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Veterans Health Administration

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Veterans Health Administration


Real men go to the doctor

A woman physician talks to a man

Being involved in your health care means planning ahead for your doctor’s visits by writing down questions and sharing your list at the beginning of the visit.

Healthy Living Messages from NCP

  1. Be Involved in Your Health Care: Plan ahead for your doctor’s visits by writing down questions and sharing your list at the beginning of the visit. Provide accurate and complete information about your current health problems, concerns, past illnesses, and any hospitalizations.
  2. Be Tobacco Free: Quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and protect the health of your family members. Brief counseling, referral to a smoking cessation clinic, and use of nicotine replacement or other smoking cessation medications are available to assist patients to quit.
  3. Eat Wisely: Eat a variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Take a look at the USDA’s new eating guidelines: My Plate
  4. Be Physically Active: Avoid inactivity — some activity is better than none. Aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
  5. Strive for a Healthy Weight: A healthy weight means balancing the number of calories you eat with the number of calories your body uses. VHA’s MOVE! program can help you reach a healthy weight.
  6. Limit Alcohol: If you choose to drink alcohol, drink in moderation (women no more than one drink a day; men no more than 2 drinks a day). Avoid “binge drinking.” If you are concerned about your drinking, talk to your VA health care team about getting help.
  7. Get Recommended Screening Tests and Immunizations: It is recommended that you get a flu shot every year and other immunizations, as appropriate. VHA provides screening for certain cancers, problem drinking/alcohol abuse, depression, high blood pressure, HIV, military sexual trauma, obesity, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and tobacco use.
  8. Manage Stress: Stress is a normal human experience, though too much stress over a long period can put your health at risk. VHA can help you to develop skills and strategies to manage and reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress, including depression and PTSD.
  9. Be Safe: From sexually transmitted infections, to falls and motor vehicle collisions, there are many areas of your life where a little precaution can preserve your health.

Be a man: go to the doctor.

A 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that U.S. men were 80% less likely than woman to have a usual source of health care.

Dr. Linda Kinsinger, Chief Consultant for Preventive Medicine in VHA’s National Center for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (NCP), explained that men often don’t go to doctors unless they have a medical emergency.

“The message to men is encouraging them to pay attention to their bodies,” she said. “There are a lot of things they can do to stay healthy and take care of themselves.”

“Healthy living takes commitment, but the payoff is huge.”

— Terri Murphy, RN, MSN

A health checklist for men will vary by age group, but tracking basic health measures like blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) are important at any age. Getting an annual flu shot, keeping up-to-date on tetanus shots and getting an HIV test are also important preventive health practices for men.

Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to read the men’s health checklist.

As men reach age 35 and older, screening for cholesterol is added to the recommended health checklist. As age increases, preventive measures for heart attacks, a herpes zoster (shingles) immunization and screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm are also on the list of topics to be discussed with a health care provider.

Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to read the 50+ men’s health checklist.

Your VA health care team wants to know

There is a higher prevalence of mental health issues, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among Veterans. Dr. Kinsinger explained that a patient’s physical and mental health are related.

“Generally, taking care of yourself physically is a really key point in taking care of your mental health,” she said. “Getting enough sleep, eating well, not over-indulging in alcohol — all things that are critically important in maintaining your mental health as well as your physical health.”

“Having men feel OK about reporting any disturbing feelings that they’re having that could possibly be symptoms of depression or PTSD is something that we really want” said Terri Murphy, RN, MSN, NCP National Program Manager for Prevention Policy.

VA offers a wide range of services to help Veterans readjust to civilian life and cope with the mental and emotional impact of their military experiences.

The importance of communicating with your doctor can prevent unnecessary medical procedures as well.

“The most common misconception is that more screening is always better,” said Murphy. “It’s a little more complicated than that; not everyone needs to be screened for everything every year.”

For some patients, the risks of a screening procedure may outweigh the benefits. Prostate cancer, for example, is usually a very slow-growing cancer and a biopsy to confirm the screening results is not without risks.

Consulting with your personal physician is the best way to determine if or when a prostate screening is needed.

Healthy living

The NCP has outlined nine key health messages to encourage Veterans to choose healthy behaviors and communicate with their health care team. These include nutrition, physical activity, weight management, smoking, alcohol use, stress management, preventive immunizations and screenings, safety, and good communication with your doctor.

This message of healthy living is being promoted at VA medical facilities nationwide to raise awareness among providers and patients alike. But it will come down to the Veteran to put these health tips into practice.

“You can’t just take a pill instead of watching your weight, stopping smoking or limiting your alcohol use,” said Murphy. “Behavior change in those areas is hard work! We’re here to introduce the topics, to support Veterans, to give them the information they need, and to give them the latest evidence-based care, but the Veteran is the one who needs to decide he/she is ready to improve their health.

“Healthy living takes commitment, but the payoff is huge.”