If it has been a long time, or if you can’t even remember your last check-up, you’re not alone. According to the Men’s Health Network, men are half as likely to visit a doctor for a check-up as women are, and there are more than 7 million American men who haven’t seen a doctor in over 10 years.
To increase the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men, Men’s Health Week is celebrated each year during the week leading up to and including Father’s Day.
“Men often don’t take very good care of themselves,” says Dr. Than Luu, a family medicine specialist at Washington Hospital. “As a result, men generally die at a younger age than women. Many of these premature deaths could be prevented by taking some simple steps to protect your health.”
#1 – Follow a Healthy Diet
“Your mom was right – it’s important to eat healthy meals that include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Dr. Luu says. “You also should avoid saturated fats and limit your cholesterol intake. I encourage my patients to get more fiber in their diet. Fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains like oatmeal can lower your blood sugar and cholesterol and reduce your risk of colon cancer. The more fiber, the better.”
#2 – Watch Your Weight
An estimated 60 percent of American men are overweight or obese, but fad diets and “miracle” diet pills are not the answer.
“The only really effective way to lose weight and then maintain a healthy weight is to burn more calories than you eat,” Dr. Luu explains. “One of the easiest ways to slim down is to watch your food portion sizes. It also helps to eat slowly so that your body can signal when you’ve had enough, and to stop when you’re full. Don’t have ‘seconds’ unless you’re really hungry.”
#3 – Take Time to Exercise
Exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, it also can lower your risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other medical problems. Equally important, exercise can help lower your stress levels and improve your sense of well-being.
“The American Medical Association recommends at least 30 minutes of active exercise three times a week,” Dr. Luu notes. “Before you start a new exercise program, consult your doctor for guidance. If you haven’t been very active, start out slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise time.”
#4 – Choose Exercise that You Enjoy
You don’t have to go out jogging every day – which actually can cause impact injuries if you’re not fit.
“Even fast walking can get your heart rate going,” he says. “For many people, pool exercise, including swimming or doing other exercises, is the best option because it offers high resistance and low impact. The trick is to find a form of exercise you enjoy – even if it’s working in the garden or playing with the kids – and make time for it on a regular basis. It might help you stick with your commitment to exercise if you join an exercise group or find a workout partner.”
#5 – Get Plenty of Rest
“Your body needs to restore itself through sleep,” Dr. Luu says. “Lack of sleep can increase your blood pressure and contribute to a number of other health problems. The quality of sleep is as important as the amount of sleep. If your spouse or partner complains about your snoring and you still feel tired when you wake in the morning, you should consult your doctor to see if you may have sleep apnea – a disorder that is characterized by numerous brief interruptions of breathing while you are asleep.”
#6 – Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
“There’s no doubt that we live in a stressful environment, particularly in the midst of the current economic crises, ” Dr. Luu observes. “A little bit of stress can be good for you, helping you focus your attention and enabling your body to respond quickly to dangerous situations. Too much stress over long periods of time, though, can affect your immune system and increase your risk of developing a variety of physical problems as well as mental issues such as depression and mood swings.
“Even tough guys need to stop and smell the flowers sometimes,” he adds. “When you’re feeling stressed, pay more attention to your family and friends and spend time in activities you enjoy to let off steam.”
#7 – Avoid Excessive Use of Alcohol
Several research studies have shown that “moderate” consumption of alcoholic beverages – particularly red wine – may have some health benefits, including improving the function of the body’s cardiovascular system. Excessive consumption, on the other hand, can have disastrous effects.
“The term ‘moderate’ means no more than one or two drinks per day,” Dr. Luu explains. “Excessive use of alcohol can lead to complications with blood sugar levels in men with diabetes. The ‘empty calories’ in alcohol also can contribute to weight gain. Of even greater concern is the effect alcohol can have on your liver, causing chronic liver disease. Men with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C must be particularly careful.”
#8 – Don’t Smoke
“Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body,” he emphasizes. “Smoking can affect every part of your body – the heart, lungs, vascular system, prostate gland, bladder and brain. If you have tried to quit and failed, don’t give up. Join a support group or ask your doctor about medications and nicotine stop-smoking aids.”
#9 – Schedule Regular Physical Exams
The time to see your doctor is before you develop a serious physical condition so that you can avoid being taken off to the emergency room in an ambulance.
“General recommendations for when to have a physical exam are every three years for men aged 20 to 39, every two years for 40- to 49-year olds, and every year for men over age 50,” Dr. Luu says. “A thorough physical exam should include a variety of tests evaluating everything from your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to your blood sugar levels and kidney function. Men over age 50 also should have colon screenings and prostate screenings. African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer may wish to begin screenings at age 40 or earlier.”
#10 – Manage Chronic Conditions
If you have a serious health problem such as heart disease or diabetes – despite your best efforts to stay healthy – it’s vital to seek ongoing medical care and advice from your physician.