By today's standards, age 50 still is unequivocally the prime of life. But as men age, their health concerns change. The key to protecting yourself is to have a yearly physical examination and routine health screenings.
An annual physical exam is not simply a time for doctors to examine men for obvious or hidden illness, says Dr. Gary Dorshimer, an internist at Pennsylvania Hospital in Phila-delphia. Its also an opportunity to discuss symptoms to look for and the importance of preventative care.
Beginning at age 50, risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses greatly increases, he says. Besides an annual physical exam that includes blood pressure screening, several routine tests can help 50+ men maintain good health:
Blood cholesterol test. This simple, yet life-saving, test helps evaluate your risk of heart disease by measuring the level of cholesterol in your blood. Men with a family history of heart disease and men who smoke or who have diabetes are at greater risk of high cholesterol.
Colon and rectal exam. A rectal examination and fecal occult blood test should be performed yearly once men reach 50 to detect suspicious polyps or colon cancer.
Dental exam. Regular dental examinations can detect gum disease, tooth decay, and the early signs of oral cancer. Men who smoke, chew tobacco, or those with poor dental hygiene especially are at risk for serious dental problems. Studies also show a strong connection between gum disease and the incidence of heart attack and stroke, making good oral hygiene even more important.
Depression screening. With time limits and general reluctance about talking about mental health, depression is often easily overlooked, Dorshimer suggests. Your doctor can refer you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist if you are feeling anxious or depressed.
Eye exam. Yearly eye exams are necessary to test for vision problems such as near- or far-sightedness, or glaucoma. Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of glaucoma are particularly at risk for developing eye problems, says the American Medical Association.
PSA test. The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is an essential blood test because early detection of prostate cancer often results in higher survival rates. The test measures levels of PSA, a protein in the blood, which usually is elevated in men with prostate cancer. Your doctor may recommend having the test earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer or are African-American.
Skin exam. The most reliable way to detect common skin cancers (melanoma, basal, and squamous cell cancer) is by having a dermatologist perform a visual examination of the entire body. See your doctor if you notice any suspicious or changing moles on your skin.
The key to disease prevention is to take your health into your own hands by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. Eat a well-balanced diet to control weight, Dorshimer says, and exercise at least three times per week.