Some say men take better care of their cars than they do themselves. But at least a car comes with an owner's manual telling you when scheduled service is due.
Few health maintenance issues are as predictable as tire rotations and oil changes. But attention to just a few basic health issues can go a long way. Since you can't trade yourself in, it's well worth it to read through WebMD's health maintenance and checkup tips for men.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels
The No. 1 killer of men today is cardiovascular disease, mostly heart attacks and strokes. Although the last few decades have seen the rate of death from cardiovascular disease fall, it's still men's top health threat. And high cholesterol is a major preventable risk factor.
The American Heart Association recommends you get your cholesterol checked beginning at age 20, then every 4 to 6 years. If you have heart disease already or are at high risk for getting it, you may need to get your cholesterol checked more often.
Your doctor will take a small sample of your blood to check levels of cholesterol.
A total score below 200 is normal. That means your “good” (HDL) cholesterol is 60 or above and the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol is below 100. What’s not so great? A total score above 240 or a “good” reading below 40 and a “bad” of 160 or higher. While it’s a good idea to know your numbers, your cholesterol levels should be looked at in context with any other risk factors you might have.
If your cholesterol and risk for heart disease are high, your doctor will talk to you about treatment. You may need meds to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Check Your Blood Pressure
Don't expect to feel symptoms of high blood pressure. Until hypertension's daily pounding of your arteries has damaged your body, you won't notice a thing. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, and medicines are often prescribed for pressures of 130/80 and higher.
Why care? High blood pressure causes or makes worse a long list of health problems: heart attacks, strokes, erectile dysfunction, and kidney disease, to name a few. Most cases can be prevented, and controlling your blood pressure is an easy place to start. You can lower your numbers with meds and by eating more healthy foods and exercising.
For a blood pressure check, call your primary care doctor, or just go to your neighborhood fire station or pharmacy -- no appointment necessary. You should get your BP checked at least once a year.
Refresh Your Refrigerator
It's not a coincidence that both the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society continually advise, "eat your vegetables (and fruits, too)."
Cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, eye disease, diabetes, and other health conditions all involve damage to cells. It's thought that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables -- the best source of antioxidants -- may prevent some cases of these illnesses.
Also, the more plant-based foods you're eating, the less saturated fat and total calories you'll be taking in. Over time, less fat means a healthier weight, improved cholesterol, and better health.
Current guidelines recommend far more daily fruits and vegetables than most Americans eat. Ideally, you should eat mostly plant-based food for most meals, and enjoy meat as a small side dish.
Step on the Scale
Three out of four of Americans are overweight or obese. At every office visit, your doctor will note your body mass index (BMI) to see how you measure up. The number is based on your height and weight.
If it's between 18.5 and 24.9, you're in the normal range. If it's between 25 and 29.9, you're overweight. A score of 30 or more means you're obese.
There's ongoing research as to just how bad being overweight or obese is for our health. It's clear that obesity is linked to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many kinds of cancer.
While more is being learned, start losing weight. "Move more, eat less" is your mantra. You don't need a gym membership to reach your goal of 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Park the car far from the store, take the stairs at work, and walk the dog around the block, and you're almost there.
Almost any diet can work in the short run, but long-term weight loss requires a permanent lifestyle change for most people. Make small changes that you can sustain over time and build on your successes.
Get Your Blood Sugar Checked
This test finds the amount of sugar in your blood after you haven’t eaten for 8 hours. It’s called your fasting blood sugar.
A score of lower than 100 is normal. A reading of 126 or higher means diabetes. The middle ground is prediabetes. If you catch and treat high blood sugar at this stage, you may not get the disease.
You need to get this test at least every 3 years.
Get Screened for Colorectal Cancer
Unlike many other forms of cancer, colorectal cancer typically grows for years before spreading. If caught early, it can be cured.
A colonoscopy looks at the inside of your large intestine, where cancer forms. It is a highly effective method of finding colon cancer. Often, polyps that may turn into cancer can be removed during the colonoscopy. Other methods of screening that don't require colonoscopy are also available. There are tests done on stool that check for blood or changes in the DNA that can be seen in colon cancer. Another option is a sigmoidoscopy, which looks at part of your large intestine.
