Men: Don’t wait for a health crisis

Face it. If you’re male and over 45, you’re likely not too keen on visiting the doctor. Just ask any spouse.

“People do slack off as they get into middle age,” says Dr. Akbar Panju, professor and acting chair in the department of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., “They don’t take care of things.”

But staying on top of your health can mean the difference between a chronic issue in your senior years – like a heart attack, stroke, or the onset of diabetes – and a healthy retirement.

Dr. Larry Goldenberg, director of development and supportive care at Vancouver Prostate Centre and the chairman of the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, says men need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Incontinence doesn’t have to be the result of anything sinister, however; it can happen because of an overuse of stimulants – such as drinking multiple coffees – or sitting through a three-hour meeting

“Body Mass Index and weight are the central issues,” he says. “But men should know their family history, they should know their body. There are things they can do to decrease their risks in later life.”

As they get older, a number of conditions, many of them preventable, can creep up on men, says Dr. Goldenberg. He says that if men do just two things – exercise and manage their weight – they have the potential to stave off a large number of chronic problems.

The good news is that staying on top of health issues is easier than ever. Dr. Goldenberg says a good place to start is by doing a quick health survey at, which assesses men for health risks.

“Spend 10 minutes less watching the hockey game – and take the test,” he says. “If it says you’re at high risk, go see a doctor.”

Here are the health concerns that should be on your radar:

1. Heart attacks and strokes. “Blood pressure is the silent killer,” says Dr. Panju. It needs to be checked regularly. “Go to a local drugstore and get a free blood pressure reading,” advises Dr. Goldenberg. If it’s high – above 135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada – see your doctor.

It’s also a good idea to get your cholesterol measured every five years, says Dr. Goldenberg, to prevent fatty deposits from accumulating in your arteries and raising your heart attack risk.

Dr. Panju says that if you have a family history of heart disease before age 60, you need to have your heart checked out. Having a high level of stress, smoking and being inactive also increase this risk and warrant a visit.

To minimize your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, include exercise in your weekly schedule. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults aged 18 years and older should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity every week.

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2. Skin cancer. If you’re fair and have blue or green eyes, you’re at higher risk of skin cancer – but everyone is at risk. Look for unusual changes in your skin, such as the appearance of moles with irregular borders or that are bleeding, rapid growth of skin lesions or darkening or ulceration of existing moles. “You should be doing self-screening,” says Dr. Panju, and check in with a dermatologist every one to three years for a full body check.

3. Colon and bowel cancer. The risk of colon cancer increases after age 50 – but when caught early, it can be treated effectively. Dr. Panju suggests doing a fecal occult blood test, which looks for the presence of blood in the stool and can be done at home. If you’re at high risk because of a family history, or have symptoms such as rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits, talk to your doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy.

4. Prostate cancer. Though there’s controversy about the value of regular prostate screening, says Dr. Panju, he suggests having a prostate exam if you’re over 50 or considered high-risk due to a family history. Of course, if you’re having symptoms such as difficulty urinating or pain during urination, blood in the urine or loss of bladder control, get checked.

5. Incontinence. Dr. Sam Chun, assistant professor in the department of urology at Dalhousie University in Dartmouth, N.S., says that if a man is experiencing incontinence at 45, he should be checked for an infection, an early sign of diabetes, or a neurological problem. Incontinence doesn’t have to be the result of anything sinister, however; it can happen because of an overuse of stimulants – such as drinking multiple coffees – or sitting through a three-hour meeting. But “have someone check it out,” says Dr. Chun.

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6. Low testosterone. Testosterone levels can drop as you get older. If you’re feeling more sluggish than usual, are less interested in sex, have trouble sustaining an erection or are experiencing hair loss or loss of muscle mass, your testosterone may be low. Low testosterone can lead to low mood and bone loss, so it’s critical you ask your doctor for a simple blood test that can determine your level. Testosterone therapy may be offered but it comes with side effects – so discuss these with your physician.


If you’re having prostate, bladder or kidney issues that are causing incontinence, there are things you can do.

Get enough water
Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day can help your bladder function properly.

Change your diet
Opt for foods that aren’t spicy, and avoid chocolate and citrus fruit, as all of these can irritate your bladder. Avoid drinking coffee and alcohol, which can cause more frequent urination.

Don’t strain your bladder Don’t force yourself to go when you don’t really have to. This can weaken your bladder and make things worse.

Exercise to strengthen your pelvic floor
If your incontinence is caused by weak pelvic floor muscles – a condition called stress incontinence – strengthening them through regular exercise can help control leaks. Talk to your GP or a pelvic physiotherapist about which exercises are safe for you.

Keep a positive outlook
Urinary incontinence is more common than most people realize – and it's manageable. TENA Men’s line of guards and underwear will keep you feeling dry and fresh, and give you peace of mind.

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with Robinsons.

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