I see men all the time in my office with a selective vision of how to care for their health. They tell me that they do things like workout with friends on the weekend or skip dessert a few days a week. But when I ask them when they last had a colonoscopy or checked their blood pressure, most go silent. I completely understand the temptation to think that you know best when it comes to your health. The problem is, most men are more likely to skip a visit to the doctor than admit something is wrong. A study published recently found that only half of men could remember the last time they saw a doctor. Skipping regular visits can lead to big problems down the road if uncontrolled health issues go unnoticed or untreated. In the spirit of Men’s Health Week, I thought I’d give you some insight into what the man in your life should be paying attention to.
Doing Away with Excuses
First, I want to throw out the excuses to avoid the doctor. Saying you don’t have time or that you’re too busy isn’t a good excuse. If you don’t have a handle on your health status, you could end up out of work for longer than the few hours it takes to see a doctor when something unexpected but completely avoidable goes wrong. Saying you feel fine is also a bad excuse. Most men who say they feel fine actually don’t. Secondly, some of the most dangerous diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, can remain silent for years before they cause symptoms. At that point, it may already be too late.
Important Issues for Everyone
Some people never go to the doctor because they say they’re never sick. But many of those people also don’t know what their disease risks are and which areas of their life could use some work. If you have a family history of diabetes, for example, you have to watch what you eat and focus on exercise more than someone without those risk factors. That’s why all men, young and old, should at least know their risk for common diseases. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a long time, here are a few questions to ask right off the bat:
- How does my family history of disease affect my own risk for illness?
- How often do I need to be screened for certain illnesses and when should my next screening be?
- What aspects of the way I’m living are helpful for my health? Which are harmful?
- What are three things I can do to start improving my health when I leave the office today?
Asking these questions will help you get to the most important information quickly and will give you action items to work on.
Important Health Items for Young Men
Young men can be the hardest to convince when it comes to health care. But being young doesn’t make you invincible. You set up lifestyle habits, health or unhealthy, early in life. Here are some of the reasons you should head to a doctor for a visit, even if you’re young:
- You’re at risk for diabetes or, like most young men, you don’t know you risk for diabetes. This can be checked with a simple blood test.
- You don’t know your blood pressure or you have higher blood pressure. This can lead to unexpected stroke, heart disease and heart failure down the road.
- You get most of your health information from Google. While the internet can be a great source of information, you should check in with a doctor periodically to make sure you’re not doing something or taking something that’s potentially harmful.
- You don’t have an established primary care physician.
- You haven’t been tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Important Tests for Older Men
Screenings kick in with older age for most diseases. Even if you didn’t keep up the best health habits when you were younger, monitoring for signs of problems on a regular basis can keep you in the know about what your risks are and what you should be doing about them. Here are some important reasons to get to the doctor as you get older:
- Cancer shows up in older age, which means you may need screenings for diseases like colon cancer or lung cancer.
- Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., but many of the early warning signs can be picked up early and minimized with help from a medical professional.
- High blood pressure is a big problem amongst older men and can lead to a variety of medical problems. A visit to the doctor will tell you your number and whether you need help.
- Low bone density affects almost as many men as women. Seeing if you’re at risk can help you take steps to boost your bone health.
How Often You Should Visit the Doctor
I often get asked how often someone should visit the doctor. The answer here is highly personal and depends on what chronic illnesses a person might have or what their risk factors are. The best way to figure this out is to schedule a visit and have the conversation with your doctor so you can decide what’s right for you.