June is Men’s Health Month, and Summit County men are encouraged to get their mind and bodies checked out | SummitDaily.com

June is Men’s Health Month, and Summit County men are encouraged to get their mind and bodies checked out

Breckenridge resident Alex Gelbo shreds down the summit of Mount Silverheels on a splitboard Friday, May 31, near Blue River. During Men's Health Month, doctors encourage men to engage in regular exercise and follow a healthy diet.
Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com

FRISCO — June is National Men’s Health Month, when 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 and Prevention 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 Perrinjaquet, or Doc PJ, 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,” Doc PJ 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 one out of four deaths in the U.S. — more than half are men.

Doc PJ 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,” Doc PJ said.

The CDC recommends all individuals — not just men — have their cholesterol checked once before puberty, once after puberty and then at least every four to six 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 elevation can exacerbate the effects of existing heart disease. Doc PJ strongly recommends anyone experiencing unusual tiredness, dizziness or chest pain takes a rest. Given what he knows about how stubborn men can be, it’s advice Doc PJ 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 seven 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.

Doc PJ attributed some of the issues surrounding mental health to the strong drinking culture. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, more than one in five Summit residents self-report excessive drinking.

“When drinking excessively, the ‘modern brain’ starts to shut down and the ‘caveman’ brain starts to take over,” Doc PJ 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.”

Doc PJ 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,” Doc PJ 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.”

Doc PJ 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.

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