June is Men’s Health Month, a time when many men continue to ignore clear warning signs about their health.
Although you may be aware that women live longer than men, have you ever considered why? It’s not some inherent genetic flaw we can’t overcome. Basically, it’s because we do not take care of ourselves as well as our female counterparts do.
Before we hit our 50s, we typically die because we engage in riskier behavior. We fall off roofs and ladders; we get in more car accidents, and we die much more often from drowning and accidental poisoning. As young men, we often feel a sense of invulnerability, believing complications from behaviors like smoking, drinking, and/or doing drugs will happen to others, not us.
After we turn 50, we typically die from complications related to medical illness or disease—either because we ignore symptoms or because we do not follow medical advice. The three most common causes of death in men over 50 are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke.
In Mendocino County, we have more deaths related to drugs and alcohol than many other California counties. And when it comes to opioid painkillers, Mendocino County averages two deaths from unintentional prescription overdoses each month. Per capita, that is twice the state average.
So what can we do?
First, pay attention to the symptoms that indicate something’s wrong. For cardiovascular disease, that means chest pain associated with exertion and increasing shortness of breath when you’re not doing any more than you usually do. For cancer, the symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, so it’s good to know your family history and get regular screenings recommended by your medical provider. For stroke, the most common symptoms include one side of the face drooping or feeling numb, weakness or numbness in one arm, and/or slurred speech.
Second, consider a little preventive maintenance. Many of us take better care of our cars than we do of our bodies. We take our cars in for regular tune-ups and make sure we change the oil every 5,000 miles. Imagine how good we would feel if we went in for regular tune-ups and took better care of ourselves. Part of taking care of ourselves includes eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. While this isn’t very sexy or exciting, it is still the best way to live a longer, healthier life.
Research indicates that most of us eat way more meat than we need to. I’m not suggesting that everyone should run out and become a vegetarian, but I am suggesting that portion control (choosing a serving size of meat no larger than your palm) and eating meat less frequently are good ideas.
Regular exercise is another key component of a healthy lifestyle. Find something active you like to do and do it for 30 minutes 5 times a week. You don’t have to train for a competitive event. Just get out and walk briskly at lunchtime or after work. If you can’t exercise 5 times a week, that’s okay. Start with 3 times a week. Something is better than nothing.
As I think about the factors that affect men’s health, I have to mention the importance of health screenings. Here’s a website with good information about men’s health and age-appropriate screenings: https://medlineplus.gov/menshealth.html. Basically, you should monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol; get tested for prostate cancer and colon cancer; make sure you’re up-to-date on vaccinations, including annual flu shots; and if you’re sexually active with more than one partner, go in for regular tests for sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV).
If you don’t want to remember all these details, just schedule an annual physical with your doctor and he or she will work with you to take care of all the most important ones. I bet your body will thank you if you schedule a tune-up and oil change. Why not schedule one today?
Jerry Douglas, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.