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6 Ways You’re Harming Your Health
How you can stop doing damage and live your best, healthiest life
By Heather Morse

You might think you’re healthy, but you’re probably guilty of at least one of these medical don’ts. Find out what you’ve been doing wrong – and how to fix it.    

 

1. You don’t know why Uncle Frank died at age 45 

You know Uncle Frank loved the Eagles and drove a cool Corvette. But not knowing the reason behind his untimely death puts yourself in danger. 

“For men, knowing your family medical history is key, especially when it comes to cardiovascular issues,” says Greg Taylor, DO, medical director of Jefferson Health New Jersey’s Kennedy Health Alliance. 

That’s because your genes impact much more than just your eye color and height. The health of all your family members and their medical conditions, past and present, could have a big impact on what potentially serious issues may be hiding in your own body. 

“You can be fit and eat healthy, but you can’t change your genes. If you have a family member who died of a sudden heart attack or had colon cancer, your risk for those issues goes up, even if you don’t have any symptoms,” says Taylor. “Sharing your family history with your doctor is a form of early intervention – we can then make sure you’re receiving the right screening tests at the appropriate time.” 

If you have a family history of colon cancer, that may mean you should have a colonoscopy before the recommended age of 50 or routine EKGs if heart disease is prevalent in your family tree.  

“If you’re only going to see your doctor when you have a sore throat and not discussing your family history during an annual physical, those tests aren’t going to happen,” says Taylor, “and they may be the key to saving your life.” 

 

2. You never skip your early morning run 

Getting three miles in every morning certainly proves you’re dedicated, but it also means you’re setting yourself up for injury. 

“Running is a great form of exercise, but doing it every day is very hard on the joints. I see more runners for tendinitis and overuse injuries than any other conditions,” says Cooper University Health Care sports medicine specialist Cody Clinton, DO. 

To prevent that repetitive load on your joints, Cody recommends ditching your running shoes one or two times a week. “You don’t need to stop exercising on those days, but you need to change it up. I tell patients to try incorporating swimming, biking or even using an elliptical machine. That will give your joints a break on those ‘off’ days.” 

Cody adds that men can also reap big health benefits from yoga. “It’s a great way to gain flexibility and increase oxygen to the muscles. Flexibility decreases as we age – that’s because muscle fibers shorten and become less hydrated, meaning we become more stiff and prone to injury. That’s why it’s important to add something like yoga into your fitness routine. Plus, spending 20 to 30 minutes doing yoga is a nice way to reset your body and mind, and reduce stress.” 

 

3. You eat like you’re still in your 20s 

If you find yourself fueling up with late-night snacks, happy hour pints and wings while watching the big game, prepare to hit a health roadblock. 

“I see a lot of men who were very active in their 20s who eat a lot of high-calorie foods into their 30s and 40s, and then they start gaining weight,” says Adarsh Gupta, DO, a family medicine physician at Rowan-SOM. “They’ve built a habit with these types of foods, but they’re no longer active, and their metabolic rate has gone down a lot. Thus the weight gain.” 

And while the occasional burger or midnight snack isn’t going to derail your health, the weight gain that comes from a habitually poor diet will eventually catch up with you, says Gupta. “As your weight gain goes up, every risk factor – cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes – also goes up.” 

The first step to revamping your eating habits, says Gupta, is to start eating smaller, more frequent meals. “You should be eating every two to three hours when you’re awake. I tell people to follow the pattern of meal, snack, meal, snack, meal. This will keep you feeling full throughout the day, and it’s so much easier to make healthier food choices when you’re not super hungry.” 

However, that doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid the foods you love, Gupta says. 

“I always tell people to eat what they like – if you do that, but opt for low-calorie, high-protein options, you’re more likely to stick with it,” he says.  

“If you like McDonald’s, you can still go there, but choose from the part of the menu that has the healthier options. And you can still have a burrito from Chipotle – just cut down on the portion size by eating half, and save the other half for later.” 

“The key is being aware. Fitness apps and websites can help you gauge portion sizes and stay on track,” he adds. “You still need to be able to enjoy food, because a diet is just a Band-Aid that will eventually fail.” 

 

4. You’re trying to recreate your glory days 

You might have been a standout on the field back in college (or, if you’re going way back, high school), but that doesn’t mean you can keep up that active pace these days. 

“I see a lot of weekend warriors who were very active when they were younger try to jump head-first into activities they used to do and relive those glory days,” says Clinton. “That’s a really easy way to injure yourself.” 

That doesn’t mean you can’t join the guys for a game of softball or compete for bragging rights in flag football, but you need to ease into it, cautions Cody. 

“As we age, it’s even more important that you do some sort of warm up before you’re active,” he says. “I recommend doing five to 20 minutes of light cardio exercise, like jumping rope or jumping jacks, followed by stretching before you start. You need to get your muscles conditioned and ready.” 

Even with a proper warm up you might still feel sore the next day, especially if you don’t regularly work out.  

“It’s normal to have soreness the next day and even a few days after you try an activity you don’t frequently do. That soreness should improve with activity and fade after moving around and stretching,” says Cody. “If it persists, don’t ignore it – what you think is a trivial injury could be serious and worsen if you don’t get it checked out with your doctor.” 

 

5. You don’t have your doctor’s number in your phone 

“In general, men don’t like to ask for directions when they’re driving. They think they can handle it,” says Gupta. “The same goes for men and their health – they don’t seek out care.” 

If you only visit your doctor when you’re sick – and maybe not even then – it’s way past time to schedule a physical. “One of the major benefits of having an annual physical is so your doctor can screen you for issues that might not be showing any symptoms.” 

For example, Gupta says your blood sugar might be hovering between 200 and 250 – which is considered elevated and needs medical attention – but you likely wouldn’t feel anything. “Over time, high blood sugar and diabetes cause serious health complications. That’s why it’s crucial to catch it early.” 

Physicals can also flag cardiovascular and cancer risks before it’s too late, says Gupta.  

“If you haven’t been seeing your doctor regularly and undergoing screenings, you’re more likely to brush off symptoms as something else,” he says. “You might think you’re just having heartburn and chest heaviness because you ate something bad, not realizing you’ve been at risk for heart disease and are actually having a heart attack.” 

 

6. You keep saying no to date nights or having fun with the guys 

Spending an evening on the couch can sometimes be a great way to unwind, but if you’re finding yourself parked there more often than not, it might be time for a wake-up call. 

“If you used to enjoy going out to dinner with your wife or looked forward to going golfing with the guys and suddenly find yourself thinking those things are a hassle and don’t want to bother, that’s a strong indicator of depression,” says Taylor. 

Men tend to be less adept at recognizing symptoms of depression and may brush off their feelings, says Taylor.  

“Loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy is the biggest indicator. Men who start to feel this way often chalk it up to normal aging and think, ‘I’m just tired and busy, so that’s why I don’t feel like doing those things anymore.’” 

If you’re feeling less interested in normal activities, having trouble sleeping or find yourself struggling to concentrate – all of which are common signs of depression – it’s important to tell your doctor, says Taylor. 

“Communicating these concerns can help your doctor address what’s going on. It might be depression, but there could also be a medical issue behind your symptoms, like anemia or problems with your thyroid,” he says. “That’s why you need to speak up.”

June 2018
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