In honor of Men’s Health Month, we asked health experts what mistakes they see guys make time and again. The good news? They’re very fixable. Check out this list of the biggest complaints, and do a gut check—are you guilty?
1. Not going to the doctor regularly. Yes, the idea that men avoid doctors like the plague is a stereotype, but like so many, it’s based in reality. “Generally, I do find that men come to the doctor at their female partner’s request,” says Dr. Damon Raskin, internist and supervising M.D. for Ageless Men’s Health Facility, with branches in several states across the U.S. Women may get into good habits in their teens, when they start annual screenings for cervical cancer and begin using contraceptives. But men should also make a yearly physical a priority. If nothing else, it helps establish and maintain a good relationship with your doctor, so that when medical problems arise, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing them. “The cornerstone of good health is that doctor-patient relationship,” Raskin says.
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2. Ignoring snoring. “Many men laugh off snoring as something everyone does,” says Dr. Nitun Verma, medical director of the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders in Fremont, Calif. But in fact, it’s often a sign of sleep apnea, a condition in which sufferers actually stop breathing briefly during sleep, which can cut off oxygen flow to the brain. “Severe apnea increases the risks for stroke and heart attack by 300 percent,” Verma says. If your partner teases you or complains about your snoring, it’s time to bring it up with your doc.
3. Acting like an elite athlete at the gym. The old adage, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” doesn’t apply to exercise—but that doesn’t stop many men from rushing into a rigorous, complicated fitness routine when encouraged to get more active. (If your doctor has referred to you as a “weekend warrior,” we’re talking to you.) “CrossFit isn’t a bad form of exercise, but it’s very, very difficult for most people,” says Dr. Rob Pomahac, chiropractor and owner of the MaxHealth clinic in Los Angeles, Calif. “I see a lot of injuries from fitness routines that are way too complicated.” If your personal trainer seems more concerned with coming up with a “creative” workout, or the instructor of your group fitness class encourages competition in a way that seems dangerous, it’s time to find something new. “Start with the basics and do what you can handle,” Pomahac says. An injury that takes you out of the gym for months—or restricts your activity in some capacity forever—is just not worth whatever chest-thumping satisfaction you might get from an extreme fitness routine.
4. Avoiding talk about feelings. You may have already learned the hard way that this can mess up your relationships. But keeping your emotions inside is also a habit that can endanger your health. “I see a lot more women coming in and talking about mood disorders, depression and insomnia,” Raskin says. “Men don’t like to talk about emotional things, and they think they can get by on their own and let things go.” But untreated mood disorders can affect both your quality of life and your physical health. A short blue period is normal every now and then, but don’t try to just power through emotional issues that are affecting your day-to-day life.
5. Self-diagnosing and treating sexual problems. You may have seen the commercials for “Low T” (low testosterone) and recognized some of the symptoms, like lower sex drive or erectile dysfunction. But don’t try to bypass an embarrassing conversation with your doctor and treat these concerns yourself with supplements, herbs or other products you can buy without a prescription—which are at best useless and at worst potentially dangerous. Hypogonadism (which causes testosterone to drop) is an increasingly common problem in men as they age, Raskin says, especially if they are obese or have diabetes. So don’t hesitate to seek treatment, just do it via your doctor. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)
6. Being vague when describing symptoms or downplaying them. So you do get an annual physical—great! But allow your doc one nitpick: “Men tend to be less descriptive and minimize their symptoms,” Raskin says. Be as matter-of-fact as possible when describing any complaints to your doctor, and don’t worry that he won’t think you’re tough. Explain how long you’ve had symptoms, whether they come and go or are steadily increasing and what triggers them. You can also rate your pain on a scale of one to 10, or compare it to other pain or symptoms you’ve experienced in your life.