Men often experience health difficulties that can go unnoticed or neglected, which is one of the main reasons that Men’s Health Month is so important; its intent to foster awareness and conversation about men’s health issues.
Men’s Health Month, recognized in June, encourages men to take care of themselves by eating right, exercising and working to prevent disease. In the forefront during the month is awareness, prevention, education and family.
And according to general practitioner Dr. Patrick Whitfield, men should try to ensure they are in good health, not only for their sake, but for that of the people they love.
Men of every age, race and socioeconomic status are encouraged to take charge of their health and undergo the necessary tests recommended by medical professionals.
Whitfield, general practitioner at Chesapeake Comprehensive Care, in an earlier interview with The Nassau Guardian, said men need to stop viewing taking care of their health as something that is not masculine. He said knowing what is going on in your body is of utmost importance, not only for men themselves, but their family’s sake.
“One of the top reasons men should want to know where they stand health-wise is that about 70 percent of the leading causes of death across the board are caused by preventable diseases,” said Whitfield. “This means if you had been doing the recommended checkups on time, a doctor would have been able to detect a problem, intervened early and possibly saved your life. If it’s too un-masculine to get yourself checked out regularly and you become ill, the disease can interfere with your ability to provide for your family, and where will you be then? If you get really sick and you can’t work as well, it can further threaten the financial stability of your family and cause unnecessary physical, emotional and financial stress.”
The family health practitioner said while everyone should be diligent about their health checkups, men should start getting checkups from as early as their 20s.
He said men should approach their health with vigilance and attention, the same as they do their prized possession, which in most instances is their vehicle, which they tend to service like clockwork to ensure it’s kept clean and in perfect condition.
The doctor said just getting an annual physical is a small, but significant building block in a person’s health management plan.
“Although much major screenings take place after a man turns 40, there are some that they should take regularly in the 20s and 30s.”
In younger men, most doctors aim to help them manage their lifestyle choices like eating, drinking, smoking, road safety and anger management. The annual checkup should consist of reading the cholesterol, checking blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The male patient will also be weighed to see where his body mass index (BMI) lies and whether he is at an ideal weight. Depending on the results, the doctor would recommend proper diet solutions and an exercise regimen.
According to Whitfield, small lifestyle changes made in the 20s do wonders for men down the line.
“As a young man, it is easy to see the world ahead of you and time stretching onward, but that does not mean you should neglect your health, assuming you have time to get in shape or eat better. Whether you have a fast metabolism or not, it is not a good idea to binge on bad foods.”
Poor health practices, he said, reflect on men in later years. A slightly elevated blood pressure that is not monitored or managed can get out of control in five to 10 years’ time. A high blood sugar level that a patient has never known about, he said, could quickly become diabetes over time, if changes aren’t made to the diet. High cholesterol could eventually lead to heart problems, among other problems if not monitored in more youthful days.
“The small things do matter – even in the 20s,” he said.
Sexually active young men, he advised, should be safe in their practices, as many young men tend to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases more so than lifestyle illnesses.
“Keeping on top of one’s sexual health by regularly doing blood tests will keep the young man aware of illnesses he can contract, so he can deal with them as soon as possible.”
The medical professional said a major problem doctors see with young men is trauma; that group suffers from bodily harm from car accidents and violence more frequently than any other age group. Whitfield said medical professionals find themselves giving advice on lessening the risk of trauma by advising young men to wear seatbelts while in cars and helmets while on motorbikes. He said they also speak to them about anger management, if the young man tends to get into fights.
“These may not be direct medical problems but being on top of these things keeps the body healthy and strong,” said the doctor.
Young men contemplating marriage, he said, are encouraged to get tested for common hereditary conditions like sickle cell anemia.
“Knowing what they are getting into and what chances their potential children will have of inheriting an ailment is essential for responsible family planning,” he said.
Once a man is in his 40s, more specified screenings become increasingly important. Tests for things like prostate cancer become essential, but many men are afraid to take the exam needed to test for the cancer. Whitfield said that the digital examination most men find invasive can be done virtually now.
“Men can also opt to take a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which was the normal test physicians would use along with the digital test. This test, however, is under debate by many medical professionals as the results gotten from the test are not always correct since there are many factors that could give a false positive. As a result, most physicians will sit men in this age group down and explain about the test’s pros and cons and allow them to make a decision as to whether they want to do it or not,” he said.
Another cancer doctors will also check for is testicular cancer. The test is done manually. While it is a little uncomfortable, Whitfield said the exam could prevent a painful experience with cancer if anomalies are found and treated. Testicular cancer is rare, but occurs most commonly in men between the age of 20 and 54.
When a man is in his 40s, regular tests like blood sugar, cholesterol and hypertension should also still be consistently done.
When a man reaches the age of 50, checking for colon cancer should be added to the list of annual tests, if it hasn’t already begun, due to family history. The medical practitioner said the best way to check for colon cancer is by having a colonoscopy or a CT (computed tomography) scan.
During these years, Whitfield said men should also be aware of their increased risk for heart disease and strokes – diseases that kill men more so than accidents or even homicide.
“Men in this country don’t die from everyday publicized problems like murder and violence. Rather – their main killers are lifestyle diseases. They don’t keep up with their health, and by the 50s or sometimes sooner, it catches up with them. If 100 men died due to homicide, multiply that 10 more times for the number of men who die from heart disease or stroke.”
As men get older, the doctor said, their focus turns to things like arthritis and loss of eyesight, but he said they should not let unnatural symptoms go unchecked; just like an old car that can still run well, as long as it gets a little more care and attention, an older body needs just as much consistent vigilance and treatment.
“Men tend to die almost a decade sooner than women, and this doesn’t have to be,” said Whitfield. “We want to see our men doing better health-wise in years to come – and the only way to do that is through preventative measures like healthier eating habits, regular exercise and doctor visits. So, I encourage men to take charge of their health, so they can be around for their families. After all, it is important to be a good example for young men to see that being a man is just as much about being able to take care of one’s family as it is about taking care of oneself,” he said.
While he admitted men tend to be shy about visiting a physician on their own, the doctor urged the women in their lives to help them see what they should be doing to promote good health.
“Young men tend to know the status of their bank accounts or their cars, but they know little about their body’s health. They are too relaxed about their health because they can depend on science and medicine to correct or treat the problem. But they need to see that none of the stresses of pill-taking, operations or physical therapies that can come with treating an illness after the fact is even necessary if they take preventative measures. And to start it all off, just getting your annual physical is a small, but significant building block in one’s health maintenance plan,” said Whitfield.