Healthy lifestyle guide

A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent disease in the future, or minimise the impact of an existing disease. We call this ‘preventive care’. This means that by making changes to your lifestyle you can prevent yourself becoming ill. After all, it is better to avoid disease than to treat it.

A ‘risk factor’ describes anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. The main lifestyle risk factors that are linked to long term illnesses are:

Small changes in your lifestyle can mean big improvements in your health. You can prevent many illnesses by making some simple changes in the way you live. Your GP can help you to improve your health by changing your lifestyle.

Identify your own risk factors

Your general practitioner (GP) is there to treat you if you feel unwell, but also to prevent future health problems. One way of doing this is to identify existing or potential things that may affect your health (known as ‘risk factors’). By filling out this questionnaire and taking it to your GP to discuss, you’ll be one step ahead of the game!

M5 Men’s health check questionnaire (PDF 82KB)


Smoking is estimated to kill about half of long term smokers. It causes 40% of deaths in men who die under the age of 65. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that by 2030 smoking will be the single biggest cause of death in the world.

There are at least 25 diseases for which tobacco smoking is a known or likely cause. It is a dangerous habit which increases your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and a range of cancers and other diseases and conditions. Smoking is also associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic respiratory diseases, as well as higher rates of wound infection following surgery. Is it worth the risk? Emphatically not.

Passive smoking

If you are a parent and you smoke your children are more likely to have respiratory and middle ear infections, asthma and meningococcal infections (these are brain or blood infections with meningococcal bacteria). The severity of asthma is greater in asthma sufferers who are exposed to smoke at home. Non-smokers living with a smoker are estimated to have a 24% higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease.

What are you smoking?

Over 4000 chemicals are contained in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic and some are known to cause cancer. These include tar, carbon monoxide, nicotine, arsenic and ammonia. Nicotine causes addiction to smoking, but is not the major chemical factor in diseases caused by smoking. You wouldn’t eat these things – you would find them revolting and know that they are bad for your health.

Why quit?

The body has a great ability to recover from the effects of smoking after you quit. Within 12 hours of puffing on your last cigarette, all the nicotine in your system will have been metabolised, and after 24 hours the carbon monoxide levels in your blood will have dropped significantly. After five days, your sense of smell and taste improve. You will probably be sleeping more satisfactorily and start to notice that you have more energy. One year after quitting your risk of coronary heart disease is halved, and after 10 years the risk of developing lung cancer is also half that of continuing smokers. After 10 to 15 years of not smoking you have the same risk of disease as people who have never smoked.

People with smoking related diseases who continue to smoke, have a much greater risk of further illness or of their disease worsening. For example, if you are a smoker who has had a heart attack you are more likely to have a second heart attack if you continue to smoke.

How to quit

Your GP can help and support you to quit smoking. There are also a wide range of other resources available to help you, such as the Quitline. Quitline is a telephone information, advice and counselling service which provides information on the best ways to quit, coping with withdrawal symptoms and local organisations that can help you.

It isn’t easy to quit – and it may take you several attempts to do so – but at the end of the day it could be a lifesaver. Making the decision to quit if you are a smoker is one of the best decisions you could make to improve your health and limit the damage that tobacco causes.


Quitline: 131848
The National Tobacco Campaign

5 tips

  1. If you don’t succeed, try again. Each attempt increases your chance of success next time
  2. Try spending time with non smokers to avoid temptation
  3. Learn methods to deal with stress, such as relaxation techniques
  4. Ring the Quitline for advice and support
  5. Remember, your GP can help you to quit.

Download the M5 Project’s myth-busting Smoking brochure

Amaze your friends by myth-busting their beliefs about smoking! Download the M5 Project’s Smoking brochure here or email to a friend.

M5 Project’s myth-busting Smoking brochure (PDF 1MB)


Good diet is important, but unfortunately many men do not eat as healthily as they should. Diets low in fruit and vegetables have been linked to cancer and heart disease, so it is important that you really make an effort to eat enough of these vital food groups.

At least five portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit should be eaten each day. Very few men eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables and less than half eat more than two portions.

Examples of a single portion:


1 medium size apple, banana, orange, quarter of a rockmelon

½ cup of fruit juice

4 dried apricots or 1 ½ tablespoons of sultanas

1 cup of canned or fresh fruit salad.


½ cup cooked vegetables (75g)

1 medium potato

1 cup of salad vegetables

Note: rice and pasta do not count as vegetables.

