Focus on Health

doctor holding a sign

By Nick Yphantides, MD, MPH

Men of TOPS, I’d like to use my column to have a frank discussion on something very practical you can do to protect—and promote—your health and personal well-being. I promise you this won’t be about losing weight, exercising more, drinking less or quitting smoking. You’ve heard that all before.

No, my bottom line up front is to get you more comfortable with going to the doctor. I want you to overcome any hesitation you have in using the healthcare system in a strategic and timely manner. If you typically wait to see a doctor until you are sick, in pain or when health issues become unbearable, you are missing an important opportunity to take advantage of timely, proactive and preventive health screening services, which contribute greatly to living a healthy and balanced life.

At the risk of starting off with a negative twist, the truth is men tend to die earlier than women do. A Harvard Medical School publication notes that the average life span for women is around five years longer than men in the United States. A mixture of factors probably contributes to this unfortunate reality, some of which may be related to the fact that men are less socially connected, have more dangerous jobs and are likely to take more risks than women do, including smoking tobacco and abusing alcohol.

From my perspective and experience as a physician, there is another simple factor to consider: Men just don’t schedule as many medical appointments as women do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men are half as likely as women to visit a physician over a two-year period.

Fight the Fear

I can totally relate from personal experience that we guys consider ourselves to be too busy, and may have fear, shame or discomfort that keeps us away from seeing a doctor. To be even more specific, I know many men who have real fears about the rectal exams. They also worry and feel shame about being naked in front others, especially if they are struggling with being overweight or suffering from obesity.

However, physicians (both male and female) are very sensitive to these issues and deal with them constantly. The most important thing to remember is how timely checkups and age-appropriate health screenings can end up saving your life. All physicians are eager to provide proactive prevention by either catching issues early or before they can even develop. By waiting until the last moment to seek medical help, men are at a greater risk of having more complicated and severe diseases further down the road, making treatment much more difficult.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

man fixing car

To further illustrate my point, I want to “drive home” the message with a car maintenance comparison. We bring our cars in to our mechanics for regular maintenance, oil changes, new filters and other diagnostics rather than driving them into the ground. You take care of your car so you can drive it comfortably and get as many miles out of it as you can. Your body is the same way. Regular checkups and preventive screenings help maintain your health for the long haul.

So, you may be wondering how often you should go in for a general checkup and for preventive health screening testing. Much of that depends on your age, race, and current and baseline health status, as well as other factors such as family history and genetic risk. During your initial visit, your doctor will come up with a customized checkup schedule based on your current health and lifestyle.

Most physicians recommend adult males be checked annually for high blood pressure, cholesterol and various sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), depending on their lifestyles and personal behaviors. Starting at 50 years of age, men are encouraged to have annual screenings for colorectal cancer unless there is a family history of cancer, which means screenings may be needed earlier. Screenings for other cancers, depression and diabetes will be guided by family history and the other factors mentioned earlier. For men in their mid-40s, it’s a good time to commit to the annual routine physical exam.

No More Excuses


Some of you may need to re-evaluate your attitudes toward doctors and get more comfortable with the idea of using them as a strategic resource. Use these resources to be a strong and healthy man for the benefit of you and your loved ones. I always say: Our health is our most precious gift. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing else. Your self-image, pride and insecurities are secondary to having a positive attitude toward doing all you can to protect and improve your health. I urge you to hear me out on this important issue, rather than be stubborn and rigid.

I’ll leave you with a relevant quote I recall hearing from the late martial art expert Bruce Lee:

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”

Nick Yphantides, MD, MPH, is the Medical Editor for TOPS and the author of My Big Fat Greek Diet. He also serves as the Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County and is the Founding Co- Chair of its Childhood Obesity Initiative. At one time weighing more than 450 pounds, “dr. Nick” understands the bumps along a weight-loss journey