Dr. Bob Riggs, with the Group Health Veradale Medical Center in Spokane Valley, says one of the greatest hurdles to keeping men healthy as they age is just getting them into a doctor’s office.
Statistically, men put off medical appointments more often than women. Unless they have an emergency or an ongoing health issue, many fail to schedule checkups or screenings.
“Usually, the reason a guy comes in for a physical is because his wife made him,” Riggs says. “They just don’t show up. It’s a pretty big problem.”
Even men who feel they are living a healthy lifestyle should occasionally seek out a doctor for regular testing and a general health assessment.
“It’s hard to get them to do it,” Riggs acknowledges. So if you or a man you know is putting off a visit to a physician, Riggs offers several tips to help reduce personal risks and maintain a healthy lifestyle:
No one knows your body better than you do. And your body is a result of your heritage, so take the time to assess your family history. You may need to take steps to mitigate your risks if a male family member had a heart attack before age 45, or a female before age 55. Does high blood pressure run in your family? Likewise, having a close relative with diabetes may mean you’re at higher risk.
After checking out your family history, consider how you’re feeling in the present. Any nagging worries or strange symptoms?
“Be attentive for signs that you’re not well,” Riggs says.
One of the simplest yet most important ways to stay healthy is to stay active. Riggs says men should regularly exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
“Walking, running, bicycling, swimming, something that is aerobic is really pretty important,” he says.
Exercise helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. It also keeps off extra pounds that can lead to a variety of health problems.
Riggs says men should commit to a regular exercise schedule and avoid long breaks.
How your body holds up depends a lot on what you put into it. Riggs suggests a diet loaded with lots of fruits and vegetables, ideally five to 10 servings a day.
He says many people might find that excessive, but people who maintain those levels live healthier lives.
“Not too much meat,” he says. “Not too much starch.”
The American Heart Association also recommends low-fat dairy products and lean meats. Fats and sugars should be limited to just a few servings a week.
Riggs says men should schedule routine physicals and track their blood pressure as they get older. Those with ongoing medical concerns should get more regular checkups, while healthier individuals should be able to get away with an appointment every couple of years.
Blood pressure serves as an indicator of many health risks, he says. Men with blood pressure higher than 120 over 80 should consult with a doctor about management options.
The American Urological Association recently released new guidelines for prostate cancer screening, urging the moderate use of testing to avoid unnecessary procedures.
Riggs also encourages men to follow American Cancer Society recommendations for colonoscopies, scheduling a screening every 10 years after turning 50.
He says some patients may prefer the less invasive fecal immunochemical test, which should be performed annually.
“It’s a simple test,” he says.
Smoking continues to be one of the most clear-cut indicators of the potential for health problems. Riggs says those who smoke will likely suffer from a variety of additional health complications with higher risks for heart disease, stroke and cancer.
“You kind of [have] to divide the world of older, middle-aged men into, I’d say, two main groups,” he says. “Do they smoke … or do they not smoke?”
A fit and active 70-year-old will likely have fewer health complications than an overweight 55-year-old who smokes.
Men should also limit alcohol to two or fewer drinks a day.
Riggs also recommends an annual flu shot, as well as an aspirin regimen for men with elevated risks for heart attack or stroke. He says he regularly takes aspirin, but does not endorse its use for everyone.
Most of the ways older men can take better care of themselves involve being willing to approach their doctors with their concerns, and taking a common-sense approach to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s simple stuff that your mom told you,” he says.