Listen Up Guys: Health Guide for Men

BY Michelle Billman

Turn on the TV open a magazine tune in to the radio or flip through a newspaper: Warnings precautions and advice regarding men’s health issues are everywhere in the media. With coverage so prevalent it can be tough for men to know what path to take. Charles Almond M.D. of New Hanover Medical Group P.A. says that above all else “An awareness of health is the one thing throughout all age groups that will keep you in the best condition.” That awareness includes knowing yourself your family medical history the risks associated with your job and hobbies and your diet and exercise habits as well as understanding your place in the world. By combining that awareness with the advice of a physician you trust you have a better chance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and enjoying a higher quality of life.

Several local health care professionals provided an overview of common health concerns for men of all ages tips for prevention and suggestions for diet and exercise. As with all health information make sure to talk to your own physician concerning your individual needs.

Burning the midnight oil

Major Concerns for men 21-35

Men of all ages have a unique set of health concerns to be aware of that depends mostly on their lifestyle and family history. Peter Kramer D.O. of Wrightsville Beach Family Medicine P.A. describes the three big risks for men ages 16 to 30 as “sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” He says that men in this age group are more likely to engage in unprotected sex which can lead to common sexually transmitted diseases like HIV herpes chlamydia and gonorrhea. “Anybody who is going to participate in a lifestyle with multiple partners is playing Russian roulette and if you’re going to do that ” Dr. Almond explains “protect yourself with condoms and get to know your partner — do it intelligently.”

Young men are also prone to smoking and heavy alcohol use. For smoking Dr. Almond says “Cigarettes are a major cause of so much morbidity. Almost every system in your body is negatively affected.” Other risks involve dangerous behaviors like drinking while driving or boating and not wearing a seat belt which can be fatal in any gravity-related accidents involving cars motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Robert Johnson Jr. M.D. of Wilmington Family Physicians P.A. says “Car accidents are the most common reason for twenty-somethings to see a doctor.”

Another health problem to avoid is obesity. Dr. Almond points out that “Obesity is becoming more and more of an issue as our society becomes more computer-oriented.” He adds “Diabetes is a problem for men in their 30s now that we have more young people sitting around and eating mega-snacks and not exercising.” For men in their early 30s Dr. Johnson explains that conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are more common for those who smoke drink heavily or are overweight.

Some of the major symptoms that Dr. Johnson suggests young men look out for are chest pains headaches and flushing as signs of high blood pressure as well as lumps on their testicles which could be indicators of testicular cancer. Dr. Kramer adds “Testicular cancer is a leading cause of death or serious injury in men.”

Preventative Measures

It all goes back to the idea of having an awareness of your health. “As a young person educate yourself on the types of things you may be predisposed to as part of your family such as heart disease ” advises Kirsten Casler R.D. L.D.N. a clinical dietician for New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Casler adds “Know the risk factors that are out there take the steps to know what you could possibly get when you’re older and make the changes. Just because you’re young and have a high metabolism doesn’t mean it’s not going to affect you some day.”

Casler works with hospital patients who are recovering from acute illnesses. She counsels her patients on lifestyle changes to help maintain and improve the symptoms of a disease. This counseling may include teaching patients about specific diet plans diet restrictions or modifications different methods of snacking and cooking and tips for grocery shopping.

As for eating healthy Casler says that instead of being afraid of the word “diet ” and assuming its restrictions will be too hard to follow people should think of it as “a lifestyle change so I can be healthier.” Modifying your diet can begin by simply adding one to two servings of fresh local seafood each week. Dr. Johnson suggests eating deep-sea cold-water fish but cautions that although some restaurants and grocery stores sell fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids these fish may sometimes be high in mercury as well. With a well-balanced diet portion control and exercise Dr. Johnson says that men can avoid the weight gain that usually begins in their 20s and that becomes harder to lose as men age.

Scott Perry C.S.C.S. a personal trainer for Real Results Personal Training explains that a man’s metabolism can begin slowing even in his 20s and definitely by his 30s right around the time fitness tends to become less of a priority. “Typically when you’re in your 20s your metabolism is faster you have more muscle mass and you can coast by doing less activity.” Perry says. “It’s still important to work out consistently and forming the right habits early on is the key. When you exercise consistently you build muscle mass and keep your heart strong.”

A few other tips from Dr. Johnson specifically for men in their 20s and early 30s include: don’t smoke don’t drink excessive alcohol avoid illegal drugs and intoxicants wear your seat belt don’t drive impaired maintain an ideal weight and monitor your weight by making sure your body mass index (BMI) — a measure of body fat based on height and weight — is ideally less than 25. There are free BMI calculators online that compute your BMI instantly when you enter your height and weight. It’s important to remember that your BMI could be high but your weight could be considered healthy if you’re muscular or athletic and conversely you could have a normal BMI but have poor nutrition. As always you should talk with your doctor about weight-related health issues.

