Men’s Health Cheat Sheet
If you’re a man, you likely are overdue to see a doctor for a checkup, immunization or important health screening. That’s what the statistics suggest, anyway. Studies consistently show that men are slow to seek out health care – even when they’re insured – and that some avoid it altogether unless there’s an emergency.
The avoidance tends to increase with time. Adolescent men and men in their 20s often attend to some of their health care needs in order to participate in sports or attend college or because of parental pressure. But by the time they reach their 30s, there are relatively few external motivators to check in with a doctor regularly, and once a man has missed several years of checkups, figuring out how to catch up can feel overwhelming.
We asked Natasha Withers, DO, a primary care physician at UVM Health Network – Porter Medical Center, to help us simplify these important steps. She highlighted the five basic health screenings and priorities for men’s health.
1. Regular Check-Ups
Even early middle-age is the time to go to the doctor more often, not less. “It’s important to get regular wellness exams at any age,” Dr. Withers says. “A regular wellness exam allows you to proactively engage in your health and get important screenings and exams.” It is an opportunity to review your overall health and address any questions or concerns you may have. During the visit you may discuss your sexual health, diet, exercise, drug, alcohol or tobacco use and any needed counseling. Plus, you can discuss age or condition-related health screenings, vaccinations and whether you’ve completed an advance directive.
Visiting your doctor regularly also reduces some of the burden of keeping track of your health. MyChart, the online portal that allows UVM Health Network patients to schedule appointments, check lab, medical-test and health-screening results and request prescription refills, is also helpful in this regard. It will provide you with digital reminders about what you need to do and when you need to do it.
2. Cholesterol Screening
You’re never too young for a cholesterol test, but it’s particularly important once you reach your 30s. This screening allows you and your primary care provider to have a discussion about any potential health problems. For instance, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) can indicate you’re at risk for heart disease, stroke and artery damage. High cholesterol has been linked to diabetes, so your doctor may also test for that, especially if you have other risk factors.
The sooner you know your status, the sooner you can change your diet and lifestyle to bring those levels down. Dr. Withers tests her patients every four to five years after they’ve turned 20. If you’ve made it to your 30s or beyond without ever having your blood tested for cholesterol and triglycerides, this should be one of the first things you do.
We tend to associate getting shots with childhood, but it’s important to stay current with vaccines to either maintain the immunity we established as kids or receive vaccines that keep adults healthy, such as the Shingles vaccine at age 50. Tetanus boosters, for example, are recommended every 10 years for adults, and flu shots are needed every year. Also, vaccine recommendations change and your primary care provider can update you on the latest recommendations, especially if you’re planning to travel. International travel may require prior vaccination, and some of these vaccines need to be administered well in advance of travel to provide adequate protection.
4. Mental Health
It’s not just your physical health that needs attention. Your mental health is also important, and middle age can be a particularly stressful period. Family issues, financial pressure and social isolation are common problems that can affect your emotional and psychological wellbeing during this stage of life. Across UVM Health Network, we have begun integrating behavioral health specialists into our primary care practices so patients can get mental health treatment and support in the same office where they get their wellness exam. We also try to ensure that mental health screenings are done routinely.
5. Colorectal Cancer Screening
Some men avoid the doctor for the sole reason that they dread these tests and want to put them off as long as possible. But colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon or rectum – is the second-most-common cancer affecting both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. There are two ways to screen for colon cancer – colonoscopy or checking your stool for blood with an at-home collection kit. It is important for you to talk to your primary care provider to decide which one is best for you. Also, new recommendations say you should start screening at age 45 which is five years earlier than previously recommended.
These recommendations are, of course, optional. It's your choice how you care for your body. But there are benefits to being proactive about your health during early middle age. Doing so can have a big impact on your future health. “It is much better to be proactive about your health and prevent a medical issue from occurring than being reactive to a problem after it has already appeared,” Dr. Withers says.