June 24, 2021

The secret to a long life: Keep up with health screenings

For men who often resist regular doctor visits and health screenings, making a few key tests a priority can mean more years with the people you love.

Men have shorter life expectancies than women, dying an average of 5 years earlier. They are also twice as likely to put off doctor’s visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The coronavirus pandemic has only made things worse, with reports from across the country revealing that both men and women have delayed cancer screenings and other preventive health care visits.

“Many men tell me they aren’t worried about dying,” said Sean Hashmi, MD, a nephrologist, obesity medicine specialist, and adult weight management lead for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. “But it isn’t just about living or dying. It’s about having more quality moments with those you care about. A little bit of prevention goes far in allowing us to enjoy quality years as we age.”

Dr. Hashmi recommended a few key steps men can take to stay on top of their health.

Know your numbers

Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure are often referred to as “silent killers,” because they usually don’t cause pain or other symptoms until they’re more advanced and difficult to reverse. That’s why it’s important to keep up with recommended screenings, including:

  • Cholesterol — Your cholesterol levels are related to your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Blood pressureHigh blood pressure is related to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.
  • Blood sugarBlood glucose, or blood sugar, tests check for prediabetes and diabetes.
  • Weight — Knowing if you’re at a healthy weight for your body type and height can help you determine whether obesity or other weight-related health problems may be a concern for you.

If any of these screening results are outside the normal range and are detected early, diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward correcting the problem. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent more serious issues.

Keep up with cancer screenings

Men have higher rates of getting cancer, and dying from it, than women. Fortunately, regular screenings can help identify cancer in the early stages, before symptoms emerge and when the odds of survival are best.

Kaiser Permanente recommends that most men begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50 and continue until they are 75, and new guidelines call for African American men, and other people with certain health conditions or hereditary syndromes, to begin screening earlier. Prostate cancer screening is recommended for men between the ages of 55 and 69. Recommendations vary depending on your individual risk, so talk with your doctor about what’s right for you.

Seek help when you’re struggling

When it comes to mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and struggles with alcohol or drugs, some men tend to suffer in silence.

“The first step in coping with these challenges is being willing to admit you need help,” said Dr. Hashmi. “We talk about ‘total health’ at Kaiser Permanente because mental health issues are real, and there are resources available, both for medical interventions and for preventive self-care.”

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, or other mental health issues, get connected to the support you need.

Take care of your health — for yourself and those you love

Some men are more motivated to take care of others than themselves. In those cases, it can help to think about the family members whose lives will be affected if they have a serious illness.

“The impact isn’t just on you. The people around you also suffer when you have cancer, a heart attack, or a stroke,” Dr. Hashmi said. “If you have fallen behind, or even if you’ve never gotten any of these health screenings before, today is the perfect day to start getting caught up.”