Health & Fitness 2007:
Healthy young men need to cultivate a special long-term relationship--with a primary care physician.
But you're not sick, you say? That's exactly why you need to make contact now, so you can do a little preventative maintenance and head off any potential problems.
"Young men often don't have a family doctor or internist who they can identify as their care provider," says Dr. Leigh Hall, Sonoma County's deputy health officer. "They wait until they get sick, and then they don't have anybody, or they get sick and don't see anyone because it's too difficult."
Even after outgrowing their annual visit to the pediatrician, young women are urged to get checked each year by their OB/GYNs. It's important; plus, it gets them in the system and used to turning to medical personnel for advice and care.
"There aren't similar risks for men at those ages," Hall explains. "Women get drawn in by needing breast and pelvic exams, and men don't have that draw. It's important for young men to establish a relationship with a family doctor early on, even though they might not see them for a few years at a time."
Because there are things young males need to pay attention to. What's your blood pressure? High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which kills more men than any other illness. Know what your blood pressure is now, when you're young and healthy, and keep tabs on it as you age. Both young men and women should get their blood pressure checked every few years, Hall says.
How about your cholesterol level? Ask for a full HDL and LDL cholesterol test, so you know what's going on with your body.
"We know if you can manage cholesterol early, you can reduce the chance of heart disease and stroke," explains Dr. Kirk Pappas of the physical medicine and rehabilitation department at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa.
What's your body mass index? Your hereditary risk factors for illness? Your risk factors from poor nutrition, smoking or lack of exercise? All of these are things you should discuss with a primary-care physician or a health educator, to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
"If you don't want to give the drug companies all your money when you're old, do all you can to keep your body healthy when you're young," Pappas says.
If you're 22 years old, 25 pounds overweight, drive through the fast food joints on a regular basis and never exercise, your chances are good for developing diabetes in your 40s or 50s.
"We know that a certain percentage of our 15-year-olds today will be pre-diabetic when they're 20 or 25, and that number is going up; it's skyrocketing from 25 years ago," Pappas explains.
And, sorry guys, but have you checked your scrotum lately to be sure there aren't any lumps or other irregularities? The risk of testicular cancer is highest for males between 18 and 35 years old. If it's caught early, it's treatable. It if isn't caught early, sterility may be the least of the concerns.
But men, especially young men, tend to feel they're invincible. They often don't do simple things that can improve their chances of living longer, such as wearing a seat belt or a motorcycle helmet, or even just using sunscreen to ward off skin cancer.
"You are not going to live forever," Pappas warns. "You definitely need to have a relationship with a primary-care doctor who can relate to you and who you can relate to, and do all you can to reduce the possibility of chronic illness."
Most young men who do come into his office, Pappas says, come because their wives bring them in. "She says, 'I'm here because he wouldn't come in for three months.' The problem is, how do you encourage people who think they're indestructible to take care of themselves?"
One answer is having a variety of ways for patients to contact their doctors, Pappas says. "I have the worst trouble getting a 25-year-old to call back and let me know how he's doing, but if he can shoot me an e-mail, that's great."
Another answer is education. Pappas loves a Kaiser Permanente television ad that says, "Whoever lives longer, wins."
"They need to invest in their health," he says of these "indestructible" young males. "The more you invest in yourself to be healthy when you're young, the healthier you'll be when you're older."