Conventional wisdom tells us that men aren’t especially consistent when it comes to taking care of their health. Statistics bear this out: according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation1, men are less likely than women to
- have seen a healthcare provider in the past two years.
- get recommended screening services such as general checkups, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Risk factors you can’t control
Knowing your risk factors for certain diseases is the first step in disease prevention. But some risk factors, such as age and family history, can’t be controlled.
- As we get older, our risk to develop certain illnesses increases. At the same time, juggling careers, family issues and other responsibilities can make it harder to squeeze in healthy lifestyle habits.
- You have a shared genetic makeup with your immediate family members. If a parent, brother or sister suffers from a condition such as heart disease, you may be at risk for heart disease yourself.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to turn back time or alter your genetic profile. You can, however, make adjustments for aging and genetics when planning your strategy for wellness and prevention.
According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease (25%) and stroke (4%) account for nearly one in three deaths among men in the United States.2 In addition, if you suffer from erectile dysfunction, it could be a sign that you’re in the early stages of cardiovascular disease.
What you can do:
- Adopt a heart-healthy diet. Limit your intake of salt and foods high in artery-clogging saturated fats, such as fatty red meats, cheeses and “100%” dairy products. Replace these with “healthy fats” from lean meats, olive oil, and omega-3s, whole grains, low-fat (1% or 2%) dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables. (Keep in mind that too much fat of any kind is bad for you as it can lead to other problems, such as obesity.)
- Schedule regular, annual routine wellness exams with your Graybill Primary Care physician. During this all-important exam your PCP will go over your family health history and current health status. He/she will also screen you for cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Lung, prostate, colorectal, melanoma and other cancers combine to form the second leading cause of death (24%) among U.S. men.2
What you can do:
- If you’re a smoker, quit smoking, and if you’re a non-smoker, don’t start. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Avoid chemical pollutants by doing aerobic exercise in the mornings or indoors.
- A recent CDC survey found that 42% of American men never use sunscreen. Always use sunscreen when you’re outdoors, regardless of whether your complexion is light or dark or the sky is clear or cloudy. Be sure to choose sunscreen with at least SPF15 and that offers broad spectrum (both UVA and UVB) protection.
- Speak with your PCP about getting screened for colorectal cancer and prostate disease.
Accidents (termed “unintentional injuries” by CDC) are the third leading cause of death among men of all ages, especially through their 40s. The top three causes of accidental death among men are: driving accidents, poisoning or drug overdoses, and falls.
What you can do:
- Practice safe driving habits. Buckle your seat belts and drive defensively. Don’t text while driving and use a Bluetooth or other hands-free device. Don’t drink and drive.
- Practice workplace safety. Be aware of possible drug interactions that can interfere with driving or operating machinery.
- Check your home for proper lighting and tripping hazards such as loose rugs and other objects.
- Avoid the use of illegal or illicit drugs.
As with heart disease, an annual routine wellness exam is the first step in preventing or managing diabetes. Your PCP can determine whether you have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions (high blood pressure; high blood sugar; excess belly fat; unhealthy cholesterol levels; high triglycerides) that dramatically increases your risk of developing diabetes. If you have two or more of these conditions, your PCP may order further tests such as fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), to diagnose whether you have diabetes.
What you can do:
- Change your diet. To help regulate spikes in blood sugar, eat more frequent, smaller meals and more fiber-rich foods, such as fresh vegetables and whole grains. Cut down on processed carbohydrates such as white breads, pastas, and foods made with added sugars.
- Lose weight. Ninety percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.4
Depression and suicide
Depression can be deadlier for men than women. Men are only half as likely to suffer from depression as women, but they are four times more likely to commit suicide. Sadly, suicide ranks seventh among the leading causes of death of men in the U.S. 3
What you can do:
- Recognize the warning signs of depression. These may include (but are not limited to): constantly feeling overwhelmed, sad, unfulfilled, angry, guilty, worthless, pessimistic, hopeless, restless or agitated, that no one cares about you, or that life is not worth living.
- Recognize behaviors associated with depression. These may include (but are not limited to): eating or sleeping too much or too little, abusing drugs or alcohol, engaging in reckless or risky behavior, having trouble focusing or remembering, experiencing a loss of interest in work, family, hobbies or activities you used to enjoy, or losing interest in sex.
- Reach out to others, including a loved one, relative, or close friend; talk to that person about what you’re feeling.
- See your doctor or mental health professional, who can work with you to develop a treatment plan that may include various therapies and/or medications.
- If you’re in crisis, contact a suicide crisis center hotline.
- Kaiser Family Foundation, 2013 Kaiser Men’s Health Survey and 2013 Kaiser Women’s Health Survey.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Leading causes of death by age group, race/ethnicity males, United States, 2013. Retrieved 6/6/16 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality_tables.htm
- Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, “A guide to men’s health: fifty and forward.” pp. 14, 36.
- Obesity Society, “Your weight and diabetes.” Retrieved 6/6/16 from http://www.obesity.org/content/weight-diabetes