Screening, according to the American Cancer Society, should start at age 45 for men with average risk and sometimes earlier if you have a family member who had colon cancer.
Unfortunately, 50% to 75% of people don't get a colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, about 104,270 new cases will be diagnosed and 45,230 deaths will occur from colorectal cancer.
Find Out Whether You Have Hepatitis C
The CDC says everyone 18 years old and older should get a blood test to check for the hep C virus.
It’s spread by contact with the blood of someone who has it. Most people get it from a dirty needle, either in a health care setting or from injecting street drugs. It can cause a liver infection and, if left untreated, liver cancer. You can have it for years and not know it.
You only need to get this done once. You can repeat it if you think you’ve been exposed to the disease.
Learn About Prostate Cancer Screening
Prostate cancer screening is controversial. Using a gloved finger (digital rectal exam), a blood test (prostate specific antigen or PSA), and biopsies if necessary, doctors can detect abnormal growths in the prostate gland early in many men. Sometimes, screening catches prostate cancers, saving men's lives.
But surprisingly, screening hasn't been proven overall to help men survive prostate cancer. That's because screening detects many cancers that, if left alone, would never cause problems. These cancers are nevertheless removed surgically -- leaving some men who might never have died from prostate cancer with side effects such as impotence or incontinence.
The American Cancer Society says men, starting at age 50, should talk to their doctors about the benefits, risks, and limitations of prostate cancer screening before deciding whether to be tested. The group's guidelines make it clear that prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood testing should not occur unless this discussion happens.
The American Urological Association recommends that men ages 55 to 69 who are considering screening should talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of testing and proceed based on their personal values and preferences. The group also adds:
- PSA screening in men under age 40 years is not recommended.
- Routine screening in men between ages 40 to 54 years at average risk is not recommended.
- To reduce the harms of screening, a routine screening interval of two years or more may be preferred over annual screening in those men who have decided on screening after a discussion with their doctor. As compared to annual screening, it is expected that screening intervals of two years preserve the majority of the benefits and reduce over diagnosis and false positives.
- Routine PSA screening is not recommended in men over age 70 or any man with less than a 10-15 year life expectancy.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, however, doesn't recommend routine PSA screening for men in the general population, regardless of age. They say the tests may find cancers that are so slow-growing that medical treatments -- which can have serious side effects -- would offer no benefit. If you’re aged 55-69, you should talk with your doctor to see whether the benefits of testing outweigh any risks.
Get a Flu Shot and Other Recommended Immunizations
Influenza is still one of the leading preventable causes of death in the U.S. The flu doesn't usually cause major problems in men who are otherwise healthy. But for men who are elderly or who have other health conditions, influenza can be life-threatening.
No matter how healthy you are, the flu can lay you out for days, causing misery and missed work. You also might pass it on to someone more vulnerable than you. The flu shot isn't a guarantee you won't get the flu, but it slashes your chances by 50% to 90%.
The CDC recommends that people over 50 or those who have chronic medical problems like asthma, diabetes, or lung disease get the flu shot every year.
Other immunizations the CDC recommends for older adults include:
- The shingles vaccine (even for those who've already had shingles): Shingrix is recommended for healthy people ages 50 and older. You should have the vaccine even if you don’t remember if you have had the chickenpox because most people have been exposed to the virus at some point. You get two shots between 2 and 6 months apart and protection lasts an estimated 4-5 years.
The two-dose pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for people ages 65 and older to help prevent pneumonia. It’s also recommended for people even younger than 65 with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease.
Get to Know Your Doctor
Men are less likely to go to the doctor than women. Men's health conditions are often more serious when they do finally seek help. Men lead women in 14 of the top 15 causes of death in the U.S. See a pattern developing here?
Experts disagree as to whether healthy men need yearly checkups. But if you have a health condition, you should be in your doctor's office often enough to notice the magazines change.
Visiting the doctor may sometimes feel like an unproductive, stressful hassle. But routine doctor appointments may also save your life down the road. If everything under the hood is normal, you'll check back in a year or two, depending on your age, to make sure you're in good running order.