Men's Health: Screenings, Preventive Care, and Healthy AgingHealth Hub
As Father’s Day approaches, now’s the perfect time to encourage the men in our lives to take care of themselves. June is National Men’s Health Month, encouraging boys and men to stay healthy by eating right, exercising, and getting regular medical checkups to prevent disease and injury.
The encouragement is needed, apparently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men visit their doctor half as often as women do for preventive care. In fact, women are 100 percent better at getting screenings and preventive services than men.
“On average, men live five fewer years than women,” says Dr. Thomas Flynn, a resident physician in family medicine with Lee Physician Group. “The mortality rates of men are higher than those of women for nine of the 10 leading causes of death. Preventive visits are essential to improving everyone’s health, regardless of age or gender.”
Dr. Flynn says he treats many patients for high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes mellitus), or joint pain/destruction (arthritis).
“In many instances, the diets of these patients feature too much sodium (salt), sugar, and fatty meats,” Dr. Flynn says. “They’re also not spending enough time being active, which is a significant contributor to these common medical conditions.”
By the way—our bodies need a small amount of sodium to work properly, but too much of it can harm our health. Dr. Flynn says the daily value for sodium is 2,300 milligrams a day, as recommended by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Any more than that, and you increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease.”
(Too much salt in your diet? Here’s how to skip the salt but keep the flavor in your meals)
Father Time and Mother Nature
And as for staying physically active to stay healthy—the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
The guidelines also suggest two days of muscle-strengthening activity.
For young men and boys, healthy eating and regular exercise are lifetime habits that can pay big dividends, especially as they age. As the saying goes, middle-age happens when Father Time starts catching up with Mother Nature. It’s normal, and it’s okay.
What’s not okay is not doing something about it.
“As our bodies age, they start to lose lean tissue,” Dr. Flynn says. “Usually in our 30s, we begin losing muscle, our bones become less dense, and our body fat starts to increase.”
Also, getting older means our muscles, bones, and joints don't respond as well to physical stress as they did in our younger years, Dr. Flynn notes. “This leads to a lot of shoulder/knee dislocations, ligament tears, and bone fractures. These risks can be reduced with better lifestyle choices regarding diet, exercise, and regular health screenings.”
According to one study, by the time we reach our 50s, our strength, balance and endurance are already declining. This is especially true for men who don’t exercise, making falls more likely.
Dr. Flynn stresses that men should make weight-bearing exercises part of their routine physical activity to reduce not only the risk of falls but also improve our general quality of life. Regular exercise can promote bone health and minimize age-related body changes.
“Walking, jogging, yoga, tennis, and other exercises safely strengthen bones while also slowing bone loss,” he says. But again, he reminds men that exercise alone is not enough to keep bones hard and strong.
“Diet plays such an important part in our aging process. For example, I tell my patients to aim for a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, which promotes optimal bone health. Dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of calcium, as are some dairy products like yogurt. Fish and orange juice are good sources of vitamin D as well.”
Quit today—tobacco and alcohol
If you use tobacco, any time is the right time to quit. Need we say more about the harms of tobacco use, which is the number one preventable cause of death and leads to disease and disability?
“By quitting tobacco, you improve your life expectancy by an average of 10 years,” Dr. Flynn notes, citing data from the American Cancer Society. “When a tobacco user quits, the body starts to get healthier almost immediately.”
If you’re ready to quit, you can start here.
Six screenings and preventive services every man should consider
Sure, you feel fine, but you should still see your doctor for regular checkups. Dr. Flynn recommends that all men should be screened for the typical cancers that can be treated and managed if identified early.
- Get a colon cancer screening. Start doing this at age 45, Dr. Flynn recommends. If you’re low risk (no personal history of bowel/intestine issues or medical problems/diagnosis), then he recommends that you yourself at home with a Cologuard or similar product.
- Get a colonoscopy. “This is the gold standard test and can detect colon growths/cancers that might be missed with at-home testing,” Dr. Flynn says.
- Get a picture of your chest. Dr. Flynn recommends chest X-rays for his male patients who are 50-80 years old with a 20-pack-a-year smoking history and who are current or ex-smokers smoking within the last 15 years. Because they are at higher risk with this smoking history, they should be checked for possible lung cancer.
- Get blood work done. Every man should get blood work at least once a year to screen for prostate cancer. Also, the lab work might pick up any undetected medical issues at the same time.
- Protect yourself against erectile dysfunction. “Every man will experience declines in ability and function in getting an erection over time,” Dr. Flynn says. “The best way to prevent this decline is to keep a healthy body weight through exercise and activity, keep fat and cholesterol levels within normal limits, keep your blood pressure well-controlled, and don't smoke.”
- DIY screenings: Dr. Flynn recommends at-home routine checks of your blood pressure, weight, and ability to urinate normally (without difficulty or change in frequency). “These screenings give you information on how your body responds to your diet, exercise, and general health.”
Thomas Flynn, M.D., received his medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, Calif. He enjoys building relationships with his patients and helping them manage their medical issues to achieve their best quality of life. He was born at Lee Memorial Hospital.
Join us as we encourage and empower men of all ages to make their health and well-being a priority.
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