Some hard truths about men's health
We're in the middle of Men's Health Month, a national observance each June with the goal to raise awareness about health care for men -- young and old -- and encourage them to take better care of themselves.
Which a lot of men don't do, unfortunately. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American men die, on average, five years earlier than women, and they die at higher rates from the three leading causes: heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries. Studies also show men are more likely to ignore symptoms and less likely to go for routine checkups, which might prevent some of those deaths.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, I'll host a free webinar to answer your questions about today's health issues, including how to advocate for yourself or a loved one and ways of improving your health outcomes. If you're a guy who is looking for some health guidance -- or a significant other wanting to encourage healthier behaviors -- I invite you to tune in. Register at northshorern.com, and we made it easier this time.
Health risks for the male of the species evolve with age. Teenagers and young men are more prone to risky behaviors, like driving too fast, drinking, using drugs or experimenting with firearms. Between 1981 and 2007, according to one study, almost three times as many men than women died of unintentional injuries.
As age goes up, risky behavior goes down -- but other risks take its place. Starting in the 40s, testosterone production slows down. Men start losing muscle mass and become more prone to weight gain, raising the risk of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. On average, men develop heart disease about 10 years earlier than women, and 25% of men's deaths are caused by heart disease.
After age 50 and beyond, some of the more common ailments are cancer of the colon or prostate. Both are very treatable if caught early. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests all men over age 50, and age 40 for African American men, have a protein-specific antigen (PSA) test to detect the presence of prostate cancer and understand the risks and benefits of the test. Colon cancer screenings should start in your 50s, or even a bit earlier.
Erectile dysfunction (ED, euphemistically) also becomes more common after age 50, usually caused by diabetes or high blood sugar, clogged arteries, stress, depression or some combination. It can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as heart disease.
So, what's a guy to do? A study some years ago by the Buck Center for Research in Aging found that the most consistent predictors of healthy aging in men were low blood pressure, low serum glucose, not smoking cigarettes and not being obese. Here are some things you can do.
1. Make an appointment for a checkup -- and if you don't have a doctor, find one.
If you're over 40, see your health care provider to have your blood pressure checked and get a blood test, which will tell you everything's fine or if you need to pay attention to your cholesterol, blood sugar or something else. Over 50? Get screened for colon and prostate cancer.
Younger people, particularly young men, typically don't have regular doctors. Find one. If something is bothering you -- an injury that doesn't heal, a pain that doesn't go away, depression -- get it checked out so you can stop fretting about it.
2. Quit smoking.
Now. Today. More men than women smoke. Nothing good comes of cigarette smoking. Nicotine addiction is hard to break, but there are lots of tools, medications and techniques to help you kick the habit.
3. Soothe your soul.
Mindfulness, meditation, even just concentrating on your breathing a few times a day, can lower your blood pressure and ease your mind. Other ideas are to take a walk outside, read a good book or just take a nap!
4. Get some exercise -- body as well as brain.
This is true for men and women alike: Exercise has been shown to help you live a longer and healthier life. Focus on weight-bearing activities to keep your bones strong. As for your brain -- even though your mother said not to -- talk to strangers! Research has shown that talking with strangers can make us happier, more connected to our communities, mentally sharper, healthier, less lonely, and more trustful and optimistic.
5. Be a flexitarian.
You don't have to go full vegetarian or vegan. Flexitarians increase their intake of plant-based meals while not giving up meat entirely.
Men's Health Month can be the start of a healthier life. You don't have to do everything at once, but even baby steps may help you feel better.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.