For many men’s health issues, prevention and screening are key
When people think of men’s health concerns, they often think of prostate cancer. But there are many other conditions that men need to watch out for — and that can often be prevented with lifestyle changes or caught with proper screening.
Dr. Jon Heeb, a urologist with Lawrence Urology Specialists, said that many serious illnesses that commonly affect men have few or no symptoms. That’s why prevention, regular screenings and having a primary care physician are important, he said.
“Some of the most deadly illnesses that affect men do not have any symptoms at all, until it is too late to take action,” he said. “Again, this speaks to the importance of developing a relationship with a primary care physician who can properly screen for diseases that are silent killers.”
Heeb said that if you have a family history of certain diseases, such as heart disease, colon cancer or prostate cancer, it’s always beneficial to talk with your physician about your risks and what you can do to be proactive in working to prevent the illness. Multiple lifestyle factors greatly influence the risk of certain diseases, and changing these habits can be the first step to preventing a serious health problem.
“Examples of habits which most definitely may increase the risk for certain diseases include a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet and cigarette smoking,” Heeb said.
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Two major risk factors in many diseases that affect men are an inactive lifestyle and an unhealthy diet.
It’s important to be physically active every day, Heeb said, but having a balanced diet alongside that is just as beneficial.
“A healthy diet is at least as important as regular physical activity — and probably even more important,” he said.
Heeb said you should always ask yourself if the food you’re eating is providing essential nutrients, what effect it will have on your metabolism and overall health, and whether it is just junk food or empty calories.
Also, instead of simply weighing yourself, Heeb recommends calculating your body mass index, or BMI. You can find instructions for calculating your BMI on the LMH Health website, lmh.org.
“In my opinion, a BMI of around 25 is likely the healthiest,” he said. “But again, this can vary from male to male.”
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Regular screenings and checkups are a critical part of staying healthy, but many men aren’t as proactive about their health as they should be.
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that women are more likely to go to the doctor for annual exams and preventative services than men.
Kathy Ramirez, an advanced practice registered nurse with Lawrence Urology Specialists, says she sees this in action every day.
“I don’t know why this statistic is so accurate,” she said. “No one wants to get a prostate exam. When men choose not to come in and let their problems grow over time, a simple fix then becomes an emergency because they have waited so long.”
One good way to ensure that you get the care you need when you need it is to have a good relationship with your primary care physician. Having a physician who knows your health history and potential barriers can be vital in prevention, and your physician can make sure you get the screenings and procedures that coincide with what is recommended for your age, overall health and family history.
One common screening that’s associated with men’s health is a prostate exam, but the American Cancer Society warns that men need to look out for other types of cancer, as well: Some of the most common cancers affecting men are skin, lung and colorectal cancer.
“There is an old saying that if a man lives long enough, he will eventually develop prostate cancer,” Heeb said. “There’s a lot of truth to that, but on the other hand, most men do not die of prostate cancer.”
Ramirez said it’s important to have routine checkups and to take care of yourself. Some people fear visiting the doctor because of medical history or cost, but seeing your doctor regularly can prevent your health from spiraling downward and may help prevent major expenses in the future.
“If you notice something is different, don’t wait,” she said. “Ask your doctors, and as intimidating as that may seem, it is better to ask now than waiting five years and wondering why you didn’t come in years ago when this problem began.”
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.