June is National Men’s Health Month, when health officials across the country urge men to pay attention to their mind and bodies by getting health screenings and engaging in best practices to ensure their longevity.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control found that men are twice as likely to wait more than two years between doctor visits, despite the fact annual physicals are recommended. A Harvard study found that the gap in life expectancy between men and women has grown for decades, with women now expected to live five years longer than men.
Dr. Craig “P.J.” Perrinjaquet, a family physician at Centura Health’s High Country Healthcare in Frisco, said those statistics are usually driven by hard-headedness and denial.
“Men are notoriously good at denying health problems,” Dr. P.J. said. “The most common excuse I hear is they don’t have time to deal with that health stuff.”
Not seeing a doctor regularly can cost men more than time; it can cost them their lives. Heart disease, for example, is the nation’s most notorious silent killer. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, accounting for 1 out of 4 deaths in the U.S. More than half who die are men.
Dr. P.J. said cardiovascular disease can start at birth, with arteries starting to harden as soon as we’re out of the womb. High cholesterol, poor diet and lack of exercise all contribute to gradually clogged arteries throughout life, along with stress.
“During the Korean War, they screened soldiers and were surprised how all these young, teenage to 20-year-old guys had significant narrowing of coronary arteries,” Dr. P.J. said.
The CDC recommends all individuals — not just men — have their cholesterol checked once before puberty, once after puberty and then at least every 4 to 6 years as adults. For people with significant family history of heart disease, those screenings are recommended more frequently. As doctors always recommend, men should engage in regular cardiovascular exercise several times a week and seek to have a balanced, primarily plant-based diet low in salt, fat and sugar.
In the mountains, high altitude can exacerbate the effects of existing heart disease. Dr. P.J. strongly recommends anyone experiencing unusual tiredness, dizziness or chest pain to take a rest. Given what he knows about how stubborn men can be, it’s advice Dr. P.J. doesn’t give lightly.
“The statistics are pretty amazing at how many guys who have heart attacks still won’t go to the ER for chest pain,” he said. “They might stay home and blame it on indigestion, and don’t want to go through the hassle of seeing the doctor. Some of them are OK, some croak.”
Aside from heart disease, the CDC recommends men ages 59 to 70 get regular prostate screenings to protect against prostate cancer, the most common cancer among men aside from nonmelanoma skin cancer. Individuals should speak with their doctors about what other screenings and tests should be done.
Aside from naturally occurring health issues, mental health and substance abuse also are a significant health concern in Colorado men. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men died by suicide at a rate 3.5 times more than women in 2017, and white men in particular accounted for nearly 7 out of 10 suicide deaths that year. Summit County had a record 13 suicides in 2016, which was one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
Dr. P.J. attributed some of the issues surrounding mental health to the strong drinking culture. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, more than 1 in 5 Summit residents self-report excessive drinking.
“When drinking excessively, the ‘modern brain’ starts to shut down and the ‘caveman’ brain starts to take over,” Dr. P.J. said. “The caveman brain is impulsive, and combined with testosterone, all it wants to do is fight or have sex. That can lead to a lot of problems.”
Dr. P.J. strongly encouraged men to seek help when they think they might have a drinking problem or substance abuse disorder or sense something isn’t right about the way they’re feeling. Mental health disorders, he said, can be attributed to a whole range of genetic and situational reasons out of one’s control, and therefore can be chalked up as bad luck, not weakness.
“It is absolutely not a sign of weakness to get help for bad luck,” Dr. P.J. said. “All of a sudden, you can be in a really tough place for reasons you can’t control, and there is no shame to seek help out of it.”
Dr. P.J. said his best science-based recommendation is for individuals to rarely have more than one drink at a sitting and to not drink every day. He encourages daily drinkers to challenge themselves to see if they can abstain from drinking for one day to take more control of their lives, and to try to take smaller steps toward a brighter future from there.