How can we live a healthier life? In recent columns, I've been concentrating on health promotion for different groups of people. Let's take a look at the current major health recommendations for men who are over 50, beginning with recommendations that are critically important for everyone:•Be tobacco-free. The first step is making that serious decision to quit, and for some, that's all it takes. Many, however, find success with various medications. The old standards typically involve some form of nicotine, whether administered through a patch, gum, or cigarette-type device. Chantix is the newest medication; work with your doctor to choose the best treatment for you. •Be physically active. If you aren't already, begin today. Start slow, and advance gradually. Park your car further away from your destination…Use the stairs instead of the elevator…Take your children or grandchildren for a walk or to the park. Think of yourself as an active person. This may involve a significant shift in your mind-set! •Consume a healthy diet. Simply put, consume "real" food, not processed food. The more real the food, the more nutritionally valuable it is. Make sure that these foods are a major part of your diet: beans, nuts, fruit, vegetables, soy, low or no-fat dairy, fish, chicken, turkey, and 100% whole grains. Just say no to saturated fats, trans fats, fast foods, snack foods, salt and sugar. •Stay at a healthy weight. If your weight is rising, you are consuming more calories than your body, genetics, and level of activity demand. Balance the calories you consume with the lifestyle you lead. •Drink alcohol in moderation. If you are over 65, consume no more than one drink per day. If you are under 65, two drinks is the maximum. Remember that one 12-ounce beer has the same amount of alcohol as either five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. •Take baby aspirin IF it is indicated for you for the prevention of atherosclerosis-related diseases such as stroke and heart attack. Ask your doctor whether your own unique risk factors justify taking a medication that does have side effects, such as the possibility of bleeding ulcers. •Get the annual flu vaccine; it is recommended for men over 50. Vaccinations are also available for pneumonia and shingles, and a tetanus vaccine is recommended every ten years. Ask your doctor which immunizations are appropriate for you. Part of prevention is keeping up with relevant screening tests. Here are the main ones to look for: •Screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm may be recommended if you are male, between the ages of 65 to 75, and have a history of cigarette smoking and hypertension. The aorta is our largest artery, and the section that passes through the abdomen is particularly prone to dilating and rupturing. Speak to your doctor about whether this test is appropriate for you. •After the age of 50, have a screening colonoscopy to check for colorectal cancer. If you ever notice blood in the stool, let your doctor know immediately. Your annual physical exam also typically includes a rectal test to detect blood. Early detection of colorectal cancer saves lives. •Diabetes is easily screened through a blood test for fasting blood sugar levels. Common symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, always feeling dehydrated, weight loss, and fatigue. •Have your blood pressure checked each time you go to the doctor. Since hypertension is a risk factor for many diseases, including heart attack, stroke, blindness, and kidney disease, it is critical to know whether you have it, and to have it treated. •High cholesterol can be detected through another simple blood test. High cholesterol is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, which leads to clogged arteries, heart attacks and stroke. It can be treated and controlled. •Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and warts can all be detected with appropriate tests. If you (or your partner) have been sexually active outside of a monogamous relationship, inform your doctor and be tested. •Obesity screening compares your weight to your height (and accounts for bone structure). Being overweight is a risk factor for many conditions including arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease. It can be tough, but achieving proper body weight is very important for disease prevention. •Don't neglect your eyes. Glaucoma, and some types of macular degeneration can be treated if detected early on. Schedule periodic eye exams. •Chest x-rays and EKGs, once a standard part of the physical exam, need not be done routinely. For smokers, however, an annual chest x-ray may be a good idea, especially if you have respiratory or heart complaints. •Finally, men have a major problem area that women do not: the prostate. We can screen for prostate troubles through the rectal exam, the PSA lab test, and from urinary symptoms. What to do with that information is a complex issue, and becomes more controversial with age. Discuss this with your physician. I always recommend that you make a checklist, bring it with you to your doctor's office, and make sure that everything that is appropriate gets done. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I wish you good health! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and current chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: January 22, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 40