Heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer are consistently cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the leading causes of death for men.
However, the biggest health threat to men just might be a deep reluctance to go to the doctor.
The Mayo Clinic advises men to not wait to “visit the doctor until something is seriously wrong. Your doctor can be your best ally for preventing health problems.”
Statistically, women are better at getting in for regular check ups and monitoring symptoms early. Why is it a struggle to get men to think in these terms?
“In general, I think some men have the belief that a person does not need to go to the doctor unless they are ‘sick,’” said Dr. Anne Schneider, of Edward Medical Group. “We all lead busy lives, and many men put their own health low on the priority list, especially if they don’t feel sick.”
The real danger is that many symptoms that can be a sign of a serious health concern do not overtly reveal themselves and will go undetected without regular checkups.
“People can have diabetes, hypertension and/or high cholesterol for years before they start to have symptoms of these diseases. By then, damage can already be done on the kidneys, heart, peripheral nerves, etc. Again, this is why screening tests during regular check-ups are so important,” Schneider said. “We want to, ideally, counsel patients on a yearly basis to adopt lifestyles that help prevent disease. At least we want to screen patients to ‘catch’ and manage these diseases before they do the most damage.”
The American Physical Therapy Association believes it has a role to play in bolstering men’s health.
Physical therapist Julie West, owner of West Physical Therapy in Sugar Grove and a member of the Private Practice Section of the APTA, believes physical therapists could play a significant role in changing these attitudes.
“Most identify physical therapists as those who help recover from an injury,” West said in a statement. “However, we work with patients every day to effect behavior change to prevent injury recurrence as well as adopting healthier means of living that reduce illness, injury and disease.”
The goal of West Physical Therapy is to draw attention to preventable health problems and outline tailored plans to keep men healthy and strong.
“A healthy plan treats the entire body, and ranges from starting a regular exercise routine to reduce heart disease, respiratory disease — building strength in bones, joints and muscles — to proper nutrition that helps keep the body well fueled,” West said.
Schneider agrees that healthy eating, exercise and overall wellness is critical and can be a challenge for both men and women.
Perhaps one reason men are more lax on getting in for regular checkups is the idea that if nothing negative really jumps out it was a waste of time.
“It may seem like we are not actively accomplishing anything; we are actually busy assessing risk and, ideally, preventing long-term health problems,” Schneider said.
The challenge is on men to be better stewards of their own wellness, but support from family and friends also can make a difference in getting men to be more proactive. Family members, spouses and partners are strongly encouraged to go with men on appointments and ask questions and talk with them about their own concerns.
Schneider also believes the medical community can do a better job of getting the message out on why regular checkups are so vital.
“If men knew more about what they can expect at a regular check-up and why we are doing it, they would be more likely to have regular check-ups,” she said.
The American Medical Association does offer “The Complete Guide to Men’s Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Jeffrey P. Koplan said in a review that the book can help men be better informed and empower them.
“Men are often reluctant to discuss issues that are important to their general health and well-being,” he said. “This one-of-a-kind guide provides helpful information, in an easy-to-read format, on major health concerns, including diet and nutrition, exercise, sexuality, and emotional health. This guide should help men make better decisions about their health.”Tags: health
Ways men can take charge of their health:
Don’t smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. It’s also important to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution and exposure to chemicals (such as in the workplace).
Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and sodium.
Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess pounds — and keeping them off — can lower your risk of heart disease as well as various types of cancer.
Get moving. Include physical activity in your daily routine. You know exercise can help you control your weight and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. But did you know that it might also lower your risk of certain types of cancer? Choose sports or other activities you enjoy, from basketball to brisk walking.
Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For men, that means up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger and one drink a day for men older than age 65. The risk of various types of cancer, such as liver cancer, appears to increase with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you’ve been drinking regularly. Too much alcohol can also raise your blood pressure.
Manage stress. If you feel constantly on edge or under assault, your lifestyle habits may suffer — and so might your immune system. Take steps to reduce stress — or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
Make regular checkups to the doctor. Don’t wait to visit the doctor until something is seriously wrong. Your doctor can be your best ally for preventing health problems. Be sure to follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations if you have health issues, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.
On the Web
Learn more about West Physical Therapy’s philosophy of helping men maintain health at westphysicaltherapy.com.
For more information about the American Physical Therapy Association, visit www.ppsapta.org.