Most men know that visiting a doctor—at least once a year—is important to staying on top of their health game. But too few connect the dots and actually make regular appointments. Whether they need an annual physical or are overdue for a critical screening exam, men often put their health on the back burner until they can’t ignore it any longer.
“Men tend to tough it out and avoid going to the doctor,” says Ali Dabaja, M.D., a urologist and men’s health expert at Henry Ford Health. “They may also worry about the costs of health care and insufficient insurance coverage.”
Plus, talking about sensitive topics is not on most guys’ to-do lists. Faced with the alternatives, though (cancer, disability and pain), many men might change their tune. After all, powering through a doctor visit—and discussing your concerns or undergoing a physical exam—is less agonizing than the worry that often comes with months of treatment or treatment complications.
An Expert's Recommended Tips For Staying In Shape
Here, Dr. Dabaja offers 5 simple strategies that men (and their loved ones) can use to stay in tip top shape:
- Get in early. Starting in your 20s, schedule a date with a primary care doc at least once a year—more often if you have a family history of heart disease or cancer or if you’ve already been diagnosed with a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes. The idea is to establish a relationship and a health baseline now, rather than waiting until your 40s or 50s.
Quick tip: Use birthdays as a marker to schedule yearly exams with primary care doctors and specialists, including urologists for men.
- Get necessary screenings. Sit down with your doctor and come up with a screening schedule that makes sense for your unique circumstances. Do you have a family history of heart disease? Does someone in your immediate family have colon cancer? Have you had an abnormal prostate exam? Your doctor will consider these factors—and others—to help you determine how often you need a physician visit and when you should begin various screening exams.
Quick tip: Be honest with your primary care doctor. The more they know about you, your family history and your values, the better equipped they’ll be to help you make informed health care decisions.
- Get with an ongoing program. Every 6 months, visit a dentist. Every year, see your primary care doctor, get a skin check and have your eyes examined. Once you hit 40, talk to your doctor about when to begin screening for prostate cancer and as you approach 50, colon cancer. Depending on your risk factors and family history, these screening tests may need to begin.
Quick tip: Ask about less invasive screening options if you’re leery of exams like colonoscopies, prostate biopsies and rectal exams.
- Get real with yourself. Many men ignore symptoms as long as they can before seeking medical assistance. Maybe they don’t have the time or means to see a doctor. Maybe they’re afraid of what they’ll find out. But keep in mind, in nearly every case, the sooner you seek help, the better the outcome and the sooner you’ll be back on your feet.
Quick tip: Bring a loved one along for support. Sometimes a spouse or sibling can offer insight about signs and symptoms that you may have forgotten about—and a second set of ears will come in handy when following prescriptions and doctor’s orders.
- Review your vaccines. Sometimes boosters are needed to keep vaccinations effective - especially as you get older.
Quick tip: Talk to your doctor to make sure you are up to date on immunizations.
Preventive health care is a surefire way to add years to your life. “The goal of screening is to catch things early, when we can stall the disease process or even prevent it altogether,” says Dr. Dabaja. The classic example is heart disease. Getting regular blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol checks go a long way toward preventing heart disease and other bigger complications.
No matter what your age or life stage, tell your doctor or nurse about any changes in your health, including your emotional health, sleep disturbances, erectile dysfunction, memory issues, stress and hearing problems. These can be common occurrences, particularly with increasing age.
Dr. Ali Dabaja is a urologist specializing in a reproductive medicine and sexual health with the Henry Ford Vattikuti Urology Institute.