As men age, their weight tends to creep up, increasing stress on the heart. Getting to a healthy weight is the most important thing men can do to reduce their health risks as they age, according to Richard King, MD, Family Practitioner at Highland Medical, P.C., Family Practice Associates of Rockland.
“The number-one cause of illness in men is obesity,” said Dr. King. “I spend a lot of time with my male patients talking about the importance of diet and exercise.” Being overweight can lead to a number of serious health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. He encourages men who have not been to the doctor in the past year to make an appointment in June, during Men’s Health Month, to make sure their health is on track.
The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. “I tell my patients maybe you think you can’t get there, but at least try. It will get easier the more you exercise.”
Other topics Dr. King covers with his male patients include:
Colon cancer screening. Most men are advised to start colon cancer screening at age 50. Dr. King recommends that his patients have a colonoscopy, considered to be the “gold standard” of colon cancer screening. “For men who are reluctant to have a colonoscopy, I explain it’s the most accurate screening test for colon cancer. If a person has polyps that could develop into colon cancer, we use the colonoscopy to find and remove them. It doesn’t hurt and they’ll be asleep for it,” he said.
Prostate cancer screening. Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. The American Cancer Society estimates that this year, about 174,650 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed, and about 31,620 men will die from prostate cancer. Dr. King recommends a digital rectal exam and a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Levels of PSA can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The PSA level may also be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate.
Diabetes screening. Government guidelines call for screening for type 2 diabetes in adults 40 to 70 years of age who are overweight or obese and repeating testing every three years if results are normal. People at higher risk, including those with a family history of diabetes, should be considered for earlier and more frequent screening.
Blood pressure screening: Have your blood pressure checked once a year. Left unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to many serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Cholesterol screening: Your cholesterol should be checked every 5 years. If you have a high cholesterol level, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or certain other conditions, you may need to be checked more often.
Immunizations: You should get a flu shot every year. You should have a tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccination every 10 years. The new shingles vaccine is recommended for those age 50 and older. If you’re over 65, you should receive the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. Your doctor may recommend you get a pneumonia shot if you are younger than 65 if you have certain medical conditions that predispose you to pneumonia—such as diabetes, heart disease, or a suppressed immune system due to cancer treatment.
Quitting smoking. Quitting can help you add years to your life. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying too early from smoking-related diseases by about 90%. Those who quit by age 45–54 reduce their chance of dying too early by about two-thirds.
Sexual health. If a man has experienced a decline in sexual desire or the ability to get and sustain an erection, Dr. King discusses medication that is available that can help address these issues.
Going for regular medical exams may not be at the top of most men’s to-do lists, but Dr. King says taking the time is well worth it. Early detection is the best treatment, he notes. “If you’ve been putting off seeing the doctor, remember you can catch many illnesses early before they cause harm or even death,” he said. “If you take care of yourself, you can care for your loved ones.”