Rethinking What “Self-Care” Means, Because Men Need Self-Care Too

May 27, 2020
Self-care is for everybody

“Self-care” is not just bubble baths and face masks—it’s also about maintaining good health habits on an everyday basis. However, because popular “self-care” practices are generally marketed to women, the impact of self-care on men’s health is often overlooked. In 2016, there was not one single country where men lived longer than women. In fact, average global life expectancy for men was about four years less than the average for women. Could placing a new emphasis on men’s self-care change these figures?

In a report published last year, Peter Baker, the Director of Global Action on Men’s Health, explained that, “Genetics account for one to two years of this ‘sex gap’ and the remaining deficit is in large part due to men’s health practices, including their risk-taking behaviors and under-use of health services.” Believe it or not, this has everything to do with self-care, but maybe not the pink glittery “self-care” that usually comes to mind.  

Instead, Baker discusses the ‘Seven Pillars’ of self-care (a standard defined by the International Self-Care Foundation) and how each of these pillars contributes to health disparities between men and women.

These are the ‘Seven Pillars’ of self-care:

  1. Knowledge and health literacy.

This involves how much health knowledge an individual has, as well as their willingness to seek out information about their health. “Low health literacy levels are known to be a barrier to active information-seeking by men who are less likely to seek out health information than women.”

  1. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness, and agency.

Although experts believe that the rate of depression among men and women is probably about the same, men are less likely to seek out mental health services and may present their symptoms differently. This can lead to a missed diagnosis and increased risk factors.

  1. Physical activity.

This is the pillar of self-care that men engage with the most, and, on average, men are more physically active than women. That said, it is worth noting that “inactivity levels in men are the highest in high-income countries (32%) and lowest in low-income countries (13%).”

  1. Healthy eating.

In general, men eat more meat and are more likely to have a diet high in salt. In 2010, nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains were less consumed by men than women globally.

  1. Risk avoidance or mitigation.

This is all about avoiding things that are bad for you. Smoking, for example, is one risk that can be avoided. According to global statistics, men are five times more likely to smoke than women.

  1. Good Hygiene

Hand washing has taken on new important meaning in all of our lives, but, historically, it has been linked to poorer hygiene in men. A study of college students in the U.S. found that 76% of women washed their hands after using the bathroom, compared with 57% of men. However, 56% of women used soap, and only 29% of men did the same.

  1. Rational and responsible use of products and services.

From mental health to primary care, men are less likely to seek out health services. This reluctance to seek care has been linked to ideals of traditional masculinity and “restricted emotional expression.”

Of course, all of the information presented above is based on statistics and there are exceptions to every rule. There is something to be said, however, for thinking about self-care in terms of common health practices. Self-care isn’t only for women, and it isn’t only reserved for special occasions or those “treat yourself” moments—it starts with how we treat our bodies every day.

Baker, Peter. “Who Self‐cares Wins: An Updated Perspective on Men and Self‐care.” Trends in Urology & Men’s Health 10, no. 3 (May 2019): 19

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