Jeff Angileri
Sep 30, 2008, 11:24 AM

Men like a lot of things: sports, cars, technology and friends to name a few. When's the last time you heard a man say he enjoys going to the doctor or even that he has an appointment? It's probably been a while. In fact, ask any man in America when his last physical or blood test was and only half will say it's been in the past year. That's a concerning statistic to doctors.

"I've heard it said again and again that guys take better care of their cars than themselves," says Dr. Robert Alt, an internal medicine physician at Dean Health System. "If we think of ourselves like our vehicles, when they get their yearly check-ups, so should we."

The exam should be comprehensive, involving not only updates on health issues and history, but also checking immunizations, getting blood tests and discussion about lifestyle. At all stages of life, a man should know his blood pressure and cholesterol. And every man should have a doctor and see a doctor, regardless of age.

"If I was talking to a young fellow in his 20s without identified health problems, I'd be talking more about healthy behaviors, practicing safe sex, not drinking too much, using seatbelts and wearing helmets," he said. "When guys are getting older we talk about things like arthritis, self-abuse activities like smoking or drinking and being disconnected from friends."

"Of the top ten causes of death in the U.S., men lead women except when it comes to Alzheimer's. The reason is they don't live long enough to get Alzheimer's compared to women," says Dr. Alt. "That's why every time doctors see men for a cold they should be sure he's connected to a primary care doctor and on a regular routine to get check-ups."

Part of the problem tends to be a social stigma. The stereotypical male doesn't take good care of himself. The more a man doesn't take care of himself, the more "macho" he may feel. That's just the belief system Dr. Alt is trying to change.

"If we're going to develop good preventive health behaviors in men, we need to do to them exactly what we do to women. With young girls, they have their first period they're told it's time to start seeing a doctor once a year for health counseling. We need to do the same for men," he says.

When it comes to lifespan, men live, on average, a little more than five fewer years compared to women. Dr. Alt says about 3-5% of that gap is due to genetic differences, leaving 95-98% behavioral or preventable. And part of the responsibility falls on women.

"The health care pendulum has swung to a point now where the best thing for a woman's health is to get their guy to take better care of himself," says Dr. Alt. "Otherwise women end up living with ill fellows and see their sons, husbands or fathers not do well and that's not good for either party."

So what are some things a man needs to do? First and foremost, make sure to choose a doctor and get periodic exams. The annual vehicle tune-up can be a good reminder that it's time to schedule your comprehensive exam. Next, be careful what you put inside your body. Be sure to eat nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables regularly, and limit your intake of alcohol and tobacco. Another big one: don't ignore signs and symptoms of potential trouble.

"There's this stereotypical male who's not supposed to whine, he's independent and takes care of things by himself and therefore he doesn't go to see his doctor because that's not macho," Dr. Alt says. "But there are symptoms and events he's aware of and consciously puts them out of his mind and so they simmer back there. After a while that pot of simmering concerns gets so big that a guy becomes afraid of what a doctor might find. Then, fear becomes an obstacle."

Dr. Alt also advises men to remember to exercise. Time and again you'll hear the benefits of exercise, so get out and go for a walk or run. Aim for moderate exercise of 30-40 minutes about three to four times a week or daily if possible.

Finally, be safe. This means being aware of the safety precautions associated with activities you're participating in as well as remembering to wear seatbelts and helmets when needed.

Above all else, disregard the stigma. It is ok to visit the doctor; in fact, it takes more courage to break the stereotype. Doing so can help identify problems sooner, cutting down a man's risk of disease. "The net effect of regular visits means in the end a guy ideally has a stronger, more rigorous, healthy life," says Dr. Alt.

Body Tune-Ups Early & Often

Under 20:

  • Testicular Self Exam (TSE) Monthly, doctor visit for healthy lifestyle chat

Under 30:

  • Physical exam every 1-3 years
  • Blood pressure, height weight check every 1-2 years
  • TSE every 1-2 months
  • Basic lab screening 1-3 times between age 20 & 40
  • Cholesterol screen once every 5 years

Age 30-50

  • Physical exam every 1-2 years
  • Blood pressure, height & weight check every 1-2 years
  • TSE every 1-2 months
  • Basic lab screening 2-4 times between ages 30 & 50

Age 40-50:

• Add in PSA test for prostate cancer

• Digital rectal exam for high-risk groups

After age 50:

  • Complete physical exam every year
  • Vision & hearing tests periodically
  • Basic lab screening yearly
  • Regular colorectal cancer screening
  • Annual fecal occult blood test
  • Partial colon cancer screen every 5 years
  • Total colon screen every 10 years

Men's Health By the Numbers

  • 500 - how many more calories the average man consumes in a day compared to 30 years ago
  • 59% - the number of obese men in America
  • 6 - the number of hours of sleep the average man gets
  • 7.5 - 9 - the number of hours of sleep your body needs
  • 37% - the number of men who use tobacco products
  • 24% - the number of women who use tobacco products
  • 80.8 years - the life expectancy of a female born in 2005
  • 75.7 years - the life expectancy of a male born in 2005