To get men into the doctor’s office often requires more than just a push — it takes a shove. It may be the “toughen up” mindset instilled in many men early on. Or it could be the fear of getting a bad diagnosis. But the fact is, unless something is causing severe pain or interfering with their sex lives, men typically do not seek out healthcare.
Unfortunately, this hesitancy to see a physician may mean that some very treatable conditions are discovered too late, resulting in more serious health problems. To alter this “last resort” approach to healthcare requires a bottom-up approach: not just responding to problems that arise, but educating men about their health and encouraging them to take preventive measures.
Unlike women, who have clear guidelines in place for routine checkups, men typically stop making annual doctor’s visits in adolescence. If they’re healthy, annual follow-up may not be necessary. But if there is a family history of disease like prostate cancer or heart disease, then touching base with a physician regularly, especially once men reach middle age, is a good idea. Just getting a check on blood pressure and weight can be effective at heading off some major problems.
A common denominator among the men who do find their way to the doctor’s office today is obesity. Excess weight contributes to everything from heart disease to erectile dysfunction. In fact, many men don’t realize that 70 percent of urologic problems are caused by or exacerbated by obesity. Fundamental to combating weight gain is exercise.
You can eat well and take your vitamins, but there’s just no substitute for exercise. It is a universal “fountain of youth.”
Race for wellness
We kicked off the Charlottesville Men’s Four-Miler event eight years ago because we wanted to be more proactive in our efforts to educate men on preventive healthcare. We want to encourage them to get moving and alter their lifestyles for the better.
The race itself gives some men the element of competition needed to keep them motivated. But all men, despite their fitness level, are encouraged to come out and participate. Perhaps the most impactful part of the event is the training program that takes place prior to the race.
Each week, between 40 and 100 men participate in the training. At the start of each session, guest physicians give a quick two-minute health talk on a variety of topics. Then they begin stealth health sessions, which include exercises that don’t feel like a typical workout. Men are encouraged to set their own unique goals, whether it’s losing weight or completing an eight-minute mile. Achieving a set goal is the best motivator for making lasting change.
This year’s Charlottesville Men’s Four-Miler (www.mensfourmiler.com) will take place at 7:30 a.m. June 17 at UVa’s Scott Stadium. We chose Father’s Day for this annual event because it’s a great day not only to honor the men in your life, but also to encourage them to stay healthy. When dads, sons and grandfathers cross that finish line together, we hope they’ll realize the importance of routine exercise.
Funds raised through the Men’s Four-Miler will help further University of Virginia Health System’s efforts to provide a customized approach to men’s healthcare. Still in the early phases of discussion, this Men’s Health Improvement and Performance Initiative one day will allow us to establish a Men’s Health Clinic, providing men an environment they feel comfortable in and the multidisciplinary support they need to become better advocates for their health.
Dr. William Steers is the Paul Mellon Professor and chair of the Department of Urology at the University of Virginia Health System.