Be an Older and Wiser Man With a Total Well-being Workout
Men who care about their vitality should look beyond fitness or stamina. Cancer and other diseases are dangers for older men who haven’t had proper access to care. Being a better man requires not just sexual health or the absence of disease but also mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Men must see their health more holistically to avoid the most common men’s health issues.
Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the most common causes of death in older men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though COVID-19 has killed more men than stroke over the last two years, all these diseases are killing Black and Latino men at an earlier age than other men. Their life expectancy is lower due to not only the pandemic but also health and social disparities and knowledge gaps that affect lifestyle choices. When men of color get less access to holistic health care, illness is not discovered till it appears in advanced stages or multiple conditions that set back recovery.
Cases of the most common cancers in men—prostrate, lung and colon or rectal cancers—are higher for Blacks than for other races. In fact, with almost every major disease that gets progressively worse over time, Black men have a higher risk than men of other ethnicities. More access to preventive care can help even the odds: Taking early steps can head off disease or make it easier to manage. Holistic solutions positively impact the social determinants of health, the external factors from violence to income, housing or education that exert a huge influence on health outcomes.
Men of color must watch their reproductive health even as they age. Older Black and Latino men have higher rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Surprisingly, these higher rates are due not to unknown risk factors but more likely to two common causes: an attitude that may not appreciate the importance of good reproductive health and the increased use of erectile dysfunction medication.
“More men are having to take medications for erectile dysfunction, which allow them to be more adventurous,” said Dr. Pete Thomas, a practicing internal medicine doctor on the executive team of Howard Brown Health in Chicago. “But they're not always familiar with the things you need to do to protect yourself from STDs. As men, we need to be more selective in who you decide to be sexually active with.” Also, older adults need to be frank about their sexual activity, with their doctors and their partners. Safe sex may mean not only condoms but also lubrication to prevent them from breaking and compensate for a partner’s vaginal dryness.
Tests All Older Men Need for Good Health
Blood tests can look for biochemical signs that detect diseases in the earliest stages:
- Hemoglobin A1C or blood glucose tests, a marker for diabetes.
- Vitamin D to maintain bone health and lower the risk for cancer and heart disease.
- PSA (prostate-specific antigen), a protein the prostate produces at higher levels if inflamed. The inflammation can be caused by cancer, or simply pressure or enlargement.
Every year, Thomas recommends that older men get what he calls the “A, B, C, D and P” tests. The A stands for hemoglobin A1c, which should measure below 5.4%. B stands for blood pressure tests for hypertension. Readings should be below 140/80. The C stands for cholesterol and colonoscopy. LDL or “bad cholesterol’ should below 120. The D is Vitamin D: It should be above 50 ng/mL. P stands for PSA; 4 ng/mL or less is normal.
Your doctor may also send you a colon cancer self-test kit to use at home. A small stool sample will be tested at a lab to see if blood is there. At least every 10 years, the doctor may schedule a colonoscopy to look for polyps or cancers.
Don’t wait to contact the doctor’s office if you have any of these symptoms:
- Blood in urine, frequent or sudden urge to urinate, difficulty starting urination, back pain on one side or erectile dysfunction. All are signs of prostrate and bladder cancer.
- Blood in stool. While it often results from hemorrhoids, blood also is a symptom of colorectal cancer.
- Painful urination, discharge from penis, tender and swollen testicles or puss in urine. These can be signs of sexually transmitted diseases.
“Get rid of this idea that the doctor is the only person on your team,” Thomas added. “Get to know the nurse or the medical assistants. Doctors can’t get you an appointment. They can’t get you authorization from your insurance company. All of that comes from these other vital team members.”
To take away the risks of sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and stress, men can enlist not only their entire care team, but also the people in their lives. The largest risk comes from the social determinants of health. When men and their families find ways to unwind, head off conflicts and form better habits—including regular doctor’s visits—they will live longer, healthier and more enjoyable lives.