Why Men Over 50 Should Prioritize Their Health
Regular physicals, cancer screenings and healthy lifestyle choices are all essential
Michael M. Kadish, 83, lives in Brooklyn, New York, and describes himself as being "in good health with a few ailments, nothing life threatening." After turning 55, he developed arthritis, prostate problems, spinal stenosis and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). The prostate issue is under control with medication, and he takes medicine for the arthritis and COPD.
What does he do to take care of himself? "I've always been a firm believer in preventive medicine," he says. "I see doctors regularly and take all available vaccinations." For exercise, he takes daily walks and climbs up and down the four flights of stairs in his apartment building when the weather is bad.
Special Health Needs for Men Over 50
If you're a man over 50, you may be wondering whether there's anything special about taking care of your health. The answer is yes. Men over 50 are particularly vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other ailments.
"Men tend not to prioritize health care for themselves ... and often present with disease being present and not for prevention."
"Attention to cardiovascular risk factors including hypertension, abnormal cholesterol, smoking and tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, poor diet, obesity, diabetes and physical activity is paramount to prevent issues for men in this age group," says Dr. C. Scott Collins, director, Mayo Clinic General Internal Medicine Men's Health Clinic.
Men over 50 are also at risk for colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. For this reason, Collins says it's important for men in this age group "to have general medical evaluations and meetings with their primary care physicians to make sure they are screened appropriately for their risk profile."
Men and Self-Care
Given the number of medical conditions they're at are risk for, Collins recommends men over 50 keep their health top of mind.
"Men tend to not prioritize health care for themselves, do not have regular physicals as frequently as women, and often present with disease being present and not for prevention," Collins explains. "They are also much less likely to seek out or receive appropriate screening or diagnostic and management-oriented health care services," or comply with their doctor's care plans.
The New Discipline of Men's Health (MH)
"Men's Health (MH) is a relatively new discipline that not only represents the sexual and genitourinary (relating to genital and urinary organs) needs of men but also encompasses multi-system physical, mental, and social issues," Collins explains. "MH has not received the same amount of attention at the policy and research level that the field of Women's Health (WH) has; consequently, WH is much more defined as a field with consistent practice models."
Traditionally, many men have tended to look at their health in a slightly limited way and have relied on urologists for their sexual and urinary health care needs.
"Men's Health looks at the man as a whole and does not focus on only urinary or sexual function," Collins says. "It is now known that conditions such as erectile dysfunction (ED) have significant relation to and interplay with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases that can require the involvement of internists, family physicians, cardiologists, endocrinologists and advanced practice providers."
Relationship with a Health Care Provider
What can men over 50 do to take better care of their health? "At a minimum, having a consistent relationship with a physician [helps] people to think about their health, receive age-appropriate cancer screenings and counseling on lifestyle, and consider other health maintenance interventions," Collins explains. A relationship with their doctor can help address diet, fitness and exercise, and smoking cessation, too.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices
The Cleveland Clinic recommends men over 50 eat a healthy diet, stay at a healthy weight, get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, be physically active, don't smoke, get routine exams and screenings, limit alcohol intake and get vaccinations.
"I see a cardiologist once a year. I also maintain my dental health as best as possible and see an eye doctor at least once a year."
"A healthy diet can help men over age 50 reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer," the Cleveland Clinic reports. It recommends exercise for flexibility and to improve balance, along with aerobic or cardio, and strength training. "Men who have not been active should consult their doctor before starting an exercise program," it advises.
Mental Health and Men Over 50
Collins says we tend to think depression only affects women because they tend to seek help more often than men; but men are vulnerable, too.
"All adults should be screened for depression and anxiety. There are quick and simple questionnaires health care institutions can use for this," he explains. "In men, it's especially important to look for and be aware of these conditions, as they manifest differently in men." And substance abuse is a risk factor in aging and socially isolated men, too.
'Stay on a Consistent Path'
Bill Savage, 64, of Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, has some chronic health issues that he says "are under control with medication and/or lifestyle." He was diagnosed with a heart murmur at 57 and a regurgitating aortic valve. He has an echocardiogram every three years and EKGs every year. A prostate issue discovered after he turned 50 was treated with surgery.
"I see a cardiologist once a year. I also maintain my dental health as best as possible and see an eye doctor at least once a year," Savage says. His advice? "Try to stay on some sort of consistent path with medical care. It gets difficult to schedule all the appointments, but maintenance is very important over 50. And make sure you're aware of your family medical history."