Published: 15 June 2022
This Men’s Health Week, we look at the simple checks men should add to their routines to catch problems early and help you lead a healthier life
Convinced those new symptoms will go away on their own? You’re not alone. Men don’t live as long as women and this may be partly because they go to the doctor less frequently, ignore unusual symptoms for longer and even withhold information as they don’t want to deal with the diagnosis they may be given if they tell the truth. So, for Men’s Health Week (13-19 June 2022), give yourself an MOT by carrying out these five important health checks.
1) Get screened for diabetes
Men are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as women. Diabetes is a serious condition caused by high blood sugar levels, which can lead to damage of the eyes, heart and feet. It occurs when the pancreas does not release enough insulin to turn glucose in the blood into fuel for the body.
‘In men, type 2 diabetes is more frequently diagnosed at a lower age and in those with a lower body mass index than in women. Obesity, which is the most prominent risk factor, is also less common in men than in women,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, a registered nutritionist and nutritional therapist, and author of more than 70 health books.
The reasons for this discrepancy are not fully understood and can give men a false sense of security. ‘Get screened for diabetes if you haven’t had a check-up in the last few years,’ advises Dr Brewer. ‘And get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked at the same time.’
Health checks can help to spot early signs of serious conditions such as stroke, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia. Although these checks are available through the NHS, they can also be accessed with a Vitality health insurance plan, alongside a range of other primary care services.
Vitality members aged 18 or over can get an annual face-to-face or virtual Vitality Healthcheck and earn Vitality points. Visit the Vitality Healthcheck page to find out more.
2) Catch prostate cancer early
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, affecting one in eight. Most at risk are those aged over 50, or over 45 if there’s a history of prostate cancer in the family, and black men. The earlier you catch prostate cancer, the more likely you are to survive it, but it usually starts without any symptoms so can be difficult to spot.
Positioned under the bladder, the prostate gland surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine) and naturally grows bigger as you get older. This enlargement squeezes the urethra and interferes with urinary flow – so as you grow older you may find you need to rush to the toilet, wee more frequently, start and stop mid-flow, dribble urine, have a sensation of not fully emptying your bladder or feel discomfort.
‘Prostate cancer can produce some of these symptoms, too,’ explains Dr Brewer. ‘Don’t assume that any urinary problems are due to the benign enlargement of the prostate gland – see your doctor if you develop any of the above symptoms.’
Try this prostate cancer risk checker to find out if you are in one of the main risk groups. If you are, or have any symptoms, ask your GP about the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which checks if you have higher than normal levels of the PSA protein in the blood. Men with a PSA level over four nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) have a 25% chance of having prostate cancer. Over 10ng/ml and the chance of prostate cancer is more than 50%.
However, raised PSA levels can also be caused by other conditions, and the PSA test may not catch all cancers, so you’ll need further invasive testing (a biopsy) to know for sure. If you are a Vitality member, you can book a GP appointment via Care Hub to discuss getting a PSA test and a referral to a specialist for further tests if they are needed.
3) Check your waist, not your weight
You can find out if you’re a healthy weight for your height by checking your body mass index (BMI). However, your BMI can’t tell if you’re carrying too much fat as it can’t tell the difference between fat, muscle and bone, so you also need to check your waist measurement.
Men are naturally designed to hold less fat than women, but they tend to store excess fat around their waist and become ‘apple-shaped’ due to the effects of the hormone testosterone. Being an apple shape significantly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, unwanted blood clots, coronary heart disease and stroke. A man’s waist should measure less than 94 cm (37in) to be healthy. If your waist measures more than this, contact your GP urgently to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
While being an apple shape is a visible sign of fat in the body, what about the fat you can’t see? Visceral fat is found inside the body, wrapped around your vital organs, and is far more common in men than women.
‘Visceral fat secretes hormones, free fatty acids and inflammatory substances that pass into the circulation and are taken to the liver,’ explains Dr Brewer. ‘In the circulation, these substances promote hardening of the arteries and cause a rise in blood pressure. In the liver, these substances stimulate the production of excess cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose.’
However, according to Dr Brewer, even a modest weight loss will improve your blood fats, lower blood pressure and provide a general improvement in health and quality of life. ‘Much of your initial weight loss comes from visceral fat, so if you lose 5-10% of your body fat, you could lose around 30-40% of your visceral fat,’ she says.
4) Check your heart health
Are you young at heart? Men have a higher incidence of heart failure than women and tend to be younger when diagnosed.
The online NHS heart health check can give you an idea of what your heart age is compared to your real age. You’ll also get advice on healthy lifestyle changes to give your heart some extra years.
A blood pressure check is also included in the face-to-face Vitality Healthcheck, available to members over 18. Those with a VitalityHealth plan can also have a follow-up consultation with a Vitality GP for advice on improving their results. Find out more on the Vitality Healthcheck page.
Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, with only the occasional consumption of red meat, and regular aerobic exercise will help to keep your ticker healthy.
5) Treat ‘male menopause’
Although menopause is a female condition, you’ll sometimes hear people talk about the ‘male menopause’. An estimated 6-12% of men aged 40 to 70 have testosterone deficiency syndrome (TDS), which increases the risk of a number of health problems including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
‘Symptoms include a reduced sex drive, erectile difficulties, loss of early-morning erections, mood swings and difficulties in concentrating and thinking straight, as well as a lack of energy and sleep problems,’ explains Dr Brewer. ‘See your doctor if you are experiencing two or more of these, especially if your muscle bulk is shrinking while your waistline is expanding.’
While simple steps such as losing weight, increasing exercise, reducing stress and heavy alcohol consumption or stopping a medication may help, treatment with testosterone replacement therapy may be needed to get you back to normal.
So there you have it: five quick health checks for men that may even save your life.
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