The dietary guidelines for Australian adults recommend that you:

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods

– eat plenty of vegetables, legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) and fruit

– eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta, noodles) preferably wholegrain

– include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives

– include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Try to choose reduced fat varieties when possible.

Drink plenty of water and take care to:

– limit your saturated fat and moderate your total fat intake

– choose food low in salt

– If you choose to drink alcohol limit your intake

– consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars

  • Prevent weight gain: exercise and eat according to your energy needs
  • Prepare and store your food safely
  • Encourage and support breastfeeding. Breastmilk is full of nutrients and can boost your baby’s immune system.

If you have a specific condition, you might need specific dietary advice. Refer to the links below.


Australian Guide to Healthy Eating publishing.nsf/content/eating

Dietary Guidelines for All Australians

Heart Foundation of Australia

Diabetes Australia

National Stroke Foundation

Cancer Council of Australia

Australian Kidney Foundation

5 tips

  1. Plan ahead – write a shopping list and stick to it
  2. If you go out take healthy snacks like fruit with you to avoid buying junk food. This will save you money too!
  3. Drink water instead of sugary soft drinks or alcohol
  4. Watch the amount you eat – think twice before having a second helping
  5. Talk to your GP about healthy eating.


Many Australians like to drink alcohol when with friends and family, to celebrate and to relax. We all know that alcohol may help you to relax and put you in a good mood but it can also impair your motor skills and judgment, and cause intoxication and dependence.

Road traffic accidents, crime, social problems and lost productivity are all linked to alcohol misuse. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2002, alcohol caused 3.2% of deaths and 4.0% of the burden of disease worldwide1, compared to 4.1% for tobacco.2 While sensible alcohol use is seen as acceptable, the figures associated with disease and death are worth thinking about.

Impact on health

In the short term, alcohol can cause you a number of problems including stress, sleep deprivation, sexual dysfunction and heart and circulation difficulties.

It has also been linked to physical or sexual assaults, homicide, road accidents, and behaviour risky to health and wellbeing, injury and death.3

Long term effects of excessive alcohol consumption include cancers (of the lips, mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas and liver), cirrhosis of the liver, cognitive problems and dementia, alcohol dependence, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, and male sexual impotence.4

Alcohol is implicated in:5

  • 50% of assaults
  • 44% of fire injuries
  • 34% of falls and drownings
  • 30% of car accidents
  • 20-40% of acute general and psychiatric hospital presentations
  • 18% of all injuries presenting to emergency departments
  • 16% of child abuse
  • 12% of suicides.

Reducing the risk

Research has shown that many men are unaware that the amount they are drinking can put their health at risk.7

There is no “safe” or “no risk” level of drinking. The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommend the following to keep the risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, diseases and death low:

  1. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
  2. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol related injury arising from that occasion.

People who are supervising children or engaged in risky activities including driving, operating machinery, water and snow activities, young adults (aged 18–25) and older people need to take special care. People taking certain medications or people who have physical or mental health problems that could be made worse by alcohol consumption, should seek advice from a health professional.

An Australian standard drink contains 10g of alcohol, which is equivalent to 12.5 mL of alcohol (Figure 1).6

Volume of a standard drink for different forms of alcohol

Figure 1: Volume of a standard drink for different forms of alcohol


Australian Alcohol guidelines

Alcohol and men’s health

Alcohol and Drug Information Services in each State/Territory:

ACT (02) 6205 4545
NSW 1800 422 599 (NSW country) (02) 9361 8000 (Sydney)
SA 1300 131 340 (for SA callers only)
VIC 1800 888 236
NT (08) 8948 0087 (Darwin) (08) 8951 7580 (Central Australia) 1800 131 350 (Territory wide)
QLD (07) 3837 5989 (Brisbane) 1800 177 833 (Free call within QLD outside Metro area)
TAS 1800 811 994
WA (08) 9442 5000 (Perth) 1800 198 024 (WA country)

5 tips

  1. Set yourself some limits and try to stick to them: decide on some alcohol free days, and limit the number of drinks when you go out
  2. Drink slowly and alternate alcoholic drinks with water
  3. Ask your family and friends to help and support you if you think you need help cutting down on alcohol or quitting altogether
  4. Don’t drink alcohol when you are thirsty, it is not an effective thirst quencher – water will quench your thirst
  5. Talk to your GP about how to cut down on your alcohol consumption.

