Men Who Skip Checkups Also Miss Preventive Health Benefits
When it comes to taking care of their health, men are less likely than women to seek medical care and stay current with annual checkups.
Not only are men 22 percent more likely than women to neglect cholesterol testing, but they are also 28 percent more likely to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Preventive medical tests – screenings – can help men stay healthy. Dr. Paa-Kofi Obeng, an internal medicine physician with Nansemond Suffolk Family Practice, explains the importance of preventive medicine and regular primary care visits.
At what age should men start having regular primary care visits?
I recommend men start around the age of 25 so we can catch any health problems early, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, before they become more serious.
Why does it help to detect health problems early?
If someone has high cholesterol, they face an increased risk for having a heart attack or stroke. I would be able to recommend that they make lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier and adding cardiovascular exercise, to improve their health. Cardiovascular exercise is where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of improving cardiovascular outcomes. Men like to do weight lifting, but you really want to get your heart rate up and get your blood moving. Weight lifting does give you benefits in terms of bone health, but with high cholesterol or diabetes, you really want cardiovascular exercise to help with those issues. If you exercise at least three days a week for 30 minutes a session, you can help prevent things from getting worse.
What kinds of health conditions can be caught early by having regular primary care visits? How often should men see their doctor?
High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are often detected early. As men get older, regular visits can detect prostate cancer and colon cancer at an early stage. Men between the ages of 25 and 65 who have good blood pressure, good cholesterol and are not diabetic can see their doctor once a year. For diabetics, I recommend a visit every three months to test their blood sugar. For someone with high cholesterol, I like to see them every six months. For my patients over 65, I want to see them twice a year, even if they’re healthy.
What keeps men from going to the doctor on a regular basis?
One reason is the fear of the unknown. They think: “If I have something wrong, I don’t want to know about it.” They just want to avoid it. People also make excuses. They say “I have to work. I don’t have time to go to the doctor.” Another reason is that people falsely assume that if they feel fine, they don’t need to see a doctor. The downside to that is you miss things that could have been caught and treated early – such as prostate and colon cancer. If you detect colon cancer early enough and get it treated, your chances for recovery are excellent.
What are typical health problems that men face?
For men, it’s usually high blood pressure, diabetes, and enlarged prostate. Erectile dysfunction is another issue that affects a lot of men. Erectile dysfunction may be caused by a psychological issue, which can be treated. If it an anatomic problem, it could mean the patient is diabetic or has an issue with their arteries. It’s important to check their thyroid, testosterone levels, and do testing for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol in these instances.
What can men do to stay healthy besides having regular primary care visits?
Eat healthy and exercise. Try to get as much exercise as you can and eat many fruits and vegetables. Visit choosemyplate.gov. It’s a good guide for how many vegetables, fruits and carbs a person should eat. Sleep is important, too. Lack of sleep is linked with weight gain. Ideally, you should get eight hours. If you’re able to get enough sleep, you’re able to reduce your risk for chronic conditions.
What is the best exercise for men to do if they haven’t been working out regularly?
Any low impact exercises are good to start with like walking, but keep it at a brisk pace. Use a stationary bike to start slow and build up your intensity slowly. A stationary rowing machine is good, too. Stretching can help, such as yoga, to get muscles ready to begin exercising.
Should men take vitamins?
I recommend a multivitamin. It could be generic or a brand name. Men should make sure it includes iron and vitamin D. A lot of men are low in vitamin D. It can be a reason why many people feel tired. There are also multivitamins that are a combination of calcium and Vitamin D which are good as well. I recommend that it include 2,000 units of vitamin D with at least 600 units of calcium. The vitamin D helps the calcium to move into the bones.
What should men expect during their annual checkup?
It depends on their age but in general, men need to have their coordination and reflexes checked along with an exam to make sure they don’t have an inguinal hernia, which is when the small intestine protrudes through the inguinal canal. I also listen to their heart and lungs and check their skin for suspicious moles or cancer. Blood work is usually done prior to the visit or on the same day. It checks for high cholesterol, anemia and thyroid issues. For a man over 50, I recommend a rectal exam in addition to looking for an enlarged prostate or any masses in the rectum.
If a patient has a health concern, is it better to wait and see how things go or should they make an appointment?
They should make an appointment because I’d rather catch anything before it gets worse. You don’t want to wait to address any issues, even if it’s something minor. Just come in. Don’t try to take care of it yourself.
What advice do you have for male patients?
I would definitely recommend men be open about any health problems they have when going to the doctor. The doctor can’t read your mind. They can assess and look at your medical history. If they don’t see anything during the exam and you don’t tell them you have a problem, they can’t help you. It’s important for patients to be open – even if it’s embarrassing. It’s OK; the doctor’s office is a safe space to discuss things.
Paa-Kofi Obeng, DO, is a board-certified internal medicine physician who also has a Master of Public Health with a focus on health behavior and health promotion. Dr. Obeng provides a full spectrum of health care services for adults with an emphasis on preventive care.
For more information on how to take control of your health or to support the health of the men in your life, visit Bon Secours for Men.