How Can Men Fight the Biggest Threat To Their Health? Show up.
June is men's health month, a good time for men to make their health a priority. According to a recent report from the centers for disease control and prevention, life expectancy for men is 76.3 years. For women, it's 81.2 years. The CDC report also finds that almost 71% of men are at risk of being overweight or obese, compared to 59% of women, though women are much more likely to see their doctor. While the numbers for men might be a bit alarming, many of the health risks that men face can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle, and getting recommended preventive health screenings. Dr. Nancy Fitch is with MedExpress Urgent Care in PA, and she took the time to speak with us about ways men can enjoy better health.
(This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity)
What are the greatest threats to men’s health?
The biggest threat to men’s health is predominantly the fact that they don't go for wellness appointments. They have such a high risk of being overweight, heart disease, hypertension, accidents, plus their normal screenings—they don’t often go for them when they're scheduled. Heart disease, cancer, chronic repertory problems, stroke, those all go back to just not having regular screenings.
So, in addition to going to those regular screenings, what should be the main focus areas for men who are trying to improve their health?
We all, whether male or female, should be watching our diet. As you know, obesity runs very high in the American population, so making sure that we're eating a well-balanced and nutritionally sound diet is very important. Exercise, that also goes along with the obesity epidemic. Making sure you're getting some type of active exercise at least 5 days a week. Making sure you're maintaining a healthy weight, which goes along with the diet. Your normal screenings - for men prostate screenings start creeping up as you start aging. Colonoscopies, getting blood pressure screenings, routine tests for diabetes, those kinds of things.
Speaking of a healthy diet, we know that large amounts of sodium are sometimes found in our food. What should we know about sodium?
In today's society, we're always looking for that quick fix, something that's quick and easy, easy to prepare. Your frozen meals are loaded with sodium. Processed meats, lunch meats are often very high in sodium. Canned soups, canned vegetables, those types of things, so frozen is better. The typical cardiac diet is 2 grams of sodium which is 2000mg. Start reading some labels, you might be very surprised at how much sodium is hiding in some of those products that might not necessarily taste very salty, but the sodium there can be very shocking when you start reading labels and looking at some nutritional information.
As far as warning signs, guys tend to overlook things. What are some warning signs of potentially serious illnesses that men should look for?
Well I think probably the biggest thing is if you have this development of an unusual pain or another symptom, don't ignore it. Blood in your stool, that could be very serious. It could be hemorrhoids, but it could also be a sign of colon cancer. Chest pains I think men are very quick to brush off, and so are women, to brush off that ache in their chest, that tightness or discomfort in their chest. Knowing that if you have that pressure, tightness or heaviness and it goes into the left arm or up into the jaw or through to the back, makes you feel short of breath or nauseous or sweaty, those are signs of a heart attack—don’t blow them off. Not getting that evaluated very quickly - time is heart, you lose heart muscle every second that it's not getting a blood supply. Signs of a stroke—the facial droop, numbness or tingling, weakness, dragging, difficulty finding your speech. Those are all things that can be very serious and warrant an emergency or urgent evaluation.
And since we know that diabetes type 2 diabetes in particular has become almost epidemic in this country, what are some early warning signs of type 2 diabetes, that women should look for as well?
Excessive thirst is one of the signs of someone’s blood sugar being very high. The body is trying to get rid of the sugar and will try and excrete it out through the kidney. Excessive weight gain when you don't feel like you're eating as much as you would expect. Blurred vision can be a sign of your blood sugar becoming elevated. Peeing a lot, because your blood sugar is high your, body is trying to get rid of that sugar through the urine. Those can be very significant signs. Eating a lot, or unexplained weight loss, can also be a sign of an elevated blood sugar/diabetes.
And we also know that another serious illness that is of epidemic proportions in this country is mental illness, depression in particular. What are the signs and symptoms of depression— not only in men but also in women— what should they look for and what should they do about it?
Some of the biggest things are change in your normal sense of well-being—you're angry all the time, you’re irritable, you’re not sleeping or you’re sleeping too much, can't seem to get out of bed, you don't find enjoyment in activities that used to excite you or used to bring you enjoyment. Very short temper, can't concentrate, don't have the focus that you normally would have. Trying to keep yourself focused on your tasks becomes more and more difficult. Obviously, the biggest warning sign is thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming someone else. You see those kind of things, you want to get yourself evaluated and treated because it is a treatable illness and I think that's a problem. Our country is not going to get things treated anymore, and they start abusing alcohol or they start abusing drugs, they start pulling away from their family, maybe they isolate themselves, and that just sends them down into a spiral.
Are there any other resources men can take advantage of to improve their health and wellness?
I think the biggest thing is, men and women, it surprises me how many people we see that come in who do not have a family doctor. Having a provider that you can count on, that you can relate your symptoms to, and who is just there to keep tabs on your health, is such an important thing. They will keep track of your wellness and your screenings that need to be completed. The guidelines are very clear. It's not voodoo, it's very cut and dry what you should be getting checked for at certain ages. You need to be there for the doctor to be able to check that out, so the biggest thing is to get yourself established at a primary care (provider) so that you have a family doctor that can be helping you. The captain of the ship, so to speak, is how I like to describe it to my patients when they come in. There should be someone who's guiding your care and getting you to the proper people that you need for the different things that you need to have done.
Dr. Nancy Fitch of MedExpress Urgent Care, talking about Men’s Health Month. More information on the topic can be found at CDC.gov.