The Expert Guide to Men's Health at Every Age
Men really are less likely to go to the doctor: Research shows that 40 percent don't get annual checkups. If a guy you love is part of that group (or you're one of those guys), get him on board with our decade-by-decade guide to key exams and lifestyle tweaks.
Men are only two-thirds as likely to go to the doctor as women, and it's generally due to one of two reasons: Men tend to think they aren’t that sick and are wasting the doctor’s time, or they fear they’re really sick. So what can loved ones do to get their guys to the doc? Remind him how important he is to his family and friends, and nag. (Really!) In one large survey, 19 percent of men admitted they finally saw a doctor just to get their spouses to stop pestering them.
We asked the experts to give us a rundown of everything men should be getting checked throughout the years to stay on top of their health.
Find a Doctor and Break Bad Habits in Your 20s and 30s
During your 20s and 30s is a good time to find a primary care doctor you like. Think of them as your partner in staying healthy for life; research shows people who have a regular doctor get the most effective preventive care. You should also learn your family's health history to know whether you should be getting additional of more frequent checks for things that run in your family. Your younger years is an ideal time to break your smoking habit if you have one. Here are the things you should go in for a checkup on while in your 20s and 30s to stay healthy:
Check your blood pressure at least once every two years starting at age 20. New guidelines say you want to stay at or below 120/80. If your numbers are higher, talk to the doc about diet and exercise changes; even a small uptick in young adulthood can lead to heart damage by middle age.
Test cholesterol once between ages 17 and 21, and repeat every four to six years if your cholesterol numbers are good (under 200, with HDL over 60, LDL under 100). Also triglycerides should be under 150. Limiting your saturated fat intake (full-fat dairy and fatty meats like steak and hot dogs) and exercising regularly are key to keeping healthy cholesterol numbers.
Testing for sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia will depend on your sexual history. Be honest with your doctor: Many don’t have symptoms, and rates of infection are rising. All men should be screened for HIV at least once.
Focus on Food and Manage Stress in Your 40s
Your 40s are a good time to focus on adding heart-healthy foods to your diet. Reach for foods containing good fats, like nuts and avocados, to boost heart health. Add fatty fish at least twice a week. Overall aim to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, plus some lean meat. Be aware of your stress levels and find ways to tame tension from the demands at home and work at this time in your life. Head to your doctor to get checkups on the following things during your 40s:
A blood test checking glucose (blood sugar) levels screens for diabetes. If your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are high or you're overweight (BMI of 25 plus), get tested at 40; otherwise, you can wait until 45. Talk to your doctor about whether you should get the plasma glucose test, which measures blood sugar after an eight-hour fast, or the hemoglobin A1C, which shows glucose levels over the past two to three months.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, just 13 percent of people with vision problems have ever gotten an eye exam from an ophthalmologist. That's astonishingly low! You might be reaching for readers now thanks to farsightedness (aka presbyopia); get an eye exam at age 40 then every two to four years if you have no issues.
Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Your risk for heart disease starts rising in your 40s so check blood pressure yearly; cholesterol should be checked every five years or annually if it’s elevated. Your doc may also do an EKG to check your heart’s electrical rhythms.
Think About Cancer Screening in Your 50s
You should talk to your doctor about prostate cancer screening when you're in your 50s. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises men 55 to 69 who may have a higher risk to discuss the pros and cons of screening with their doc. But the American Cancer Society advises discussing testing as early as 40 for men who have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at a young age. Here's what else you should be getting checked for in your 50s:
You can lower your chances of dying from colorectal cancer by more than 50 percent with a colonoscopy, the gold standard for screening. Or ask about the FIT-DNA and gFOBT tests (for both, you send in a stool sample for analysis) and the sigmoidoscopy (it looks at the lower part of the colon).
If you’ve smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years (even if you’ve quit), have a low-radiation CT scan at 55 then yearly until 80.
According to the CDC, baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. Get this blood test if you were born between 1945 and 1965.
Continue Checkups Regularly in Your 60s, 70s and Beyond
Once you're into your 60s and 70s (and above) you should continue screening for blood pressure and cholesterol and add these things to your checkup list:
After 65, go in for an eye exam at least every one to two years; the ophthalmologist will be on the lookout for glaucoma and cataracts.
Bone Density Test
We often hear about women getting osteoporosis, but men can get osteoporosis too. Get screened at age 70 or earlier if you're at risk; discuss potential risk factors with your doctor.
This checks for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a rupture of the major supplier of blood from your heart to your body. (Hitting age 65 is a risk factor, and the risk goes up with age.) If you smoked, definitely get the ultrasound; if not, discuss the option with your doctor.
However you persuade the men in your life to see a doctor, just make sure they do. And with these easy-to-follow guidelines, they'll know exactly what needs to be checked at every age to stay in tip-top shape.