Steps men can take to stay at the top of their game Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2010

Real men do get sick. However, their reluctance to seek timely medical care can take a toll — helping in part to explain the longevity gap where women outlive men by an average of 5 to 10 years.

If men took better care of themselves, they could stretch their life spans. The reasons for pushing aside health needs include not being able to take time away from work duties, inertia, feeling invincible, feeling out of control, or a macho stereotype that views consulting a doctor as a sign of weakness.

What can men do to improve their health?

Smart Business turned to Jim Leo, M.D., associate chief medical officer of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

How serious is the situation?

Research shows too many men stay away from physician visits and health screenings, where undiagnosed medical concerns can be discovered before they become more serious, and where risk factors for subsequent disease can be identified and addressed. While women traditionally have a history of doctors’ visits and are better educated about and less threatened by the health system, men often put their health needs on the back burner. In the work environment, managers spend so much time taking care of employees, they often forget to take care of themselves.

When do problems arise?

A stressful work environment can take its toll on one’s health. Chronic stress often translates into poor eating habits, lack of exercise, inadequate sleep and inattention to preventive health screenings. The struggle for good health is made more challenging by the sense one cannot take time away from work to see a physician.

What steps should be taken?

Regular health screenings and early intervention to alter risk factors for disease — or to treat medical conditions that screenings may discover — can add years and quality to one’s life. Rather than avoiding health screenings, men should view them as an opportunity to maintain and improve their quality of life, increase productivity at work and improve their likelihood of enjoying a healthy retirement. The best time to visit a doctor is when you are well, enabling a physician to assess your overall physical condition through proper tests and screenings and to obtain a baseline to observe future health. Having said that, it is crucial for men — who often ignore important symptoms — to schedule an appointment with their physician if they notice something out of the ordinary about their health. Like in business, one’s health is better served by being proactive.

Why are checkups so important?

Getting the right screenings at the right time is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Regular checkups and screenings tailored to age, gender, personal and family history and lifestyle can lead to early detection and quick treatment of many ‘silent’ disorders lacking obvious symptoms. These include high blood pressure, heart and vascular disease, diabetes, cancer and orthopedic issues. Test results can warn of problems, such as elevated cholesterol levels, precancerous polyps or any silent prostate problems, allowing you and your physician to map out a plan to lower the risk of serious disease while concerns are identified in their most treatable stages.

Some of the common medical conditions men face as they age can be controlled or cured if caught early. Don’t dodge the doctor when faced with serious symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain. The chance of developing diseases such as diabetes, which partly results from an unhealthy lifestyle that is aggravated by stress, can be greatly reduced by adopting healthier habits.

Where should I start?

Take responsibility for your health. Get regular checkups, and any preventive screenings, tests and immunizations recommended by your physician. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; limit foods and drinks high in calories, sugar, salt, fat and alcohol; and eat a balanced diet to help maintain a healthy weight. Include activities that raise your heart rate and strengthen your muscles. If you haven’t been exercising regularly and are over 50, consult your physician before starting any type of vigorous exercise program. Protect yourself by regularly wearing helmets when cycling, seat belts when driving, and sunscreen when outdoors.

Make prevention part of your business. Collaborate with physicians and hospitals to offer preventive techniques, health programs and screenings at your job site or at a convenient location. Long Beach Memorial’s business outreach programs can provide assistance through executive physicals and onsite seminars. Our Web site (memorialcare.org) offers free online tools, guides and referrals to physicians that can help you and your work force reach the goal of a healthier life.

Jim Leo, M.D., is the associate medical director at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.