Taking control: Men’s Health Month

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June is Men’s Health Month and Dr. R. Joseph Friedman with Novant Health Matthews Family Physicians has some important advice on keeping healthy at any age. Dr. Friedman is board-certified in family medicine and a 2004 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill Medical School.

Dr. R. Joseph Friedman with Novant Health Matthews Family Physicians. Photo courtesy of Novant Health

Men are reportedly 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the past year. Why might that be? “Men tend to think that if they feel okay then they are okay, but a large part of health care is about prevention,” Dr. Friedman says. “Routine health screenings and regular physical exams can identify medical concerns before they become a problem or serious complication.”

Dr. Friedman points out that it is much easier to prevent an illness than to treat an advanced medical condition. For example, a routine visit is valuable to make sure that blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar are not getting out of control. “If your blood pressure is within the normal range (less than 120/80), you only need to have it checked every two years,” he says. “If your blood pressure is high, you may require medication to control it.”

In general, Dr. Friedman recommends that men under 50 check in for a routine physical every 3 years. For men over 50, a yearly physical is recommended. “Of course, those men with chronic health conditions will likely need to see their physician every 3-12 months depending on the problem,” Dr. Friedman adds.

Other tips to note? A routine visit is a perfect time to make sure your vaccines are up to date. It is recommended that all individuals get a flu shot, usually in the fall of each year. The tetanus vaccine is recommended every 10 years and is especially critical for men working with their hands on the job or around the house. The shingles vaccine is recommended as a one-time shot at age 60, and pneumonia vaccines usually are recommended starting at age 65.

Studies show that men are less likely to visit a physician routinely and can miss out on important health screenings. Photo courtesy of Novant Health.

An ounce of prevention goes a long way

“The most common concern I hear from my male patients is that they’re having trouble maintaining a healthy weight,” Dr. Friedman says. “We all gain weight as we age due to changes in metabolism, but this can be lessened by starting and continuing a daily exercise regimen.”

Dr. Friedman’s advice mirrors that of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. A low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding tobacco use, exercising daily at least 30 minutes per day five days per week, and limiting alcohol intake call all help maintain a healthy weight and lessen the risk of heart attack and stroke. “Diet and exercise really are as important as they seem,” Dr. Friedman adds.

Tobacco remains the single most preventable cause of illness (including lung cancer, heart disease, oral cancer, bladder cancer, peripheral vascular disease and COPD/emphysema). “Everyone should stop all tobacco use including smokeless tobacco,” Dr. Friedman advises. “E-cigarettes have limited data to date and have not yet been shown to be safer than regular cigarettes as far as long-term health risks.”

A word about depression

As men are less likely to visit a physician routinely, sometimes issues such as depression will slip through the cracks. “Men are often hesitant to bring up concerns about anxiety or depression because they feel they should be able to ‘handle it’ themselves,” Dr. Friedman says. “But everyone needs help sometimes.”

Medication or counseling may be necessary depending on the severity of the symptoms. In the case of suicidal thoughts, telling a doctor, family member, friend or even co-worker is the first step to getting help and feeling better long term.

“It’s important that as a patient you feel comfortable giving us all the details so that we have a full picture of your health,” Dr. Friedman says. “Honesty helps your doctor know how to best help you.” In most circumstances, health information is protected by law, so patients can feel confident in sharing concerns with the doctor without worrying about privacy violations.

Men should not neglect important screenings

Knowing your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose helps you manage your risk factors and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Below is a table giving some of the most common screening guidelines for men.

Screening Recommendations
Testicular screening During every routine physical exam
Cholesterol Every 5 years from age 35
Diabetes Every 3 years from age 45
Colon cancer Every 10 years from age 50 to 75 or more often if you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer
Prostate cancer By age 50 or earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer; talk with your primary care physician for individual advice
Lung Cancer For men between 55 and 80 with a 30-pack year smoking history or if they are still smoking or if they have quit within the past 15 years
HIV All men younger than 65 should be screened for HIV at least once
Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Men with certain risk factors should be screened at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea
Hepatitis C At least once for men born between 1945 and 1965
Abdominal aortic aneurysm Between ages of 65 and 75 with a history of tobacco use; an abdominal aortic aneurysm is an abnormally large or swollen blood vessel in the stomach that can burst without warning
Skin cancer Perform regular skin self-exams to check for any changes in marks including shape, size, and color and report suspicious marks to your primary care physician

Visit NovantHealth.org/RemarkableYou for health-and-wellness tips, articles, healthy recipes and other information. You can also find a health screening near you.

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Candice DuVernois
Candice DuVernois works as a freelance writer while waiting expectantly for her book deal to come through. She wrote her first poem when she was only seven years old, and she hasn't stopped dabbling since. She enjoys writing articles in a lighthearted tone about the good people of Mint Hill, always striving to make them shine. She lives in Mint Hill with her husband, Dave, and her two dogs who she tries to get into the paper as often as possible (the dogs, not Dave). Matthew 22:37-39.