Remember the adage ‘when you’ve got your health, you’ve got just about everything?’
Too many men, unfortunately, have forgotten it, because when it comes to individual health, men fare far worse than women.
According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death. They are more likely to die of heart disease, more prone to be killed in accidents, and more apt to suffer from drug or alcohol addictions than women. At all stages of life, in fact, men are more likely to die than females.
The fact is that too many men don’t put a priority on their own health. They delay recommended screenings and care, sometimes until it is too late.
Underlying this lack of attention to their healthcare is the male notion of masculinity, which leads men to believe that going to a doctor or accessing healthcare compromises the idea of ‘being tough.’ It’s an attitude that prevents men from seeking care when they should.
The current emphasis on concussions reflects one example of this mentality. For years, men playing contact sports such as football and hockey ignored blows to the head and tried to tough it out and keep playing. Today, we now know that a concussion — an injury to the brain — is more serious and more common than previously thought, and, if not acknowledged and addressed, can come with severe, long-term health consequences.
So what can men do to improve their health? Here are some simple but effective steps to take:
• Establish a good working relationship with a primary-care physician. Men need to develop trust with their doctors, a trust that is inherent only in a physician-patient relationship that develops over time. Creating such a relationship will allow you to feel more comfortable in discussing a wide range of issues, including some intimate ones you ordinarily wouldn’t discuss with others.
• Develop a healthy lifestyle. Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco in all its forms will prevent many health problems and increase your lifespan and enjoyment of life.
• Get recommended screenings. It’s important to get regular checks for such conditions as high blood pressure, cholesterol, hepatitis C, diabetes, and skin cancer. If these conditions are caught early, they can be treated before they become bigger problems. And don’t forget to discuss both prostate and colon-cancer screening with your physician. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women in the U.S., and it’s a cancer that can be prevented.
• Vaccinate. Conditions such as influenza, pneumonia, shingles, hepatitis A and B, and pertussis can be avoided or largely reduced by keeping up to date on your vaccinations.
• Find a trusted friend or advisor. This person can be someone other than your physician, with whom you can share thoughts about job stress, marital issues, or other personal problems, such as feeling depressed.
If you haven’t been to a doctor in a while, my advice is simple: find a good primary-care physician and establish a relationship with him or her. Decisions about your healthcare are important, and delaying care can be dangerous and lead to more serious problems. Reliable and helpful advice from a physician is available; you only need to ask.
So don’t forget that adage about your health. Take steps to reduce your risks. And remember, too, that it’s not just about you: your loved ones are counting on you to be there for them.
For more information on men’s health, visit the Men’s Health Network at www.menshealthnetwork.org. For a video presentation, visit www.physicianfocus.org/menshealth.
Dr. Frederic H. Schwartz is a primary-care physician, co-chair of the Mass. Medical Society’s committee on men’s health, and an assistant professor of Medicine at UMass Medical School. This article is a public service of the Mass. Medical Society.