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Men Need to be Their Own Health Advocates

Men, your health is your responsibility, so don’t ignore it. A sad but true fact is that even with all the medical technology available to them, American men have a shorter life expectancy than women by about five years. Sometimes, the power to stay healthy and spend as much time as possible with your families is within your power.

Prevention is key
Many men put off preventive screenings or disregard mild symptoms until medical conditions become advanced. Unfortunately, this makes them much harder to treat and often leads to premature death. Wives become widows, kids lose their dads, and men lose the chance to enjoy their families as long as possible. That is a high price to pay for excuses like, "I'm too busy to go to the doctor" or "I don't want to hear what's wrong with me."  

The cost of preventative exams is not a valid excuse, either. With health insurance, yearly physicals are FREE and that includes screening blood work. Even without insurance, the cost is typically less than $200; and face it men, that’s probably less than you pay for yearly preventive maintenance on your vehicle. There is no excuse for skipping a yearly physical exam.

Yes, men are an important financial resource in most families, but they also provide important role modeling and mentoring for children as well as helping balance out the overall needs of parenting and maintaining home life.  

Some men may downplay the enormously important role they have in a family or may not understand how devastating it would be should something happen to them, and they leave behind a wife and children.

Fear not
The fear of getting bad news is perfectly rational. That fear, along with the insecurity about being seen naked, keep men off the exam table and at risk of premature death.  Men are tough, proud, independent, sturdy and sometimes consider themselves indestructible. Being vulnerable is uncomfortable, so they avoid it.

Our society teaches boys that they should be tough, play contact sports, take on dangerous professions and sometimes partake in risky behaviors. Their adolescent sense of immortality, coupled with society's "tough-guy" attitude, has made it difficult for men to face the fact that they are only human. Many men don’t outgrow this sense of adolescent-invincibility. Men are more likely to address a warning light that goes off in their car, rather than address a symptom in their bodies that may be a warning of something seriously wrong. Men need to take responsibility not only for their own preventive health and medical care but also for their families.

Do it now
If you know a man who has ignored his health for too long (and that could be you), it is not too late for him to do something about it. Help him schedule an exam, today! Talk to him about doing it for the sake of his family. Let him know how important he is and remind him that preventing a problem will save him a lot of hassle, discomfort, time, money and possibly pain.

Beyond the exam, men must engage in some preventive care — eating a proper diet and getting enough healthful exercise to maintain a healthy weight as they grow older.  This not only serves as a role model for the next generation, but also pays big dividends in the future. As men age, being fit and addressing any medical matters as they come up generally make for a healthy transition into vibrant “golden years.”

Support can help
Women play a role in improving the health of men and it begins as a mother. Teaching boys to voice their feelings and to not ignore physical symptoms can begin the cycle of healthy living. Too many boys are told to tough it out when they get injured. This only strengthens the ideals that boys should ignore their physical symptoms. Dad and Mom need to strike a healthy perspective and balance when it comes to their children being able to handle the bumps of living with taking proper care of themselves along the way.

Men should be encouraged to be role models for their children. A father who goes to the doctor regularly also is a loving parent teaching a valuable lesson. It also helps for dad to take the children to their medical appointments so it is seen as a normal part of life. All children should know that by listening to their bodies and seeking medical advice when needed, they can live longer and healthier lives.  

For men who don’t have children, it’s just as vital that you maintain a healthy perspective and be your own best health advocate.

Engaging in healthy habits as a family, such as eating together, exercising, having fun, getting enough sleep and talking about family health history, will help everyone in the household.

By: Dr. Sal Giorgianni Science Advisor, Men's Health Network

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