Do you put off a checkup with your doctor, even though you know you need it? That's typical. "Men think taking care of themselves is a sign of weakness. It acknowledges vulnerability, and men are supposed to be tough," says David Katz, MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. Regular checkups are key to preventing two major threats to men: heart disease and diabetes.
What men don't get, he says, is that those who take care of themselves are "better" in every way. "Healthy people are stronger, faster, smarter, look better, and have more fun," Katz says. It's good for your sex life, too. There's even a RealAge benefit from taking good care of yourself: Actively patrolling your health can make your RealAge as much as 7 years younger.
So what's keeping guys out of the doctor's office? "Most men think their body is a perfect machine, and it will keep on going no matter what they do to it," says Keith Roach, MD, chief medical officer of RealAge.
Just because you haven't broken down yet doesn't mean there isn't trouble brewing under the hood. "From 20 on, we see a decline in all functions we can measure by 5% every 10 years -- your bone mass, your muscle mass, even your IQ, if you don't take some form of intervention," says Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and cofounder of RealAge. Intervention -- in the form of regular checkups -- helps slow that decline.
According to Katz, your 40s and 50s are when the neglect of the past decade or two catches up. "Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant," he warns. "They can still be reversed, but only if you're going to the doctor and getting treated" And that’s a big "if." An Esquire poll found that 40% of men over age 40 have never had their cholesterol checked. The longer you go undiagnosed, the greater the risk of complications. High blood pressure can lead to strokes. Clogged arteries can lead to heart attacks, and diabetes can result in loss of limbs.
If that doesn't get your attention, consider this: Ignoring your health puts you at risk for erectile dysfunction. The same vascular diseases that cause heart attack, stroke, and memory loss also cause impotence, Roizen warns.
Here’s how to take charge now so you can keep your dipstick (and the rest of your body) healthy:
- If you don't have a doctor, get one today. Never be without a primary care physician, Roach says. You're more likely to ignore problems if you don’t have someone you can call.
- Listen to your spouse. "Wives do a good job of getting reluctant men to the doctor," Katz says. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your partner or your kids. You owe it to them to be a role model. "Imagine your child not getting care when he needs it," Katz says.
- Prepare for your doctor appointment. Showing up is half the battle, but it doesn't guarantee a victory. Roach recommends using one of the RealAge Doctor Visit Guides to prepare your checkup.
- Follow your doctor's instructions. Just as you wouldn't ignore your accountant's advice, you should heed your physician's. The sooner you quit smoking, get your weight down to normal, start exercising, and incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet, the better you’re going to feel.