"Men don't always focus on their health," said Dr. McVary," and in fact, men are less likely to see a doctor or utilize health resources and wait longer than women to seek care. Often, it’s a man's spouse or partner who convinces him to see a doctor.
"A focus on health is especially important this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues," said Dr. McVary, a nationally recognized urologist and expert on men’s health. "We know that obesity, heart disease, diabetes and a lack of exercise can lead to poorer COVID-19 outcomes. In addition, some men may have stopped eating healthy during the past year, and/or may be consuming more alcohol due to stress. Others may have a condition or concern that they are not seeking treatment for due to the pandemic.
“And yet, lifestyle choices – exercising, eating healthy, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and managing stress – combined with preventive care can keep you healthy this year and throughout your lifetime," said Dr. McVary. "And it's never too late to start."
Dr. McVary offers the following tips to help men improve their health in 2021:
Focus on your physical health. Ideally, men should devote 150 minutes each week (total) to aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.
“That sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not,” said Dr. McVary. “That could be 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so that you do not have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. Find a balance that works for you.”
For men who have been sedentary over the past year, “sitting less and moving more is a great start as some physical activity is better than none,” said Dr. McVary. “Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity gain health benefits.”
Consider what you eat. “January is a popular month for dieting, as losing weight and eating better are consistently at the top of the list of popular New Year’s resolutions,” said Dr. McVary. “One of the issues with New Year’s resolutions is that they often involve sudden, drastic lifestyle changes. It’s not easy to turn these changes into healthy behaviors and to fully adopt them as a regular part of your daily routine. Be careful with fad diets. Instead, make permanent improvements that focus on healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight.”
A healthy diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods. It should also include lean proteins – such as poultry, fish, eggs and nuts – and foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.
Make an appointment with a primary care physician. Has it been a while since you have had a physical? Do you have a health concern but are reluctant to seek care? Common men's health problems include sexual dysfunction and painful or frequent urination; topics that may be embarrassing to talk about but can also be a sign of an underlying health condition.
“Either way, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician. Not seeking medical care is a serious pitfall for a man’s health,” said Dr. McVary. “Concerns about money, not having a primary care physician, inconvenience or stoicism are common excuses, but the reality is that visiting a medical professional can greatly improve your health.
“And don’t just visit your doctor when you’re sick. Make a habit of scheduling an annual wellness exam. This ensures that you stay in good health and identify health issues before they become serious.”
Know the risks of a heart attack. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for men and the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk of a heart attack. Heart attack risk factors include being male, advanced age, a family history of heart disease, race and ethnicity (African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians and Asian Americans are at highest risk), smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese, diabetes, stress and excessive alcohol consumption.
“An annual wellness exam can help to identify and manage many of these heart attack risk factors,” said Dr. McVary.
Schedule a colonoscopy if you are age 50 or older. The good news is that colon cancer, the third leading cause of death in American men (excluding skin cancers), is preventable.
“Regular screenings are the key to preventing colorectal cancer as they identify precancerous polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous,” said Dr. McVary.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colorectal cancer screening for men ages 50 to 75. For men age 76 and older, alternative screening tests, including stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy or a CT colonography (a virtual colonoscopy), may be recommended.
Know the symptoms of prostate cancer and the pros and cons of screening. Prostate cancer only affects men and is one of the most common types of cancer in men. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can decrease a man’s risk for prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer screening through a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is available; however, for men ages 55 to 69, the decision to undergo PSA screening involves weighing the benefits of reducing the rate of metastatic prostate cancer and preventing prostate cancer death against the known potential harms associated with screening and treatment.
“A PSA test may result in a false positive, leading to an unnecessary biopsy or treatment,” said Dr. McVary. Screening at an interval of two years or more is believed to preserve the benefits of screening while reducing the potential for a false positive. For this reason, urologists strongly recommend shared decision-making for men ages 55 to 69 who are considering PSA screening, and then proceeding based on a man's values and preferences.”
Recognize and manage stress. “As with physical symptoms, men tend to downplay or ignore the symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety, and yet ongoing mental health issues can cause sleep, heart and other physical health problems,” said Dr. McVary. “An annual wellness exam should include an honest discussion about mental health and sleep quality, as well as strategies for mitigating stress.”
“Men of all ages should make their health a priority. Risk increases with age for some health problems, but the decisions that you make throughout your life contribute to your health now,” said Dr. McVary. “2021 is a good time to start.”
The Loyola Men’s Health Center, the only academic medical center-affiliated program in the Chicago area, takes a holistic, preventive approach to men's health, including healthy lifestyle, behavior modifications and medications.
The Men’s Health Center is located at Loyola’s Burr Ridge location, and offers a broad range of specialty services, laboratory testing, imaging services and a sleep lab.
To make an appointment, visit: loyolamedicine.org/urology/mens-health-center.