Top Three Resolutions Every Man Should Make

Mark Paulos, MD

As we head toward the start of another year, many of us make resolutions. Often those resolutions focus on healthier habits, like quitting smoking and losing weight.

For men, a new year is an opportunity to look at things differently when it comes to your health. Here are three resolutions you can make that can have a big impact on your overall health and wellness.

1. Listen to your body.

It is crucial for men to pay attention when things feel different. A change in sexual function can be a marker for more significant changes in overall health. Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex, was once considered a routine part of getting older, and something to just accept.

As it turns out, ED can be an important marker for cardiovascular risk, particularly in younger men. Suffering from ED is on par with smoking, having high cholesterol levels or having a family history of heart disease when it comes to predicting cardiovascular risk. ED also shares risks with heart disease including hypertension, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity.

A doctor’s evaluation of ED should include screening for all the traditional risks for heart disease and an estimation of cardiovascular risk for the next 10 years. Men with elevated baseline risk for heart disease or a high risk of heart attack or stroke who also have ED should have additional testing.

Here’s an example: A 48-year-old man has a history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease. He gets a yearly physical and knows he should change his diet and exercise more to improve his blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Yet he feels well, so he puts off making the necessary lifestyle changes. Over time he develops a problem with ED that keeps him from having sexual relations. He avoids situations that might lead to this intimacy. Over-the-counter treatments do not work, and he schedules an evaluation with a men’s health specialist.

Review of his blood work shows that his risk for heart disease is high despite his young age. The steady decline in sexual function suggests a vascular cause for his ED, and that increases his risk for heart disease even more. A coronary artery calcium score is arranged, and his test shows that he has significant coronary artery disease even though he is not symptomatic. Fortunately, he did not yet have a heart attack. He passes a stress test and starts working with a cardiologist on better management of his risk factors. Now he is eating more nutritious foods and exercising and has added years to his life.

2. Keep up with cancer screening.

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is second most common cancer in men, and the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. Prostate cancer can be present without causing any symptoms, which is why screening is so important.

Screening for prostate cancer can be done with a blood test to check your prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, and a digital rectal exam (DRE) may be included. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate, and elevated blood levels of PSA may indicate a high risk for prostate cancer. A nodule detected on physical exam may also indicate risk.

Six major medical societies have published recommendations for prostate cancer screening. This has created confusion about how to screen, how often to screen and at what age to start and stop screening. What all the guidelines agree on is that screening should be a shared decision-making process between patients and providers. Characteristics such as age, health status and life expectancy factor in, and the risks and benefits of screening tests should be considered. African American men and men who have a first degree relative with prostate cancer are at higher risk and should consider screening as young as 40 years old.

3. Maintain good mental health.

We all experience stress at home and at work, and we tend to accept stress as an everyday part of life. When our ability to adapt to stress becomes overwhelmed, we begin to experience its negative effects.

Stress can cause;

  • physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, low libido, or stomach upset
  • behavioral symptoms, such as overeating, social withdrawal, angry outbursts, not exercising, or substance abuse
  • psychological symptoms, including restlessness, lack of mental focus, feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed

Men are less inclined than women to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment when they experience a problem like depression. They are also more likely to appear angry or aggressive instead of sad, and the diagnosis can sometimes be missed.

Common symptoms of depression in men include:

  • anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • feeling restless or “on the edge”
  • loss of interest in work, family, or other once pleasurable activities
  • problems with sexual desire and performance
  • feeling sad, “empty,” flat or hopeless
  • not being able to concentrate or remember details
  • feeling very tired, not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
  • overeating or losing appetite
  • inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family or other important activities
  • engaging in high risk activities
  • using alcohol or drugs
  • withdrawing from family and friends or becoming socially isolated

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should first talk with your primary care provider for an evaluation and to discuss treatment options.

For men dealing with depression, maintaining social connections, and staying close to family and friends can be helpful. Also:

  • Find a friend or family member that you trust and tell them how you are feeling.
  • Stay active and keep exercising.
  • Regular exercise has been shown to help with mild to moderate depression.
  • Break up large tasks into smaller ones and take things “one step at a time.”
  • Eat a healthy diet, keep regular sleeping hours, and avoid alcohol.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health is also a good resource for information on depression, and there are online communities like headsupguys.org and the Movember Foundation that offer a lot of helpful tips on managing depression and suicide prevention.

As we begin a new year, we hope men will take this opportunity to pay attention to their bodies and seek help when needed. Learn more about our Men’s Health Center and how our team can help you.

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