June 11, 2019

A ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to men’s health

When it comes to living a long life, there are many preventive measures men can take to stave off deadly diseases, including simply visiting a doctor.

David Conant, MD, practices what he preaches with a blood pressure check by medical assistant Bulie Madubela.

How long will I live?

No one really knows the answer, but we do know that women, on average, live longer than men.

To find out how men can better their odds, we spoke to David Conant, MD, chief of Adult and Family Medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center in California.

The life expectancy for males born in 2017 is about 76 years, while females can expect to live to 81, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although the research is not definitive on why females live longer, a CDC study found that women were 33% more likely than men to visit a doctor when they feel ill and 100% more likely to visit a doctor for preventive services.

Get to the doctor

“Many of my male patients are reluctant to come in when they have symptoms, let alone for routine checkups,” said Dr. Conant. “And sometimes it is only because a partner has nudged them into coming.”

The most common killers of both men and women are heart disease and cancer.  The major risk factors for heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, no exercise, and diabetes.

“I ask about exercise pretty much every visit, whether it’s someone who is 18 or 88,” said Dr. Conant. “I tell people exercising regularly and vigorously is a critical strategy to stay healthy. I also talk about the virtues of a plant-based diet.”

Reducing risk factors

Dr. Conant advises Kaiser Permanente members to visit kp.org to find out which health screenings they currently need to stay healthy.

“It’s important to be aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index because they are all tied to your risk of cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Cancer risk can be reduced by:

  • Not smoking
  • Exercising
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Protecting against sexually transmitted diseases
  • Avoiding excess sun
  • Getting regular colon cancer screenings

Find help for loneliness, depression

Men are 4 times as likely as women to end their lives, according to the CDC. To screen for suicide risk, Dr. Conant always asks his patients about their state of mind, and he makes referrals to mental health providers if necessary.

“I think loneliness is an overlooked, yet extremely important issue in our society,” Dr. Conant said. “Particularly with my elderly patients, I try to learn about their social network and the degree to which they are isolated. Maintaining social connections is essential for wellness as we age.

“Taking a proactive stance about your health and being aware of factors over which you have some control can make an enormous difference in ensuring you have many high-quality years ahead,” he said.