Featured Men's health

Life is busy, but regular checkups and moving a bit more are key to men’s health – here’s why

Father and son hugging.
Written by Idella Sturino

June is Men’s Health Month, a good time to focus on taking care of your wellness and encouraging the men in your life to do the same.

That could mean finally getting around to making an appointment for that long overdue checkup, finding ways to add light movement into your day, or perhaps reaching for a blood pressure monitor rather than BBQ tongs for a Father’s Day gift.

Dr. Rahul Jain is a family physician with Sunnybrook’s Integrated Community Program and Academic Family Health Team. He shares his thoughts and expertise on men’s health.

It’s often said – and research suggests – that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor than women. Do you find that to be the case and if so, why?

I don’t want to over generalize but men are notorious for sometimes avoiding the doctor or ignoring warning symptoms. But to be honest, in my practice what I see is that it really depends on the person and their preferences rather than a specific gender.

With access to medical information at our fingertips, people have become more health literate over the years, which is great but it doesn’t replace the importance of seeing your healthcare provider for routine checkups.

Some patients might also put off going to the doctor because of time pressures, although the option of virtual as well as in-person care has helped remove that barrier.

Fear of the unknown could be another reason some patients stay away. But I believe in taking a preventative rather than a reactive approach, and the benefit of family medicine is seeing your doctor regularly for checkups and preventing things before they occur.

How often should people go to the doctor for a physical?

I encourage adult males to see their doctor for a routine checkup at least every one to two years although the specific frequency depends on their medical history, risk factors and preferences.

Routine checkups provide an opportunity to focus on preventative screening, immunizations and education.

What types of things do you look for with adult males?

We often start screening for cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes and high cholesterol at age 40, or sooner if they’re at higher risk.

We recommend colorectal cancer screening at age 50, or sooner if there’s a family history of the disease.

And we often suggest baseline bone mineral density testing, to assess for osteoporosis, at the age of 65 or sooner if there are risk factors.

What about heart health – what preventative steps should patients discuss with their doctor?

There’s good evidence that protecting the heart and brain takes a global approach, which means addressing a number of factors early on which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Risk factors include unhealthy diet, low physical activity, higher body mass index, higher alcohol intake and smoking.

Primary care providers can also screen for modifiable risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

High blood pressure is often referred to as a silent killer because it does not always present with symptoms but it is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. It’s important to see your doctor regularly to screen for risk factors which may or may not even present with symptoms.

What age should screening for testicular and prostate cancer begin?

Testicular cancer can present at any age, although it’s more common in younger males and peaks around age 30. We encourage males to begin regular self-examinations of their testicles in their 20s and 30s. We tell them to watch out for things like a lump or enlargement of either testicle, a dull ache or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum.

When it comes to prostate cancer screening, this happens after a discussion with the patient about the benefits and risks of screening.

We typically begin screening for prostate cancer when patients are in their 50s, or in their 40s if there is a family history or other risk factors.

Prostate cancer often does not cause symptoms in early stages. But when symptoms occur, they can present similarly to a condition called BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). which is a common condition as males age. Some of the symptoms which can overlap are difficulty urinating or having a decreased force and flow of urine.

Symptoms that might be more specific to prostate cancer to watch out for include blood in the urine or semen, painful urination, erectile dysfunction, or unintentional weight loss or bone pain.

Let’s talk about mental health. How important is it for doctors to open up a conversation with their patients about their mental and emotional health and wellbeing?

Anxiety and depression are one of the top reasons patients visit their primary care providers.

Family physicians are uniquely positioned to address mental health concerns given the longitudinal, trusting relationship we have with our patients.

Life is busy but that shouldn’t be an excuse for not prioritizing wellness. Mental health is so important and shouldn’t take a back seat. Addressing wellness means taking a holistic approach to physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.

As someone with an interest in prevention of cardiovascular disease, I would add that we know there is a bidirectional relationship between depression and heart disease. Depression can worsen heart disease and heart disease can worsen mental health. 

Another important aspect of both physical and mental wellness is staying active. How do you like to stay active?

I’m a big supporter of Canada’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, which emphasize the idea of making your whole day matter when it comes to movement behaviours. These guidelines suggest moving more, reducing sedentary time and sleeping well.

We know that regular physical activity at any level has numerous health benefits. If people can do more than what they are doing now, chances are this will lead to improved cardiovascular and mental health.

I often suggest simple ways for patients to become more active in their daily lives. This could involve things like replacing some of their sedentary activities with light physical activity like walking instead of driving to do errands, or standing and stretching while on their screen. Not everyone has to be doing moderate to vigorous exercise – that’s great and we should incorporate it. But even just making a shift from less sedentary behaviours to light physical activity can be beneficial.

Research suggests physicians can be powerful motivators for patients to increase their physical activity, particularly if they are active themselves. When doctors are physically active, their patients often are more active.

I like to think I walk the talk when it comes to physical activity. I try to incorporate a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training, balance training and participating in activities I enjoy such as taking a walk during my lunch break with colleagues or cycling outdoors.

What else would you like to add when it comes to encouraging men to prioritize their health and wellness?

With Father’s Day coming up, why not consider gifting a gym membership, blood pressure monitor or wellness retreat? Or give the men in your life a nudge to visit their primary care physician. Whatever we can do to emphasize the importance of taking care of yourself is encouraged.

About the author

Idella Sturino

Idella Sturino is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook. She has a passion for storytelling and public engagement and brings two decades' worth of expertise as a former journalist to the role.