Chirac looks good, no reason why you can't too
It was Wednesday of last week, as I was travelling from New York to Europe, from an America filled with confidence to Paris filled with Parisians, that the journey was brightened by a fellow passenger in the next Air France seat.
The inexhaustible octogenarian Jacques Chirac looked as fit a fiddle. The presidency of that creative and deliciously unruly nation hadn't, it seemed, given him extra grey hair or an additional wrinkle - quite unlike his much younger counterpart in the US, I might add.
Many aircraft these days give you a pair of pyjamas in some sections on long-haul trips - good enough to sleep in but not quite good enough to steal as you get off (but that didn't stop me!). However, as I tucked myself into the makeshift electronically adjustable bed, I glanced over briefly to see how the former president was handling his preparation for the all-night flight. He seemed to be doing just fine, as the stewards tucked him in.
"Tres bon," he said ... and so did I.
I must admit that I suddenly felt a little alone and wondered if our head of government gold pass included such perks - not that I have any interest in pursuing the highest office! However, it was plain that Chirac's health was impeccable - even though he didn't have to look after himself in quite the way most of us need to. You see, the point is that our health problems are costing us an arm and a leg - both as a nation and sadly as patients, particularly men!
As a nation, the cost of health in Australia has more than doubled in 10 years, from 4 per cent of gross domestic product to 9, and if it goes in the way of the US, where it is 17 per cent, we will be in trouble - the whole country for generations to come will be a hospital case.
Foundation 49, a men's health initiative of Melbourne's Cabrini Hospital, provides some alarming stats.
■Men live for five years less than women.
■Seventy-five per cent of men admit to binge drinking.
■A man's life span is affected by genetics (25 per cent) but mostly by changeable risks (75 per cent).
■Twice as many men die of skin cancer.
■Four men die prematurely every hour from preventable illnesses.
And that's the guts of the problem, as we say. Men's health problems, and their vast associated costs, are mostly preventable. In other words, it's about the choices we make every day.
According to Foundation 49, there are 10 things we should be doing from now on.
■Make your health your priority.
■Know the risks for your age.
■Manage your emotional health.
■Eat a balanced moderate diet.
■Have three alcohol-free days each week and no more than three or four drinks on any of the other days.
■Have an annual health check.
■Make time for your family and friends.
■If you have kids, be a great dad.
In every decade of a man's life there are choices to be made and opportunities to be seized that will make for a happy and well life - and reduce the costs to the family and a nation as a whole. They are sensibly and clearly set out on Foundation 49's website. Do more than just have a look. Do something.
We have a habit of saying often to our political leaders, "Why aren't you doing something?" We can't always afford to rely on them or others to fix our problems of our own making. It's time to put our foot down and take charge of it ourselves.
The fact is that a lot of people are going to die just because of hospital waiting lists, and we often seem to be asking ourselves whether we are going to be able to solve this problem before it's too late.
My answer is - do whatever you can to NOT be on the list in the first place. No one else can replace your responsibility for yourself.
Harold Mitchell is an executive director of Aegis.