I know a lot of guys may not want to hear this, but men, in general, are less healthy than women by practically any measure. Life expectancy for men is currently about 75 years. For women: 80 years. About twice as many men as women die each year from heart attacks. And the rates of other major diseases such as stroke, diabetes and chronic lung disease are all higher for men.
Unfortunately, men themselves are part of the reason for this state of affairs. Not only do many men not take care of themselves the way they should, they don’t have the same attitudes about disease prevention that women tend to have. Consider this: Compared to women, men make half as many visits to their doctors for preventive care.
These differences become more acute as men pass the 50-year mark. This is the time, in other words, that men can really make a difference in their future health. The first step, of course, is to get yourself in for a check-up. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, a lot of guys take better care of their cars than they do their own bodies.
How come? First of all, many men are in denial about their prospects for becoming ill. For many men, getting sick or having a disease is viewed as a sign of weakness or failure. If you think like this, you don’t have much motivation to go to a doctor for an annual check up, or to have some seemingly minor bump, rash or pain properly evaluated. Easier to just suck it up and drive on, so to speak. But, with this attitude, health problems, such as cancer or heart disease can get steadily worse. By the time a man finally seeks help, the problem is much more difficult to treat.
If you’re a guy 50 years or older and haven’t seen a doctor for at least a year, make the appointment! Once you’re there, make sure you get 5 key tests:
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol level
- Blood sugar level
- Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA)
- Testosterone level
Your doctor is almost sure to check the first two, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, because these are key factors in heart disease, which is the leading killer of men. But doctors may not routinely do the others; in my opinion, they should for all guys 50 or older.
Men should have their blood sugar levels checked because diabetes – a disease of high blood sugar – can lead to all sorts of insidious health problems. Guys should know their PSA level because above-normal levels are a sign of some problem with the prostate – an infection, enlargement or cancer, all of which can be treated.
Testosterone rounds out the list because it’s central to a man’s sex drive, overall energy level, muscle strength and bone density. I want to spend a moment on this number because it’s only in recent years that we’ve learned how important this testosterone can be. Let’s start with the basics: testosterone peaks around age 20. After that, levels decline by about 1 percent a year. The decline is barely noticeable at first, but over the course of decades, it can add up, especially if a guy had relatively low levels of testosterone to begin with.
Below-normal testosterone levels affect at least 10 million men in the US alone. This can lead to decreased muscle mass and bone mineral density, decreased sex drive and energy, increased fat mass (especially belly fat) and depressed mood. It may also shorten your life.
The point is that even though testosterone levels do normally decline with age, they shouldn’t decline below what is considered the normal level. I don’t believe men should go through life with the disadvantage of having abnormal hormones. The situation is analogous to thyroid hormone levels. If I find that a patient has below-normal thyroid hormone levels, I prescribe a medication to bring them back to normal. Otherwise, the patient is at risk for a host of health problems. The same is true, I feel, for testosterone. This isn’t like hormone replacement therapy – it’s testosterone maintenance therapy, because we want to maintain the appropriate levels.
Fortunately, we have a variety of effective ways to raise testosterone levels safely to average levels (in the past, some treatments led to spikes in testosterone levels that were associated with undesirable side effects). The bottom line is that we have a treatment for one of the most common male problems, which can not only improve a guy’s sexual functioning but have other positive health benefits as well.
I’ll end with a note to any women who might be reading this: Most guys don’t know much about their own health, and, as I said earlier, many put off seeing a doctor. Women partners can play a key role in this situation. You can learn to recognize the symptoms of such things as prostate swelling and low testosterone. You can then explain to your partner that these are medical conditions affecting millions of other guys, and suggest that they see a doctor. By doing so, you may be making a real difference in your partner’s health and sexual functioning.