The life expectancy for men may be increasing, but health experts say men still need to pay more attention to their bodies.
The Institutes for Health Metrics and Evaluation reports that between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy for males in the U.S. grew by 4.6 years. A boy born today can expect to live to just over 78 years (compared with a girl living to about 82).
Even though they are exercising more and smoking less, men still have some factors working against them. They don't seek medical help as often as women, they drink more and smoke more, and many are defined by their work, which adds a lot of stress.
Several health conditions also specifically affect men. Prostate and testicular cancer, low testosterone and heart disease are a few. Screening tests can find many problems early, so it's important to have regular check-ups.
Dr. Johnnie Cook, a family physician at Intermountain Healthcare in Layton, said physical exams on a regular basis can detect many serious health problems. Men should have a colonoscopy at the age of 50 -- sooner if they have a family history of early colon cancer.
Although the prostate blood test is controversial right now, Cook still recommends getting it at age 40 and a digital rectal exam of the prostate at age 50. Blood pressure and cholesterol should also be checked, as well as screening for alcohol and tobacco use and updating immunizations.
"Alcohol in excess can cause liver damage or failure, pancreatitis, anemia, cancer, dementia, car crashes and DUIs, depression, seizures, gout, hypertension and nerve damage," Cook said.
Blood pressure under 140/90 is recommended, but if a man has diabetes, heart disease or kidney problems, the goal should be under 130/80, Cook said. A total cholesterol of 200 or less is recommended, with triglycerides less than 150, HDL of at least 40, and LDL of under 100.
Dr. James Reynolds, a urologist at Tanner Clinic in Layton, said men also should have their testosterone levels checked.
"When I have patients come in and tell me they're tired, have lost their sex drive, are emotional or have muscle wasting, I have their testosterone levels checked," Reynolds said.
Testosterone, a hormone produced in the testicles, helps men maintain bone density, muscle mass, sex drive, fat distribution and red blood cell production. In the last few years, Reynolds said, he has seen more patients presenting with symptoms.
"We can replace testosterone with medication, but there are pros and cons to it," he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic, testosterone therapy can contribute to sleep apnea and cause the body to make too many red blood cells -- which may increase the risk of heart disease, cause acne, stimulate noncancerous growths of the prostate, or stimulate existing prostate cancer to grow more rapidly, enlarge breasts and limit sperm production.
Keeping a healthy weight also is important, said both local physicians.
A body mass index between 19 and 25 is the goal. Anything above that can increase the risk of developing arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer, heart disease, stroke and gallbladder disease.
Extra weight in the abdomen appears to bring more risk than obesity in other areas of the body.
"If all men were to exercise on a regular basis, have an appropriate diet with many fruits, vegetables and whole grains, maintain an appropriate weight, sleep well and limit stress, I'd be treating much less diabetes, hypertension, depression, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera," Cook said.
NEXT WEEK: When exercise increases a man's risk of heart attack