Aging Gracefully as a Man
A few wrinkles around the eyes, gray hair, no hair — these are just a few of the outward signs men face in aging. You can’t stop it, but what you can do is embrace the process and age with stately grace. To do this, you’ll have to understand the risks that naturally rise as you get older and be willing to adopt preventative healthy habits.
Even though DNA and chance play major roles, there’s a lot you can do to control how well you age. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight, keeping up with recommended screenings and making the choice to not smoke can all contribute to a longer and better life.
Read on to know more about aging gracefully from the inside out.
Eat Well and Exercise
Paying attention to your overall health is the not-so-secret to prolonging your life while looking and feeling your best. Nutrition and exercise are especially important. According to Reza Hakkak, Ph.D., chair of Department of Dietetics and Nutrition and Associate Dean for Research at UAMS College of Health Professions, most deaths from heart disease, as well as stroke and diabetes, can be attributed to being overweight or obese. “There are several reports that say there is a link between obesity and chronic diseases development, such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death,” he says.
You can prevent diabetes and other diet-related diseases, by eating healthy and exercising regularly. Trade fried and high-fat foods for whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Put down the soda and pick up a glass of water.
“In Arkansas, we consume a diet that mostly has very high saturated fat, low fiber and low calcium.” Hakkak notes. “Of course, we are not eating enough vegetables, even though we are one of the most important states in agriculture.”
As for physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both, along with two days of strength training, per week.
Focus on Brain Power
Just like you work to maintain the rest of your body, you want to pay the same attention to keeping your brain in shape. Men are especially susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease so it’s important to be proactive in protecting brain health. According to Jeanne Y. Wei, M.D., Ph.D., the executive director of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatrics, “The reason why Alzheimer’s disease affects men more than women is because blood pressure tends to rise higher in middle-aged men, while blood pressure tends to rise later in women (usually after menopause). It is now more appreciated that elevated blood pressure in middle age is a major risk factor and predictor of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia in older age (after age 60).”
The National Institute on Aging reports that what we eat might affect the aging brain’s ability to think and remember. Healthy eating patterns have been associated with cognitive benefits in studies, but keeping blood pressure under control is still considered a stronger intervention.
Along with diet and exercise, appropriate health screenings are important steps you can take to age well. Make sure to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check with regular physicals, and don’t put off scheduling colonoscopy and prostate exams. These two tests can save your life. Colon screenings should begin at age 45, and prostate PSA blood tests should start in a man’s early 50s.
Recommended exams for men:
• Blood pressure test
• Cholesterol test
• Diabetes test
• Bone density test
• Testosterone screening
• PSA blood test
• Digital rectal exam
• Prostate exam
• Fecal occult blood test
• Vision and hearing exam
• Skin screening
• Dental exam
• Mental health screening
Smoking is a primary driver for chronic lower respiratory disease and a number of cancers, including lung, head and neck, esophageal, bladder and kidney. If you have smoked a pack or more a day for more than 30 years, you should get a lung cancer screening and CT scan. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Quit now to decrease your risk.
Love Your Colon
Next to lung cancer, colon cancer is the No. 2 deadliest cancer in the United States. It claims more than 50,000 lives each year. Ranga Balasekaran, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Northwest Gastroenterology in Bentonville and Springdale, urges patients to get their colonoscopies when it’s time. He warns people to not be misled by advertisements for at-home tests. They are only detection tests that turn positive if you already have cancer.
“Colonoscopy allows us to find precancerous polyps and remove them before they turn into colon cancer,” he explains. “So, take advantage of this life-saving test.”
If you’re hesitant to sign up for this type of exam because you imagine it could be pretty uncomfortable, rest assured: “The patient is kept very comfortable with anesthesia, and the camera diameter is only the size of your index finger,” Balasekaran says.
And, if you’re afraid of the bowel-cleaning process of the night before, you’ll be happy to hear the prep options have changed. Nowadays, there are multiple low-volume prep options, as well as a pill option.
Protect the Prostate
According to Matthew Kincade, M.D., a urologist at Arkansas Urology in Bentonville, men in their late teens and older are encouraged to do a testicular self-examination once a month to look for abnormal lumps or bumps. Once they reach their 50s, they should also get a yearly PSA blood test and an occasional digital prostate exam to screen for prostate cancer. It’s not just prostates, urologists can help with urinary problems, kidney stones, low testosterone, intimacy issues, infertility, blood in the urine and cancers of the urinary tract.
“Your urological health is also tied to your overall health, so things such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising and losing weight not only contribute to your overall health but to preventing a urological disease,” Kincade notes.
Maintaining good heart health can lessen occurrences of erectile dysfunction. Quitting smoking can decrease the risk of bladder and kidney cancer. Drinking the right amount of water can keep kidney stones away.
“Bottom line: If you improve your overall health, you will also improve your urological health,” Kincade says.
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