Regular check-ups essential for men's health

By James W. Cartwright, Ph.D., LCSW-C, Social Worker, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMay 31, 2013

Did you know that June is Men's Health Month? If you are a male, you have most likely seen a doctor out of necessity, but when confronted with specific questions about men's health you may have some shortcomings.

In searching the wisdom of the Internet on men's health, it turns out that men are pretty special when it comes to taking health risks. In fact, men are more likely than women to smoke and drink, make unhealthy or risky choices, and put off regular check-ups or seek medical care. Overall, evidence indicates that men ought to pay more attention to their health and well-being. But how much is enough?

To have a good grasp on men's health care, an analogy using cars may help. Apparently, most men understand about and relate to cars. Statements like, "Your car gets routine check-ups, so should you," and references to "Men's Health Tune-up Schedule" might be helpful, but the fact is many men neglect their car's maintenance. Delaying regular tune-ups of your vehicle, putting off check-ups, and waiting for the oil light to come on to get the oil changed is standard behavior. Why is it that worn out, bald tires are not replaced until your wife or sister notices and obsesses about your safety?

To get to the heart of the matter, what are the real reasons that men do not seek medical care? Web MD cited a number of possible reasons men avoid medical care. Among those reasons were "stoicism, high cost, busy schedules, the challenge of getting an appointment, or the embarrassing possibility of the digital rectal exam." There you have it.

To the relief of many men, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force rejected the idea that the standard annual physical exam is an effective tool for improving the health of patients. They suggest that exams needed to be tailored to the age, health risks and preferences of the patient. If you are a man, you might like this, but do not be surprised if your wife likes the car analogy better.

So, what should men do to maintain good health? It turns out that it's really quite simple. Most experts agree that men should do, or not do, these things: don't smoke, be physically active, know your body, eat a healthy diet, stay at a healthy weight, manage your stress, sleep well, and drink alcohol only in moderation. Note that these measures also enhance mental and spiritual wellness, which is important since men have higher suicide rates than women. In addition, it is important to partner with your physician to choose a preventive healthcare program suited to your special needs.

Many of the major health risks that men face, such as colon cancer or heart disease, can be prevented. They also are easier to treat when found early. To ensure your body continues to be fit and ready, eat healthfully, sleep well, be physically active and follow a preventive maintenance schedule as listed below.

Here are the basics:

• Regular blood pressure screenings.

• Cholesterol screenings for all men 35 and up, or 20 and up if there are other risk factors.

• Colorectal cancer screening age 50 and up.

• Tetanus booster every 10 years for men over 50.

• Flu shots every year for men over 50.

• Prostate cancer screenings based on individual factors.

• Diabetes screenings for adults who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

• Monthly self exam for irregular moles with annual visit to a dermatologist for complete exam.

• The American Cancer Society recommends annual cancer screenings with a testicular exam.

Going back to the car analogy, when you want to take care of your car, you educate yourself by checking out informative Web sites on how to do that. Are you interested in learning more about men's health? Check out these informative resources:

• Men's Health MedlinePlus,

National Institutes for Health provides overviews, current news, and prevention/screening information on specific conditions related to men's health to include cancer, low testosterone, depression and more.