It is hard to stay healthy in this modern day of fast foods, binge-watching and instant gratification.

The good news is that the life expectancy at birth for South African men has increased from 54 years in 2009 to an estimated 61.2 years, according to the latest figures from Statistics SA. However, women live an average of almost six years longer than their male counterparts. Why is this?

* Listen to your body. “Over the past 20 years, men have become more and more aware of their health,” said Graham Anderson, the chief executive of Profmed.

“People today are far more aware of the functioning of their bodies, thanks to the increasing popularity and promotion of health clubs and gyms, community events like Park Runs and even competitive sporting events like the Comrades and the Argus. When I ran my first Comrades in 1980, there were about 4000 people at the starting line - today there are 20000 to 25000 entrants.”

It’s more important than ever that men take their health seriously, as early detection can play a significant role in the outcome of treatment. According to the South African Men’s Health Society, most women are taught from a young age to do health checks like breast examinations and go for regular check-ups, while men are more reluctant to address their health concerns.

* Know the signs of typical men's health problems. “Not all men are comfortable discussing symptoms, especially ones they find disconcerting,” said Anderson. “Men need to prioritise their health: get enough exercise, drink less alcohol, drink more water and quit smoking.”

Most common health problems for men and their symptoms:

* Diabetes. In South Africa, diabetes is the second biggest killer after tuberculosis (StatsSA, 2016 Mortality and Causes of Death in South Africa). However, many men don't know what the symptoms are, and only seek medical help when they experience kidney disease or vision loss. You should have your blood sugar tested once a year; look out for increased thirst, frequent hunger, urinating more often and blurred vision.

* Heart disease. According to John Hopkins Hospital, the risk of heart disease rises steeply after age 45 for men, and obesity is a contributing factor, as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Heart & Stroke foundation says more people die of cardiovascular disease in a year in South Africa than of all the cancers combined. Look out for tightness in the chest, dizziness, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomach pain.

* Prostate cancer. More than 4000 South African men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and the lifetime risk is 1 in 18, according to the 2013 National Cancer Registry. “You should have your prostate examined on a regular basis,” reminds Anderson. Look out for problems urinating as an early symptom.

* Colon and rectal cancer. It's the second-most common cause of cancer-related death in South African men, with an incidence of 1 in 75. The symptoms are rectal bleeding, changes in your bowel movements, pain in the stomach, weakness, and weight loss.

* Throat and lung cancer. Coming in third, lung cancer affects 1 in 76 SA men. You can prevent most lung cancers with one change: quit smoking.

* Suicide. In South Africa, 14 men of all ages die by suicide each day, according to research done by AfricaCheck. If you are feeling “empty”, “numb”, hopeless or worthless, you need to see a doctor. 

 Supplied  / PERSONAL FINANCE