Improving Men’s Health Through Competition

Editor’s note: Dr. William Steers died on April 10, 2015. The 2016 Men’s Four Miler will held in his honor on Saturday, November 6. 

“The only race men are winning is the race to the grave.”

So says Dr. William Steers, chair of UVA’s urology department. Women live, on average, five to seven years longer than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Steers wants the men to catch up.

That’s why he’s an organizer of the Charlottesville Men’s Four Miler, Charlottesville’s only all-male foot race, which this year is Father’s Day, June 19, and starts at 7:30 a.m. at Scott Stadium. June is also Men’s Health Month.

Like most races, the Men’s Four Miler is a fundraiser. Proceeds go towards the establishment of the Virginia Institute for Men’s Health Improvement and Performance (VIMHIP), an initiative Steers spearheads that will improve men’s healthcare.

But Dr. Steers doesn’t just want to raise money. He wants to get guys off the couch and running.

Heart Disease: The Number One Killer

The urology department began the Men’s Four Miler in 2004 when the physicians realized that the men they were treating for prostate cancer were, in fact, more likely to die from heart disease than their cancer.

“Many guys have their heads in the sand,” Steers said. “I’ll ask ‘How tall are you and how much do you weigh?’ They say, ‘Well, I’m a little overweight.’ No, you’re not a little overweight. You’re 40 or 50 pounds overweight.”

Being overweight or obese causes or exacerbates many of the conditions Steers sees, including:

  • Impotence
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Infertility
  • Kidney stones
  • Incontinence

To change this, the Men’s Four Miler was born.

Men’s Health: “Performance Improvement”

This year’s race has a new focus. In the past, it took place in December and benefitted prostate cancer research. But Steers wants to address the causes of the diseases his patients get, rather than simply treating them, and the VIMHIP will do this.

Men die sooner than women partly because they don’t like to go to the doctor, said Steers. In a 2007 Harris poll, 36 percent of men agreed with the statement, “I only go if extremely sick.” And a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found men hate waiting in the doctor’s office and think the furniture and reading material there are too feminine.

The VIMHIP aims to improve these issues by:

  • Researching effective ways to deliver health care and education to men
  • Establishing a men’s cardiology and urology clinic that delivers care in a male-friendly manner
  • Developing ways to educate men and boys about health and preventative behaviors
  • Initiating debate and advocating for legal issues related to men’s health

Some of those goals are being accomplished through the Four Miler training program, which has helped men lose up to 100 pounds. Mark Lorenzoni, co-owner of Ragged Mountain Running Shop, coaches the program, which has about 100 participants.

Each weekly training session starts with a short discussion, led by a doctor, about a men’s health topic. But Steers prefers not to use the word “health.”

“That turns guys off,” he said. “So we’re focusing on performance improvement. If you make it competitive, guys like that.”

Want to Run?

Online registration is open until June 17 for the Men’s Four Miler. It costs $25 to register as a single participant; $48 for two family members and $66 for three family members. Runners can register the day of the race for $30 each.

Find out more and register now.

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