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Memo to Men: To Live Longer, Take Better Care of Your Body

WEDNESDAY Dec. 22, 2010 -- As a general rule, men take lousy care of their health.

They shrug off injuries. They hate going to the doctor for anything. They pay little heed to warning signs for major health issues.

And the results of all that manliness are evident in the statistics. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • One in five American men has heart disease.
  • One in three adult men in the United States has high blood pressure.
  • Three in four American men are overweight.

Men overall are less healthy and have a shorter life span than women, according to the Men's Health Network, a national nonprofit group that promotes healthy living for men. And more than half of all premature deaths among men are preventable.

"Men are leading in nine out of the top 10 causes of death," said Scott Williams, vice president of the network. "I feel like we're starting behind where health is concerned, compared to women."

The main way men can improve the length and quality of their lives, Williams said, is to start taking a personal interest in their health.

"If you look at the data, women are 100 percent more likely than men to seek preventative care," he said. "It's really scary."

The first step is to schedule an appointment with a doctor for a full physical examination. "A tremendous percentage of men do not see the doctor," said Armin Brott, a talk-show host and author who co-wrote the Blueprint for Men's Health for the Men's Health Network.

And when meeting with the doctor, be sure to ask questions. Ask what tests and screenings are appropriate for a man your age, and what are your potential risk factors for major diseases.

Men should also bring up any long-term problems they have, no matter how embarrassing or private the problem might be. And experts agree that men need to be brutally honest about such things as erectile dysfunction, drinking and smoking because doctors can't do their jobs unless they have a complete picture of their male patients' health.

"You've just got to suck it up and talk about it because it can be a symptom of something more important," Brott said.

Other tips from Men's Health Network for preparing for a physical include:

  • Bring a list of all medications and supplements you're taking.
  • Write down a full medical history of your family. The health of relatives can provide clues to illnesses you might be prone to develop.
  • Make a list of any allergies or reactions to medications that you've had.
  • Don't think it's all done after the physical. You need to take your doctor's findings and advice to heart, and make whatever changes to your lifestyle that need to happen to keep you healthy and fit.

Men should also do a little research on their own to learn the warning signs of health problems so they can be on the lookout for them.

"I think a lot of guys don't pay any attention to anything," Brott said. "It's important to understand the risk factors for stress, depression, prostate problems, bladder problems, back problems. It's important to do a little bit of reading."

Beyond that, try to create and then follow a healthy lifestyle that includes:

  • Eating right. By cutting back on saturated fats, trans fats and simple carbohydrates, you can reduce your chances of developing chronic health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Healthy foods -- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products -- give the body the tools it needs to repair and replenish. "Look at the food pyramid and try to pay attention to it," Brott said.
  • Exercising. Exercise has been proven to help improve heart health and better control blood sugar levels. It also acts as a natural antidepressant. "If you're not a person who can work out every day, park your car farther away or take the stairs," Brott said. "Do something to get some exercise whenever you can. It's a very important thing for your cardiovascular health, as well as your mental health."
  • Getting more in touch with your family. Fathers can start by spending more time with their kids. The children will benefit from dad's attention, and so will dad. "From a purely self-centered point of view, men tend to take better care of themselves because they have an idea that they need to set a good example and be there for their kids," Brott said.

Think of it this way: Men ought to start taking care of their bodies as well as they take care of their cars. "If we're going to bend this curve, that's where we need to start," Williams said.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about questions men should ask their doctor.

For more on men's health, read about one man's approach.

Posted: December 2010


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