You’ve likely heard the adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," but studies show that men may be taking this concept a little too much to heart.
According to a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, 55 percent of U.S. men haven’t had an annual check-up in the past year. In fact, 36 percent of American men only go to a doctor when they are extremely ill, while 23 percent said they’re fine and have no reason to see a doctor at all. This has real consequences: men on average live five years less than women, who are more likely to get regular wellness checkups and receive important screens to prevent and catch disease early on before they can cause severe illness.
1. How do you really know you’re healthy?
Congestive heart failure and complications from long-term diabetes and high blood pressure are both more likely to occur in men and have early warning signs that often can be detected at routine checkups. This means that even guys who feel like they are in the doing great, shouldn’t be skipping out on regular doctor visits.
“Your physician should discuss with you any concerns, risk factors and family history,” says Bruce Britton, MD (MD '90), Director of Medical Student Education at EVMS Family and Community Medicine. “Together, you can determine how often you should get a physical and what screenings are appropriate.”
Common screenings include those for cholesterol, blood sugar, infectious diseases, and cancers, as well as behaviors that can increase risk of significant life shortening disease.
2. Get your heart in the game
Sure, you feel great, but did you know that one-third of all heart-attack victims never have any warning?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most people who have high blood pressure don't know it. That’s why catching high blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher) early on is a key to lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney damage.
“If you have high blood pressure, your doctor can help you identify lifestyle changes that will help to better control it,” says Dr. Britton. “Men over age 18 should be checked for high blood pressure at least every two years.”
Eating a healthier diet, using less salt, getting more regular exercise and in some cases, taking medication can help to lower blood pressure and decrease a man’s chance of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and heart failure.
3. Health can be skin deep
More than 10,000 people die each year from melanoma in the United States ¾ a cancer found in the skin's pigment-producing cells. Even more concerning is that one out of every 48 people will be diagnosed with this type of skin cancer in his/her lifetime.
And just because you don’t sunbathe doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk. Even areas of the skin not always exposed to the sun are susceptible to melanoma.
“Check your moles for any sudden changes in shape, color or size. When in doubt,” Dr. Britton says, “talk to your doctor, especially if you have a large number of moles or melanoma in your family history.”
If necessary, your family physician may refer you to a dermatologist.
4. Your doctor, your advocate
Regular visits to the doctor enable your physician to know you better and to help you address lifestyle concerns and choices as they arise.
Got a bad habit? They can help you kick it. Want to lose weight or start an exercise regime? Your family doctor can help find what’s right for you. Physicians are happy to talk to you about healthy lifestyle issues like smoking and drinking, good nutrition, diet, exercise and stress reduction.
“Our goal is to ensure you are healthy and that you stay that way,” Dr. Britton says. “A simple conversation with your family doctor can go a long way to accomplishing that.”