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Despite the importance of annual checkups, screenings, and preventive health care, most men seek medical attention only when they are very sick or if their partner expresses concern. June is Men's Health Month, and if you're one of those men avoiding the doctor, now is a good time to start taking an active role in your health by being aware of preventable conditions and early detection screenings and by learning how to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Let your primary care provider set the game plan
Men tend not to be talkers at doctor visits. The reasons differ, from thinking that they should tolerate pain or not express worries to simply being uncomfortable with the discussion. Speak openly with your primary care provider, who is there not only to treat you when you are sick but to partner with you to help prevent health issues. Seeing your PCP annually will allow you to discuss any new symptoms or concerns. Have your cholesterol and testosterone levels, prostate health, and blood pressure checked. High blood pressure has no symptoms, but its effects are serious because added stress and force is put on the artery walls.
Speaking of prevention
Aside from general health metrics that will be tracked and updated with annual visits to your primary care provider, it's important to be aware of certain conditions specific to men.
- Get prostate health checked. Prostate cancer is now the most common form of cancer in men. All men are at risk for the disease, and the risk increases with age. Early prostate cancer often has no warning signs. In the advanced stage, prostate cancer symptoms include trouble having or keeping an erection, blood in the urine, slow or weakened urinary stream or the need to urinate more often, or pain in the pelvis, spine, hips, or ribs. Other diseases also can cause these symptoms, so it's important to speak with your doctor to determine the exact cause of yours and to learn ways to lower your risks for prostate cancer and other diseases.
- Get testosterone levels checked. This male hormone peaks during the teenage and young adult years and naturally declines with age, but lower than normal levels can be connected to diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Gender myths debunked
Cultural and social differences may explain why men and women interact with their health differently. In addition, studies show men to be at higher risk than women for depression and a weakened immune system.
- Depression: Although many people believe that women are more prone to depression and suicide, in fact, the opposite is true. It's important for men to know the symptoms of depression, which include persistent feelings of sadness, difficulty sleeping, and loss of interest in activities that once made them happy. Depression negatively affects physical health. Talk to your primary care provider if you think you might have depression.
- Immune system: Think the male immune system is stronger than the female one? It's not, which is why it is important for men to follow the basics: Don't smoke, limit alcohol, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, get physically active, and manage stress.
Strengthening the mind-body connection
Preventive health visits with your primary care provider are clearly important, but what can be done in the time between those visits to ensure you are at your healthiest? Most people equate physical health with overall health, but the reality is that a strong mind is just as important as a healthy body.
So, what exactly is mind-body connection? Basically, it's the science of how our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. Think of how your body responds to stress: elevated heart rate, shortened breath, headache, perspiration, etc. If you trained your mind to cope with stressors in a more productive way, your body wouldn't experience such a negative physiological reaction.
Improving the mind-body connection needn't be complicated. Here are some simple ways you can reap both mental and physical benefits:
- Read and learn new things often.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time.
- Spend time outside.
- Listen to music.
- Incorporate healthy sleep habits.
- Follow guided meditations and/or breathing exercises.
- Practice gratitude.
Use the following strategies and resources to take your mind-body connection—and overall health— to the next level:
- Free JHU Calm app subscription. Guided sleep, meditation, and relaxation content are accessible in the palm of your hand. Sign up for your free account now.
- 4-7-8 breathing. Try this simple breathing exercise to declutter your mind: Inhale for four, hold for seven, exhale for eight. Start with a small goal (one minute) and chart how long you can stay focused. Make it a personal challenge to see if each day you can practice for longer than the preceding one.
- Gratitude log. Use this template to keep a daily log to show what you are most grateful for. Refresh it by logging at the same time each day (morning or evening recommended).
- Resources for Living. Access additional resources on men's health and mind-body tools through Resources for Living. Use JHU for both the username and password.