Pushing the issue

Major Concerns for men 36-50

A number of new health concerns emerge for men in their late 30s and 40s. According to Dr. Johnson the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure increases and heart attacks and cancer occur more frequently. As men age testicular cancer becomes more common and prostate enlargement can also happen which interferes with urinary outflow. Dr. Johnson explains that chest pains and headaches are still possible indicators of both high blood pressure and heart disease for men in their 30s and 40s.

Even though a lot of middle-aged men do remain in pretty good health Dr. Almond points out “Oftentimes with the high cholesterols high blood pressures and the increasing weight they get into a situation where they’re laying the groundwork for some really bad diseases that will manifest later on in their 60s and 70s.”

Another prominent health concern for middle-aged men is back pain. Perry says that four out of five people will have back problems at some point in their lives. Lower back and spine injuries Perry explains can be caused by poor posture or weak muscles in a man’s core area such as weak abdominals or hip flexors. Along with these injuries middle-aged men are more susceptible to osteoporosis and osteoarthritis a condition where their joints get stiff.

Possibly the biggest obstacle men of all ages face in maintaining their health is an unwillingness to visit a physician. “Men typically do not get regular healthcare unless someone a spouse or girlfriend pushes the issue ” explains Dr. Kramer. Dr. Almond adds “It gets into the macho bit the self-image sort of thing where going to the doctor is considered a woman thing.” He continues “It’s a sign of weakness because it’s going to confirm that your body is less than it was less than your peers.”

Preventative Measures

Along with a healthy diet filled with high-fiber and low-fat foods plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and only one serving of red meat per week one of the most influential factors of a man’s health is his exercise routine. As a way to avoid high blood pressure high cholesterol heart disease type II diabetes as an offshoot of obesity and back injuries — five of the most common threats to a man’s health in his late 30s and 40s — healthcare professionals stress the importance of consistent exercise. “Whenever you’re exercising you’re helping your heart lungs circulation even your depression everything that keeps people in the doctor’s office ” explains Dr. Almond before adding “You’re walking from your coffin when you walk.”

Perry explains “At age 30 you lose about a half pound of muscle mass per year if nothing is done to maintain it. As muscle mass is lost ” he continues “the body tends to replace that muscle with fat; so the composition of the body will change with a higher amount of fat.” Without consistent exercise at least two to three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour men of all ages put themselves at risk for health issues that are preventable.

Since starting an exercise regimen at any age can be intimidating Dr. Almond advises “Start low and go slow with your exercise. Look for an exercise that you enjoy because that’s the only one you’ll continue.” What types of exercise are best? Strength training with activities such as lifting weights and doing pushups and situps is important for staying lean building muscle mass and increasing flexibility. Aerobic exercises like running walking and participating in any sports or continuous activities are important for cardiovascular health. Dr. Johnson says “Swimming biking kayaking and canoeing are all sports that are easy to get involved with locally.” He adds “Walking isn’t bad exercise and it’s a great way to get started. The [John Nesbitt] Loop at Wrightsville Beach is one of the best places in the area to walk.”

Regarding weight lifting Perry says “Don’t try to lift too much weight at one time. It’s a male-ego thing at the gym.” He advises doing eight to 15 repetitions of a comfortable weight. “Working out is a safe activity when it’s done properly ” he says.

Dr. Almond advises men to try to understand what exercises are best for their individual needs. “Almost every man who comes in wanting to lift weights has high blood pressure but whenever you’re straining to lift the weights you are putting pressures on yourself that are not good for someone with high blood pressure.” Instead Dr. Almond explains men with high blood pressure should be doing aerobic exercises where their heart rate is raised gradually so their heart can adjust to the change and not be overwhelmed by it.

Two other tips that are usually overlooked are stretching for five to 10 minutes at the end of a workout and getting plenty of sleep between workouts so that your body has a chance to recover. Perry says “You’ll get a lot more benefit from exercise if you sleep properly.”

Take control

Major Concerns for men 51-65

For many men in their 50s and early 60s it’s time for their diet and exercise habits from throughout the years to either help them maintain a healthy lifestyle or finally start hindering their quality of life. From their 40s on Dr. Johnson says that men can suffer from the complications of being overweight like diabetes hypertension and heart disease which all become more common as you age. He explains that it is also very easy to gain weight as a man’s metabolism continues to fall with age.

Other concerns for men in this age group include melanoma which can even occur in the eyes other skin cancers strokes common injuries like torn rotator cuffs that sometimes require surgery and colon cancer. Steven Klein M.D. of Wilmington Gastroenterology Associates explains “There are over 150 000 cases of colon cancer that are newly diagnosed each year.”

Similar to a man’s unwillingness to visit a physician another prevalent health obstacle that men may have trouble overcoming is an attitude that Dr. Almond relates to the way people care for their cars. He explains “Most people treat their cars much better than they treat their bodies.” He continues “People look at their medical care like they look at their car dealer — they want to drop it off get it fixed and pick it up later. They don’t want to be involved with their care.” Men do have the power to take control of their own health and recognize their individual needs. Going to a physician and expecting to be cured by a miracle pill is both unrealistic and dangerous in the long run.

