In the week leading up to Father’s Day, National Men’s Health Week is a reminder for all men to pay attention to their physical and mental health. As you reflect on your own health, here are some top men’s health issues and ideas on how to keep yourself healthy.
Both men and women are more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause of death in the United States. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD).
This disease happens when fat deposits, called plaque, begin to build up in the arteries that supply your heart with blood. The build-up eventually clogs the artery like debris clogs a pipe, and if your heart doesn’t get enough blood and the oxygen it carries, then it can cause a heart attack.
So how do you keep your arteries from getting clogged up? Well, like a normal blockage in your bathroom pipes, a clog takes a long time to build up. It’s not too late to prevent or slow the plaque from building up too much, but the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be.
You can help prevent your risk of getting heart disease, and many other preventable health issues in this article, by doing the following:
- Stop smoking. If you’re smoking, work until you can stop completely. If you aren’t smoking, don’t start. Smoking can damage your arteries, and that makes it easier for plaque to build up.
- Control your blood pressure. If you find your blood pressure is routinely higher than it should be (the normal is anything less than 120/80), see a doctor to work out a treatment plan to get it under control. It might involve medications, but it might also involve other actions on this list.
- Stay active daily. You may have heard this before, but most adults should be regularly active. Although it’s recommended that you exercise 2 hours and 30 minutes every week with moderately intensive exercises, or 1 hour and 15 minutes a week with various aerobic exercises, any activity that gets you up and moving is better than none.
- Eat healthy. A healthy diet combined with daily exercise not only prevents plaque build-up, but it also prevents other diseases like diabetes that also increase your risk of having a heart attack. You’ll want to make sure your diet is low in fat and salt and includes a lot of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Manage stress. Everyday stress is usually unavoidable. But if you let it go unchecked and unmanaged for too long, it can worsen other problems that make plaque worse.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Everyone’s body has a weight it needs to be at to function optimally. Being too skinny or having too much fat affects your blood pressure and how much your heart has to work. A fluctuating weight or one that is not ideal for you is also often a result of habits that might make CAD worse.
After the age of 50, prostate problems become a common issue for men. The prostate is a small gland, about the size of a walnut. It sits below the bladder and in front of the rectum, wrapped around the tube that lets urine flow out of the body.
The most common prostate problems are the following:
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). You may have also heard this called enlarged prostate. The prostate grows larger the older you get, so this is a common issue. Many men don’t even need treatment.
- Prostate cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death of men in the US, and prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.
- Prostatitis. Sometimes, your prostate can get infected or have inflammation. Less than 10% of men will get prostatitis, but those who do are normally young.
Since it’s not uncommon to have prostate problems the older you get, it’s important to be actively monitoring any symptoms or problems. While some prostate-related issues are usually just an inconvenience or uncomfortable, prostate cancer can be deadly if it isn’t caught in its early stages.
Cancer screenings are the most effective way to catch prostate cancer before it gets too far. The American Cancer Association recommends that you get cancer screening based on the following guidelines:
- Age 50. If you’re at average risk for getting prostate cancer, which means you don’t fall under any of the high-risk categories, you can wait until this age. Most men will fall under this category.
- Age 45. You are high risk if you are an African-American, Caribbean man of African descent, or have had a first-degree relative like a father or brother diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age.
- Age 40. If you have had multiple first-degree relatives get prostate cancer at early an age, then you’re at the highest risk for getting prostate cancer.
Testosterone is a sex hormone that’s the reason behind many characteristically masculine features, like a deep voice, body and facial hair, and muscle distribution. Low levels of this hormone can lead to a low sex drive, hair loss, bone and muscle loss, or infertility issues in older men and delayed development from puberty in younger men. High levels, which usually come from using steroids or hormone treatments to improve athletic performance, can affect your prostate, liver, heart, and mood.
Low levels of testosterone is not always a bad issue. Although your testosterone level drops as you get older, it’s normally around 1%, and you likely won’t experience many negative effects. But if you’re feeling any of the following symptoms, then you can check with your doctor to find out if low levels of testosterone is the cause:
- General weakness
- Less energy than before
- Depression or emotional changes
- Sexual function issues
Men are more than three times more likely to die by suicide compared to women. And yet often we commonly ignore or downplay mental health needs or tell men to “man up” if they are feeling emotional. Many men feel embarrassed talking about their emotions or admitting that they are mentally or emotionally struggling.
Your brain is an organ, and just like any other organ, it often shows symptoms if something is wrong. These problems could be related to your body producing not enough or too much of a hormone, or it could be a result of damage and trauma, genetics, or medication.
Treat your brain like any other organ. If you are struggling emotionally or mentally in any way, see a doctor or therapist and keep working with them until a treatment sticks, and then keep at it. But don’t be disappointed if the treatment starts to have less of an effect and the symptoms come back over time. Mental health illnesses can be chronic just like physical diseases, and it can be perfectly normal to need to keep going back to a therapist or doctor if you still need help.
Normalize talking about your emotions and thoughts with people in your life, including other men. Follow healthy lifestyle recommendations, like exercise and a good diet, so your physical body is working at optimal and doesn’t put extra stress on your mental health. And if you do find yourself having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.
Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Men’s Health
Gay and bisexual men and transgender men face additional and sometimes unique health concerns. Gay, bisexual, and transgender men come from all backgrounds and share many of the same health issues that affect the overall LGBTQ community. But there are also some health issues that tend to affect them more than other groups in addition to some issues that affect all LGBTQ people that are important to mention.
One of the greatest concerns for LGBTQ people is their mental health and how the stress of stigma and other issues can put them at a higher risk for depression and anxiety. There’s also a higher risk of the use of illegal drugs and suicide in addition to other factors that can make mental health issues worse.
For gay and bisexual men especially, HIV is a particularly dangerous health concern, although it’s become more manageable and better understood over the years. About 70% of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the US in 2017 were among gay and bisexual men, and one out of every six gay and bisexual men have HIV without knowing it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a list of resources to help you get tested or treated if you get HIV. They also go over preventative measures, like using condoms correctly or preventative medication.
If you identify as a gay, bisexual, or transgender man, be aware of potential health issues that can affect you and find a health care professional that you trust before you need to go to them. Because of the stigma and often past negative experiences, gay, bisexual, and transgender men are less likely to seek out medical care. This means they may not get preventative care, like cancer screenings, and that they may ignore symptoms until they get worse.
Although stigma towards LGBTQ people and a lack of understanding is still an ongoing issue for a lot of health care providers, LGBTQ-friendly resources have become easier to come across, and many areas in the field are working toward more inclusion and education for health care providers.