Physical activity

Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor in cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, which is the leading cause of death in Australia. If you are not physically active you are almost twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease as those who are. Lack of physical activity has also been linked to a range of other conditions including hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, osteoporosis (a condition which can cause extreme pain and stiffness in your joints) and premature mortality. It is likely that the increase in obesity and tendency among our population to be overweight is linked to reduced energy expenditure through physical activity and movement.

Benefits of physical activity

Regular physical activity reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and has a positive effect on weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The benefits of physical activity also include improvement in your mental health, weight loss/maintenance, arthritis, functional capacity and quality of life.

You will begin to notice the benefits soon after starting regular exercise, no matter what your age. Lasting health benefits can result even after maintaining activity for only two years.

It is recommended that adults should do 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, and ideally all days of the week. More vigorous exercise may have additional cardiovascular health and cancer prevention benefits, if carried out for a minimum of 30 minutes 3–4 times a week.

Moderate physical activity is activity that causes a slight, but noticeable, increase in your breathing and heart rate and may cause you to sweat a little.

Vigorous physical activity is exercise that leaves you puffing and makes it difficult to talk in full sentences between breaths. Talk to your GP before starting vigorous activity if you are not used to doing it.


Australian Physical Activity Guidelines Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines

Go for your life: physical activity – men

5 tips

  1. Use the stairs instead of the lift
  2. Go for a walk at lunchtime, or in the evening instead of watching television
  3. Make exercise part of your daily routine. Include other family members or friends
  4. Ask yourself if you need to drive the car to your destination – are you going somewhere you can walk to?
  5. Talk to your GP about the benefits of physical activity.

Excess weight and obesity

It’s well known that obesity is increasing across the world. In Australia, the National Health Survey has shown that about 62% of men are overweight or obese based on their body mass index (BMI), and only half of the men surveyed who thought they were an acceptable weight were actually in the healthy weight range.8

Impact on Health

Being overweight is linked to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, sleep apnoea (this is when your breathing either slows or stops while sleeping), osteoarthritis (a condition which can cause extreme pain and stiffness in your joints), psychological disorders and social problems.9

Being a healthy weight can help:

  • Improve your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood glucose levels
  • Reduce the risk of other health related problems
  • Improve your self confidence and self esteem
  • Make it easier for you to be physically active.10

Your weight reflects the balance between what you eat and the amount you eat and how much you exercise. Environmental, cultural, genetic and lifestyle factors all contribute to being overweight or obese.

If you are overweight or obese, talk to your GP about what changes you can make to your lifestyle. Your GP is there to help prevent you from becoming ill as well as treat you if you are unwell.

Some health benefits can be achieved with a weight loss of just 5-10% of your starting weight if you are an overweight adult. Even without weight loss, physical activity can bring health benefits to overweight people.

Body mass index

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple way to assess whether your weight is within the healthy range. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.

Note that BMI only applies to adults aged over 18. It can be misleading in older people and muscular people, and the ranges need to be adjusted for some ethnic groups. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns about your weight.


Body Mass Index

BMI (kg/m 2)

Healthy weight18.5 – 24.9
Overweight25.0 – 29.9
Obesity30.0 – 39.9
Severe Obesity>40

Waist circumference

Waist circumference is also a measure of health risk and is a measure of fat around your abdomen.

Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 94cm. If your waist circumference is above 94cm it can lead to an increased risk of disease, and above 102cm leads to a high risk.


Heart Foundation

Australian government healthy weight website Content/healthyweight

5 tips

  1. Fad diets don’t achieve long term weight loss – make changes to your lifestyle that you can sustain long term. This will be most effective for losing weight and keeping it off
  2. Exercise as well as eating a healthy low fat diet
  3. Allow yourself time for weight loss to happen
  4. Celebrate successes like feeling good or the fact that you can fit into those jeans that were once too tight, not just what the scales say
  5. Talk to your GP about healthy weight loss.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2006. Australia’s health 2006. AIHW cat. no. AUS 73. Canberra: AIHW.
2. National Alcohol strategy
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004. A guide to Australian alcohol data. AIHW Cat. No. PHE 52. Canberra: AIHW.
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004. A guide to Australian alcohol data. AIHW Cat. No. PHE 52. Canberra: AIHW.
5. National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) Consortium. (2004), Alcohol and other drugs: A handbook for health professionals. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.
6. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Smoking, Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity (SNAP): a population health guide to behavioural risk factors in general practice (the ‘SNAP guide’) Melbourne: RACGP, 2004.
7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: 2005. 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed Findings. AIHW cat. no. PHE 66. Canberra: AIHW (Drug Statistics Series No.16).
8. National health survey 2004-2005.
9. AIHW as above p.125