Preventative Measures

By the time a man is in his 50s and early 60s Dr. Almond explains that he should have an idea of what normal is and be able to recognize any deviations. “If you’re eating well sleeping well have good energy and your bowel and urine functions are unchanged ” he offers “then you’re pretty much healthy.” Dr. Almond advises men to watch out for any basic changes such as a change in bowel movements a change in stool a difference in frequency of urination or a large increase in thirst. These are all common initial indicators of diabetes.

Additional symptoms to pay attention to are blood in your stool which shouldn’t be immediately attributed to hemorrhoids anemia weight loss and a sudden change in bowel habits such as bloating constipation or abdominal pain which Dr. Klein says can be indicators of colon cancer. If a man has any immediate family members with a history of colon cancer he should begin getting colon screenings such as a colonoscopy at age 40. Dr. Klein explains “A lot of patients and even some physicians don’t realize that.” Individuals with an average risk of colon cancer can wait until age 50 to begin their colon screenings.

Dr. Almond also says that any new lesions especially pigmented lesions that could be a symptom of melanoma and any feelings of depression or anxiety should be discussed with a physician.

As for continuing exercise into your 50s and 60s Perry points out “The key is to make fitness a lifelong priority.” He explains that it’s never too late to start again “Muscles have memory so if you were in shape in your 20s and start exercising again in your 50s you can get a lot of that muscle back.” Even if you are intimidated by the idea of exercising healthcare professionals say that it’s about small lifestyle changes more than anything else. Getting started can be as simple as parking your car at the back of a parking lot and walking briskly to your destination walking to the water cooler every hour during the workday or even just taking the batteries out of your TV remote.

Other important advice that men should heed at any age involves the dangers and common misconceptions about vitamin supplements. “If you’re eating a well-balanced diet ” says Dr. Almond “then you don’t need any supplements. You’re going to be getting your calcium and vitamins in your diet.” Dr. Almond usually recommends vitamin supplements to patients who are eating on the run not exercising and not spending any time in the sun. Casler adds that individuals must pay attention to what vitamins they are taking since certain ones like vitamins A D E and K can be toxic if too many are taken.

And what about that attitude where some men think that maintaining their health is something that can be done with one doctor visit or one miracle pill? Dr. Almond advises men to stop “burying your head in the sand and ignoring things like getting your cholesterol checked when you have a family history of heart disease.” He reasons “The intelligent person who identifies a problem looks ahead to prevent it.”

An ounce of prevention

Men of all ages need a variety of screenings and immunizations to maintain their health. The following tests have been recommended by Peter Kramer D.O. of Wrightsville Beach Family Medicine P.A. and are intended for healthy asymptomatic men. Make sure to discuss your individual health needs with a physician.

Blood pressure tests at least every two years starting at age 18

Blood sugar tests every three years starting at age 45

Monthly testicular self-exams as well as during general checkups starting at age 18

Fecal occult blood tests yearly starting at age 50

Colonoscopies every five to 10 years starting at age 50

Flexible sigmoidoscopies (preferably with fecal occult blood tests) every five years if a patient is not having a colonoscopy

Double-contrast barium enemas every five to 10 years if a patient is not having a colonoscopy

Rectal exams every five to 10 years with each screening (such as a colonoscopy)

STD tests including HIV before initiating sexual intercourse

Hearing tests every 10 years starting at age 18

Monthly mole self-exams and by a doctor every three years starting at age 20 and yearly starting at age 40

Eye exams every two to four years starting at age 40 or earlier if you have visual problems or changes

Dental exams one to two times a year

Influenza vaccines yearly starting at age 50

Tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccines every 10 years

Don’t forget to talk to your physician about cholesterol tests mental health screenings and general checkups as well. — Michelle Billman

Preventable and curable

Colon Cancer Awareness Month

March is colon cancer awareness month and awareness is what’s called for. Colon cancer carries several scary statistics with it like how the lifetime risk of getting colon cancer is 5 percent; that’s one in 20 individuals. Additionally Steven Klein M.D. of Wilmington Gastroenterology Associates says that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America for both men and women and that about 25 percent of men over age 50 have precancerous polyps.

“Colon cancer is something that is preventable and curable by early detection ” says Dr. Klein before adding “Have a screening done while you’re asymptomatic and if you develop any symptoms go see a physician.” As for the screening method you choose keep in mind that “a colonoscopy is the best screening the gold standard because you can diagnose and remove polyps simultaneously ” says Dr. Klein. Although a colonoscopy may seem invasive Dr. Klein points out “The worst part of the procedure is the preparation — a clear liquid diet the day before to clear your system. It’s a sedated procedure and most patients are pretty amazed at how easy it is.”

Are there other ways to prevent colon cancer? “There’s nothing you can do instead of getting a screening ” Dr. Klein emphasizes. “A healthy lifestyle is important but it’s not enough to prevent colon cancer.” — Michelle Billman