Better health anytime of year: Five health issues to ask about at your next men’s health physical
June is National Men’s Health Month, an ideal time to pause and reevaluate your health or have important conversations with loved ones. While men’s health matters all year long, making an intentional effort to reevaluate habits can save or prolong a person’s life.
As a family medicine specialist, I recommend making an appointment with your doctor to address specific health concerns. All men over age 50 should have an annual physical, while younger men can plan to see their family doctor at least once every three years.
General wellness impacts quality of life, including mental as well as physical health. More men than women have died of COVID-19 over the past year, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, likely due in part to underlying health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Suicide also ranks in the top 10 list of causes of death in younger men, which often correlates with anxiety and depression; all three issues have also affected higher numbers of men in both 2020 and so far in 2021.
If I could give just some overall advice, it would be to be kind to yourself and pay attention to your personal needs. A lot of the risk factors we associate with chronic illness come from a typical American lifestyle that’s high stress, often very fast-paced. Try to counteract that and make some time for yourself. Take the time to work on your mental and physical wellbeing. Be available for yourself and your family. That’s key at any age.
Wellness concerns can arise at any time in a person’s lifespan but taking special care after age 50 is vital. An annual physical for men age 50 and older should cover these five health topics:
Heart health: Blood pressure, cholesterol and weight are routinely assessed at medical appointments. If any of those are not part of your exam, ask about what was not covered. Cholesterol screenings should be done every five years for men over 18, while those with other factors like those who do not exercise or who have a family history of heart disease should be tested annually.
Diabetes: A diabetes screening takes place with a simple hemoglobin A1C blood test. A quick lab draw is all that’s involved. Because the onset of Type 2 diabetes often happens over time, early symptoms may not be noticeable. For that reason, monitoring blood sugar levels year over year is important in middle age.
Cancer and additional screenings related to smoking: The American Cancer Society lists smoking as the cause of about 20% of cancer cases in the U.S. and 30% of cancer deaths. Tobacco use is tied to at least 16 different varieties of cancer, including lung, throat, esophageal and stomach cancers.
Men with a history of smoking should be screened for lung cancer; a history of smoking is defined as having smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years or two packs per day for 10 years. After age 65, men who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in the course of their lifetime should also be screened for an ultrasound of the abdomen to check for aortic aneurysm.
Smoking is even considered an additional risk factor for colon cancer. Men age 50 and over should schedule a colonoscopy, even if smoking has not been part of their personal history. Prostate cancer is also a topic of discussion patients should bring up with their doctor. Not every office screens for the disease but some individuals, especially those with risk factors or a family history of prostate cancer, should be screened sooner rather than later with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and in-office exam.
Quitting smoking can be beneficial, even later in life. Ask your doctor about smoking cessation resources if needed.
Vaccines: Check with your doctor about getting boosters for vaccines like whooping cough or hepatitis for diseases you’ve already been immunized against as well as any vaccines that may be new recommendations for your age group. In addition to an annual flu shot, patients over age 65 can expect to get their pneumonia vaccines. The 13 valent should first be given at age 65, then the 23 valent a year later. Around age 50, patients can also get a two-shot vaccine series to prevent shingles, an illness characterized by rash and fever caused by the herpes zoster virus which older patients may have already been exposed to from having had chickenpox at a younger age. If you have not already been vaccinated against COVID-19, the vaccine is now available for all adult age groups in Oklahoma.
Medicare patients can schedule a Medicare Wellness Visit to cover screenings like these without additional cost.
We want our patients to have great quality of life at any age. Simple changes really can make a big difference. Take the time to eat healthy and get exercise. Go out and walk, play catch with your kids or grandkids or step out for a jog with your dog at least four times a week. Get enough sleep. We don’t even realize it but those everyday actions can go a long way for both physical and mental health. I hope every male patient realizes he matters at work, at home and in the community. Taking care of yourself makes it possible to continue doing what you love to do and showing up for others.
Focusing on men’s health this June can lead to positive change throughout all the months of the year. If you or your loved one have further questions, talk with your doctor.
Dr. Raghuveer Vedala is a family medicine specialist from Edmond, Okla.