June is Men’s Health Month, a time for men to reflect on ways they can better care for themselves to be at their best for themselves and their families.
If you could ask your doctor what he or she wishes you would do to protect your health, you’d probably get many answers. However, you can be confident that many—if not most—of the answers would overlap with the list below.
1) Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit
Doctor’s appointments often require reiterating medical histories, trying to remember questions you want to ask, and then working to remember all of the answers the doctor has provided which can be stressful and intimidating. However, before going to your next visit, here are a few tips doctors provide to help the process go more smoothly:
- Keep an updated Medical History Card to have with you. (Your MyChart account can also contain this information.)
- Bring a list of any prescription drugs you are currently taking, as well as any alternative therapies, over-the-counter medications, etc. being used
- When experiencing symptoms, journal the dates, times, and activity that is occurring
- Make note of any questions you want to ask the doctor prior to the appointment, and bring a pen and paper to take notes on
- Help your doctor set the agenda for the visit – discuss up front what you want to talk about and concerns you’re having
- If a significant health concern is present, ask a trusted family member or friend to come along to help you remember the details of the appointment
- Notify your doctor if you are going to miss the appointment as soon as possible. Time is a precious commodity these days.
2) Avoid Tobacco Products
Few activities impact your health in a negative way as much as tobacco does. Tobacco increases your chance of cancer, heart attack/disease, stroke, and cataracts. Physically, if you quit, your likelihood of getting sick decreases, you will breathe more easily, and your skin will look healthier. Even the following lifestyle improvements can occur:
- You will have more money to spend on other things
- You will worry less about when and where you can smoke
- Your car, home, clothes and family won’t smell like smoke
- You will be able to smell food, flowers, and the world, in general, better
- Food will taste BETTER
Working to avoid tobacco products can make drastic changes in your life, positively. Talk with your doctor on how you can move towards quitting. Also note: the safety/efficacy of “vaping” and e-cigarettes is unknown and is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for smoking cessation.
3) Be Active, Get Moving, Exercise
Physical activity has a profound effect upon health. Despite this, physical activity has been engineered out of our daily lives and Americans have become largely inactive. However, in 2008, the Federal Government released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for the first time. These aim to decrease human inactivity and its consequences on health and move toward a prevention-oriented society.
The research tells us that as activity increases, more health benefits occur. To gain these benefits, you must take part in at least 150 minutes of activity each week. This is for all people no matter their age or size. However, the amount and type of activity needed depends on age and special conditions. But everyone should be active, their way.
For ages 18-64:
- A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity; or
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity; or
- An equal combination of the two
- Muscle strengthening activities of all muscle groups should be performed at least 2 days a week
For ages 65 years and older
- Follow adult guidelines but when not possible, be as active as abilities and conditions allow
- Do exercises that maintain or improve balance
- Those with chronic conditions and symptoms need to consult a health care provider about physical activity
For inactive individuals, how can you get started?
- Do what you can and always be looking for ways to do more
- Pick an activity you like that fits your lifestyle
- Gain support from family and friends
- Gradually build up over time – add more time and more days before increasing intensity
Exercise can be fun! Find the right activity for you and find a friend to enjoy it with.
4) Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially weight. Additionally, sleep also boosts brain power, lowers risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, and lessens the likelihood of getting sick. Sleep deprivation alters immune functions, both for acute illness like colds as well as longer-term health problems. Psychologically, you’ll have a lack of focus, poor attention, and learning inefficiencies if you are sleeping less than you should each night. But how much is the right amount?
You should prioritize getting at least 7 hours of sleep as often as possible! Less than that on a frequent basis may cause weight gain by affecting how our bodies process and store carbohydrates; and our hormone levels associated with appetite can be altered leading to cravings. Being tired and drowsy affects lives negatively in a number of ways.
For those who struggle with finding those seven hours each night, restless nights can occur due to stress, pain, various medications, caffeine, and untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Some tips to overcome these obstacles include:
- Avoiding naps
- Leaving LED and other lights dimmed or out of the bedroom. And avoid using light-emitting screens, like TV, tablets, smartphones and e-readers before bedtime.
- Staying away from caffeine after noon
- Keeping a nighttime temperature of below 76 degrees
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding those late night snacks
- Rethinking alcohol
- And even keeping a regular sleep schedule can continue helping your body sleep more soundly
If you do believe you have an untreated sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or insomnia, talk to a trusted healthcare professional.
5) Monitor Your Salt Intake
Sodium is an essential nutrient that controls blood pressure and helps your nerves and muscles work properly. You need the right amount – but not too much in order to stay healthy.
The average healthy person needs 1500mg per day or about a ½ teaspoon. The upper limit considered safe is 2300mg. Unfortunately, according to the American Heart Association, the average American age 2 and older consumes more than 3,400mg, way over the limit of what is considered healthy.
Sodium helps regulate fluids and blood pressure. Too much makes your body retain water, which puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet can help you keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
What is interesting is that most of the sodium that Americans eat does not come from salt added at the table. About 75 percent of dietary sodium comes from processed foods. Salt added at the table makes up about 6 percent. The top three sources of sodium in American diets are bread, cold cuts and cured meats, and pizza.
Note: Labels on prepared and packaged foods can be beneficial to tracking your salt intake. Look for words like salt or sodium but also sodium nitrate, sodium citrate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), or sodium benzoate.
When cooking, replace salt with flavorings such spices and herbs, vinegars such as balsamic vinegar, and citrus juices, such as lemon or lime juice
Some individuals should not consume more than 1,500mg per day, including those over the age of 50, African Americans, patients with high blood pressure, those with diabetes, and individuals who have chronic kidney disease. These populations are at higher risk of being affected by high salt intakes.
In part 2 of this article I’ll discuss the importance of hydration, the benefits of whole foods over supplements, Vitamin D, maintaining a balanced diet, and the importance of staying on top of annual screenings.