The average American male and medical professionals spend about as much time together as Humane Society volunteers and baby seal hunters. While the relationship between the two factions is not necessarily that adversarial, you’re just not likely to find too many men (myself included) running off to the doctor’s office all that often.
Why? Because we’re fine – just ask us. That sore knee/nagging chest cold/severed digit will feel better/clear up/magically reattach itself. Give it a couple of days and it will be as if nothing happened. We know a coworker/college roommate/anonymous stranger who did the same thing a few years ago and he survived. Didn’t need no stinkin’ doctor. Now please stop nagging and telling us we should go see someone. Mother.
Some of the scenarios above may be slightly exaggerated, but you get the idea. And while male teens and 20-somethings might get away with that cavalier, devil-may-care attitude toward personal health and preservation for a while, the long-term risk outweighs the reward.
Statistically speaking, men have plenty of experience with risk. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), men are more likely to make unhealthy choices, put themselves in dangerous situations (i.e. “do stupid things”), and avoid medical checkups and doctor visits, even when they are sick or in pain. So it’s likely – or at least possible – that you or a guy you know has skipped a routine physical examination appointment in favor of an all-you-can-eat bacon buffet and an afternoon of bungee-jumping from a precariously low bridge.
Even the workplace is worrisome, as men disproportionately work in strenuous or potentially dangerous occupations. In its delightfully titled “National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2012” news release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that men accounted for a staggering 92 percent of workplace deaths for that calendar year.
The upshot is that compared to our female counterparts, we wild and crazy guys can expect a considerably shorter lifespan. Like around 5 years shorter, according to Social Security Administration actuarial tables. Clearly the numbers are not in our favor. As we sprint, saunter or stagger toward Men’s Health Week (June 9-15), why not take a little personal inventory and see if we can do something to close that vexing age and gender gap?
Before doing anything else, pick up the phone and call your mom. Yes – mom. Our goal for this call is to get a little family medical history. Not to be overly stereotypical, but the odds of getting this information out of your father are microscopically small. Remember, your dad is fine, has always been fine, and doesn’t have any money for you to “borrow.”
Mom, on the other hand, is more likely to know who suffered from what affliction on what side of the family going back a good 280 years or so. Share your newfound knowledge of your genetic goods (and bads) with your doctor when you show up for your checkup.
Take The Plunge
I’m going to assume you (and I) visited our new/old doctor for a routine physical examination. Humor me. The best-case scenario? Your height and weight are proportionate, you can walk down the hallway and not pass out from exertion, all blood work and screenings came back fine and your vaccinations are up to date. You may now cease reading this article and continue doing whatever it is you have been doing to keep yourself in such great health. You are to be commended.
If, however, your doctor informs you that you are overweight, have borderline high cholesterol and blood pressure readings and your organs seem to be displaying a bit of atrophy, some lifestyle changes may be in order. It’s the old one-two coming at you: diet and exercise.
In its simplest form, diet “American style” usually means eating less food overall. It can also mean incorporating more healthful foods into your menu. This part isn’t rocket science, and we’ve been hearing it since we got ears: eat fresh foods and cut back on fried stuff, red meat and sweets. Skip the chips and grab a bag of carrots. Swap out the steak for baked or grilled chicken or fish. Grab the check instead of dessert. OK, that last part is no fun, but work with me here.
In terms of longevity, men are losing the battle of the sexes. Fortunately, we can take some control of the situation. We can start at any age, and we can start right here – Oklahoma City has some terrific resources available to help men get and stay healthy. Really healthy – not “it’s only a flesh wound” healthy.
Integris has local events and services geared toward men. You can check out their user friendly and informative men’s health website at integrisok.com/mens-health-oklahoma.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website (hhs.gov) also provides a bevy of male-specific health information.
Here Are A Few Tips For The Times Of Your Life:
General: Physical examination, blood work, urinalysis every three years
Doctor’s Orders: If you don’t have a regular physician, now is a good time to begin that relationship as you establish some medical baseline measures. Get in the habit of visiting your dentist annually and your eye doctor every other year if you have vision problems.
The NIH suggests having your blood pressure checked every two years. Getting it checked every year isn’t going to hurt you, though. If you are at risk for heart disease, it’s a good idea to have your cholesterol checked starting at age 20. An electrocardiogram (EKG) screens for heart problems and establishes a baseline for the future.
Depending upon your (ahem!) lifestyle choices, you may request screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other infections. Using your overall health and medical history as a guide, your doctor may recommend additional screenings or vaccinations. The NIH recommends getting a flu shot every year and also recommends getting the HPV vaccine.
General: Physical examination, blood work, urinalysis every three years
Doctor’s Orders: If you got on top of things in your 20s, your 30s should be a decade of fairly straightforward health maintenance. Keep up with the blood pressure and cholesterol checks. Vaccination boosters may also be required.
Help yourself – and your doctor – by performing self-examinations. Check testicles for lumps and skin for changing moles or freckles. Depending upon your history and condition, your doctor may suggest annual rectal exams starting in your 30s.
General: Physical examination, blood work, urinalysis every two years
Doctor’s Orders: Routine examinations and screenings should be performed more frequently as you approach your middle years. Colon and prostate cancer screenings may be recommended at each checkup, and the EKG will probably reappear in your physical examination repertoire. In addition to continuing your self-examinations, be mindful of the warning signs of low testosterone and let your doctor know if you are concerned.
General: Physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, EKG, rectal exam every year
Doctor’s Orders: As the years advance, that routine physical examination will consist of more and more tests and screenings. Once every few years or so, your doctor will probably order a colorectal exam. Yeah, that one. As with other screenings, this cancer and other abnormality check is precautionary when introduced to the exam docket. You don’t have to like it, but you’re better safe than sorry.
Let's Be Careful Out There
Where we really tend to trip up – literally – is on that exercise part. What’s the biggest mistake people make? “Not being in shape, then trying to do too much,” says Scott de la Garza, M.D., of the Oklahoma Sports & Orthopedic Institute. If you’re overweight, hitting the ground running is not the best plan of action. That extra weight will wreak havoc on your joints.
Instead, de la Garza recommends low-impact activities such as walking and swimming. “Start slow,” he advises, “and do what you enjoy.” Tread lightly as you embark on even the most modest of exercise routines, too. “Stretching is more important than anything,” de la Garza says. “Just stretching your hamstrings decreases your risk of everything from back strains to Achilles tears.”
Should you choose to take advantage of the weather and exercise outdoors, take care of your skin while you do it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Overall, men have higher rates of melanoma, the third most common type of skin cancer. Melanomas are often deadly. They are also very preventable.
Melanomas are predominately the result of exposure to ultraviolet light rays, frequently from the sun. If you are working or playing outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat and wear long pants and long sleeves. Take frequent breaks in the shade as well. You won’t get cold.
You don’t have to wrap yourself like a mummy to go outside in the summertime. If shorts and t-shirts are more your thing, arm yourself with sunscreen. If you swim outdoors, opt for a water-resistant formula. Apply broad-spectrum UVA- and UVB-blocking sunscreen with an SPF-30 rating or higher to any skin exposed to sunlight.
If you don’t want to smell like a pina colada, Neutrogena and Nivea offer products specifically formulated for men. But if your only option is your wife’s Banana Boat, by all means use it. You’re coconuts to be in the blazing Oklahoma sun without protection.
Gentlemen, we have all the knowledge we need to eat healthy, be active and live longer. Even if we’ve made some poor choices along the way, there’s time to build a new and better you (and me!). Why not start today?