Ever since Delilah robbed Samson of his strength by cutting off his hair, a man's locks have been a symbol of virility and health. Not surprisingly, Movember, an annual fundraising campaign, encourages men to grow a mustache during November to show support for the global men’s health movement. At the same time, Movember participants pledge to do some type of activity every day of the month.

The group behind this event is the Movember Foundation, a charity launched in 2003 to raise awareness of men’s health. Movember tries to help men live healthier lives by its focus on increased physical activity, better mental health and improved treatments for prostate and testicular cancer. The Foundation's overarching goal for the Movember campaign is to help men get into a lifelong habit of exercising regularly.

“The mustache is the symbol of the foundation,” says JJ Owen, the Movember Foundation’s director of business and community engagement for the United States. “We’re about changing the face of men’s health.”

“Men die younger than women and there’s no biological reason for that," he adds. "Often a man defines his identity by taking care of everyone around him, but to do that you have to take care of yourself first. When it comes to men’s health, a lot of guys aren’t engaging in that conversation.”

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Owen says it may take years to see men focus on their own health on a global scale. In the meantime, the Movember Foundation is doing its part. It reports raising $650 million to fund 1,000 men’s health programs in 21 countries. It's the largest non-governmental funder of prostate cancer research in the world.

A Movember success story

Among the men who support Movember’s mission is prostate cancer survivor Rick Magnuson, 51, of Minneapolis. He holds down two jobs to pay his medical bills yet carves out time to raise money for the Movember movement.

His November begins by shaving his mustache so he can grow it back. “I’m a bald guy, so I’ve got the goatee and mustache that goes along with that,” he says. But more than the mustache, he says, “it’s about the exercise: Getting fit and staying that way. I’m a hockey player and still play every Tuesday night. After cancer I couldn’t do anything for a while, and it’s easy to fall into that rut and become a couch potato. I’ve found how important it is to exercise. You just feel so much better.”

Magnuson counts himself lucky to have caught his prostate cancer in time. “I hadn’t had a physical since I was a kid,” he says. “I went to a urologist in 2013 and found out I’d had prostate cancer for eight to ten years.” After undergoing surgery, his cancer went into remission, but he saw his life and health with different eyes. “The thing is, cancer’s not that thing that happens to other people,” he says. “It can happen to anybody. It can happen to you.”

Most of all, Magnuson is grateful for being cancer-free and celebrating another Movember. “I’m here,” he says. “Alive. And I’m happy about that.”

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Join the movement

To participate in Movember, you can sign up for free on the Movember site. Here are some of Movember's tips for joining its month-long fitness-fest:

  • Get off the couch. Any kind of movement counts.
  • Choose activities you enjoy, so you’ll want to do them again. Take a walk. Start with a reasonable distance and increase the length of your walk each day.
  • Try biking, dancing, gardening or yard work during your down time.
  • Get outside during your work breaks. Go for a walk, stretch.
  • If you exercise regularly, expand your repertoire. Take up tennis. Consider boxing lessons. Get into yoga.
  • Graduate to calisthenics, including jumping jacks. Do push-ups and crunches (sit-ups). Do squats. Increase the repetitions slowly over a period of weeks.
  • Encourage friends to exercise. Hit the gym with a buddy. Workouts aren’t so much work when there’s somebody encouraging your effort.

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Steve Evans, MA, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience in daily news, investigative, health and business journalism. Among other jobs, he has served as managing editor of the Central Virginia Newspaper Group, as a senior writer for SNL Financial and as a staff writer for The Progress Index and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.