Studies show that compared to women, men avoid going to the doctor, skip recommended screenings, and engage in behavior that's far riskier to their health. Why?
“It sounds silly but for a lot of guys, it’s a macho, tough-guy thing,” explains one male patient. “I feel ok, I look ok, I must be ok. The rationale then becomes I don't need a doctor to tell me I'm OK.”
And he's not alone in his reluctance. According to a recent Harris Poll, 59% of men say that in addition to the feeling that they are OK, there are a whole host of things that keep them from going to the doctor. Things like they “don't have time to go” or they “don't like doctors.”
“We're not so bad,” jokes internist and nephrologist Clenton Coleman, MD, a member of Holy Name Medical Partners in Teaneck, NJ. But in all seriousness, says Dr. Coleman, while he understands some of this male mentality, he wants men to know there are consequences. “Men die about five years sooner than women and live with more years of illness. Life doesn’t have to be this way.”
Dr. Coleman suggests following these five simple actions right now to improve your health:
1. Get a Good Doctor
“For starters, just like you have a good lawyer, accountant, barber, financial planner, etc., you need a good doctor,” says Dr. Coleman. “Think of your body as you would your beloved car. We do all the maintenance and service it requires from oil changes to tire rotations and beyond. We would never think of putting cheap gas into our car, the same holds true for our bodies.”
2. Practice Male Maintenance
Everyone should have a yearly check-up. Bring with you a checklist, just like you would with your car. This list should contain all of your health concerns -- from your family's history to your own current medical condition, including your weight, state of mental health, aches, pains, stress level, and whatever else is on your mind.
"A check-up is painless; it’s important because your doctor will do routine exams like checking your cholesterol and blood pressure to help determine if you're at risk of developing a serious heart condition,” says Dr. Coleman.
3. Go for Screenings, According to Your Age
In addition to basic checks of blood pressure and cholesterol, Dr. Coleman says men should have specific screenings at certain ages. For example, a prostate cancer screening is recommended at age 40 and a colorectal cancer screening is suggested at 50. “A lot of men put these off because the traditional tests – a colonoscopy or digital rectal exam -- make them uncomfortable,” says Dr. Coleman. “Talk to your doctor about newer screening options to see what’s best for you.”
4. Don't Underestimate Your Diet
“You've heard it a million times but it's so true: You are what you eat,” says Dr. Coleman. Although you can certainly enjoy an occasional treat, a poor diet consisting of too many foods that are laden with fat, sugar, or salt can kill.
“Diet is so underrated,” he says. “A 27-year study within 195 countries looked at the effects of poor nutrition and found it was responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor.” He advises avoiding too much salt, processed foods, saturated fats, sugary drinks, and red meat. Eating a diet that consists of lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables, he says, will help you live a longer happier life.
5. Know Your Weight and Watch It
The human frame is designed to hold a certain amount of weight based on your height.
“Knowing what your ideal weight should be and maintaining it is extremely important for your joints and your organs,” says Dr. Coleman. The link below can help you calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI): https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm
Although eating healthy is key, exercise is equally as important. “Find something that you like, whether it be biking or walking, to help get moving,” says Dr. Coleman. Just 15 to 30 minutes of exercise three times per week can help lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression, as well as reduce stress and help you sleep better at night, which are so important to overall good health.
While none of these five action steps are quick fixes, Dr. Coleman points out that few things in life are.
To Learn More
Holy Name’s Center for Healthy Living provides educational talks, free screenings, and other health-related events. To learn more, visit HolyName.org/HealthyLiving or call 201-833-3336.
You can also listen to Dr. Coleman’s weekly podcasts, “Recommended Daily Dose,” featuring co-host Dr. Suraj Saggar, at HolyName.org/recommendeddailydose, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.