Couch potatoes, Mike Ditka is worried about you

The former coach is leading a campaign to encourage men to go to the doctor

Health & Fitness

November 16, 2003|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last winter the National Football League revised its marketing game plan and lifted a self-imposed ban on doing business with drug companies.

Bayer Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline - joint distributors of the new erectile dysfunction pill, Levitra - quickly signed a three-year sponsorship deal worth a reported $18 million.

Those new bedfellows have just launched a public education campaign titled Tackling Men's Health. TMH is geared toward pulling the average-guy football fan away from his buffalo wings long enough to get him up to speed on a variety of topics, including diabetes, stress, heart disease, mental and sexual health and prostate irregularities.

To help spread the word, there's a Web site (, toll-free information line (866-635-4325), and a complimentary, 18-page men's health playbook.

Burly Mike Ditka, the former all-pro player and coach (he led the Chicago Bears to their biggest-ever win in Super Bowl XX), is serving as spokesman for Tackling Men's Health.

In 1988, at age 48, Ditka suffered a heart attack while coaching the Bears, but fully recovered. Now 63, he talks about more recently having sought help for erectile dysfunction.

Ditka's straight-talk message is simple: Good health ain't for sissies.

What have you learned since getting involved in the Tackling Men's Health campaign?

The main thing about men is they don't want to talk about their problems. They don't want to go see a doctor. That's what this program is all about.

I suffer from erectile dysfunction. Of all the people with ED, there's only 8 percent that seek treatment. It can happen to you at any age. Heart disease or diabetes can cause it; stress can.

I wonder what people are thinking about when they don't seek treatment. Get into a routine where you see your doctor regularly. Get a physical once a year if you're in your 30s or 40s.

Once you're over 50, you've got to see your doctor maybe every six months.

If people take just two or three pieces of information away from this campaign, what should they be?

Don't take your health and life for granted. Watch what you eat. In essence, anything in moderation is acceptable.

You've got to have some discipline in your life. And as you get older, you've got to say no to certain things.

Are men less savvy about their health than women?

I think it comes down to the individual, in the pride you take in how you feel and in your appearance. Those who don't care, they're the guys you can run into at the corner bar. You know, with their guts hanging out, drinking 94 beers.

What's the worst mistake you've ever made in regard to your own health?

I think I could have avoided the heart attack. I had angina and I didn't admit to it. I said, Oh, it's caused by the cold weather.

I was pretty healthy. My cholesterol level wasn't high. My attack was brought on by stress. If you make everything in your life a life-and-death situation, you put yourself in a life-and-death situation.

There's lots of things that used to drive me nuts that don't anymore. For example, I don't care what people write about me or think about me. I know who I am.

How would you grade your own health behavior these days?

Pretty good. I do a lot of work in the swimming pool. I don't run a marathon or anything, but I do run in the water. I lift weights. I do a lot of abdominal stuff afterward. I try to work out five days a week. It takes me an hour and a half or two hours.

You admit to disliking hospitals and doctors. Is that a carry-over from your football-playing days?

Yeah, I never even liked taking physicals when I was an athlete. But I don't like funerals and graves, either, so I see my cardiologist and internist probably semi-annually right now.

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