patients will be able to sense when they are around happier colleagues and the patients’ experience will be better. Lastly, it’s about me: being healthy lets me live fuller and experience more in life.

HCA Healthcare is comprised of 185 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom. With its founding in 1968, HCA Healthcare created a new model for hospital care in the United States, using combined resources to strengthen hospitals, deliver patient-focused care and improve the practice of medicine.