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updated 8/23/2010 8:16:54 AM ET 2010-08-23T12:16:54

"Guy walks into a doctor's office..."

That's not the start of a joke — that is the joke. Men don't go to doctors unless they're in serious pain or really spooked about something. We have our reasons, as squishy as they may be. In a 2007 American Academy of Family Physicians survey, 58 percent of men cited specific factors, such as lack of time, lack of insurance, and lack of extreme symptoms, as reasons for avoiding physicians. But another 6 percent actually gave the grown-up equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," saying "something else" always prevents them from going.

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The head-in-the-sand approach isn't much of a health-maintenance strategy. Sure, a number of miscellaneous ailments resolve themselves without medical attention. But denial can also leave you dead. A smarter move: Regularly assess your health with a few morning inspections that are easy and accurate. They aren't replacements for routine doctor visits — our legal department wants that made clear — but these DIY checkups can help you sort the trivial from the troubling.

Check for... gums of horror
What's the big deal? Any redness, inflammation, or bleeding of your gums might be due to gingivitis, a condition that can progress to periodontal disease. This, in turn, is linked to heart disease — the number one killer of men. How? The bacteria from periodontal disease enter your bloodstream, potentially causing inflammation elsewhere in your body, including your heart. The result: atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. What's more, periodontal disease can signal diabetes. "Blood vessels deliver oxygen and nourishment to body tissues and carry away the tissues' waste products," says Robert Pick, D.D.S., a gum specialist at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, which slows the flow of nutrients and the removal of harmful wastes. This can weaken the gum tissue's resistance to infection."

Gums that are salmon-pink in light-skinned people, or a bit darker in dark-skinned people, indicate that your mouth is healthy and bacteria are in check, says Dr. Pick. But if your gums are red and swollen, and they bleed after brushing, you may have gum disease — or worse. Begin daily flossing, and see your dentist for an intense, below-the-gumline cleaning and application of antibiotics.

Check again in: 1 week

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Check for... clogged nasal passages
What's the big deal? Take a deep breath. Did you inhale through your nose or through your mouth? If it was your mouth, then your nasal passages may be obstructed, probably due to allergic rhinitis, the symptoms of which can include sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and general stuffiness. Or if those symptoms accompany coughing and wheezing, you might have asthma. "Asthma can permanently reduce lung function if it's not treated quickly," says Bradley Marple, M.D., a rhinologist at the University of Texas Southwestern medical center. Clogged nasal passages can also contribute to sleep apnea, a condition that's usually also accompanied by snoring and about 20 pounds of extra body weight. Consult a physician right away if you have all three symptoms.

To flush out the allergens, pollutants, and mucus that either cause or worsen congestion, try a nasal lavage before bed. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt into 2 cups of warm water, and fill a bulb syringe with the solution. Bend over a sink, cock your head to one side, and insert the tip of the syringe no more than a half inch into one of your nostrils. Squeeze the bulb until all the saline solution has run out through the other nostril. Repeat on the other side. (Not good with recipes? Try Simply Saline, an OTC saline solution with a built-in applicator.)

Check again in: 1 week

Check for... runaway heart rate
What's the big deal? Your resting heart rate (RHR) indicates how hard your heart is working to pump blood. It's not only a good indicator of your overall fitness, but it can also signal diabetes or heart disease if it's high. In fact, Italian researchers found that having an RHR above 70 beats per minute (bpm) increases your risk of dying of heart disease by at least 78 percent

To check your resting heart rate, pee first; a full bladder may elevate your heart rate. Then sit for a minute or two before taking your pulse at either your neck or your wrist. Count the number of times your heart beats in 15 seconds, and then multiply that number by 4 for your bpm. As a rule, 40 to 60 bpm indicates a high level of cardiovascular fitness, notes Adam St. Pierre, M.S., an exercise physiologist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. "A regular cardio exercise program should knock a beat or two in your heart rate within 2 to 8 weeks," he says.

Check again in: 1 week

Check for... the wrong kind of belly
What's the big deal? Men gain weight around their middles, and studies have shown that deeply seated abdominal fat (called visceral fat) bumps up your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Unlike the fat that resides just under the skin, visceral fat collects deep within your abdomen, filling the spaces between your organs and increasing the risk of inflammation throughout your body. Worse, it can lead to insulin resistance, which forces your pancreas to boost insulin production in order to clear your bloodstream of glucose, says Michael Jensen, M.D., a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist. (Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes.)

Your belly is bulging from visceral fat if you can't pinch or grab a fold. Have some belly to burn off? Step 1: Watch what you eat. To figure out how much you should be taking in, simply multiply your target body weight by 11. That's your daily calorie allotment. Then make sure you're burning about 2,000 calories a week through exercise. In a Duke University study, that amount of activity reduced visceral fat stores by 7 percent.

Check again in: 1 week

Check for... moles behaving badly
What's the big deal? Most men diagnosed with melanoma — usually after age 40 — have had it for some time and either ignored the signs or simply didn't notice them. Melanoma in a guy is typically found on his head, neck, or upper back, so it's tough to spot and catch early.

"After your shower, scan your skin for anything that looks unusual," says Linda K. Franks, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University. Specifically, check for the ABCDE's of mole surveillance: asymmetry, borders (blurry or jagged edges), color (black or multihued), diameter (more than a quarter inch across, or growing), and evolving (changing size or shape). If you note any alarming marks, have your dermatologist eyeball them and perform a biopsy if necessary.

Of course, the best way to beat melanoma is to prevent it, so use sunblock as well. Dr. Franks recommends Olay Complete SPF 30 Defense, a nongreasy lotion that provides UVA and UVB protection and also includes a moisturizer.

Check again in: 1 month

Check for... stiff muscles
What's the big deal? Poor flexibility in your upper back can predispose you to lower-back pain and injury. If you sit at a desk for long hours without moving, or if you're doing a lot of lifting to build your chest muscles but not stretching them out and not strengthening your upper back, your shoulders and neck will hunch forward, notes trainer Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S. This will limit your upper-back mobility, causing you to overuse your lower back and leading to pain and discomfort.

Stay limber with a pec stretch. Stand in a doorway with your right forearm and palm resting fully on the jamb, and your arm bent 90 degrees. Now lean into the doorway and away from your arm until you feel the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat with your left arm. Follow this with your favorite barbell row, dumbbell row, or cable row for 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps to balance your pushes.

Check again in: 2 weeks

Check for... lousy memory
What's the big deal? Can't recall where you just placed your socks? You're probably stressed out. The stress hormone cortisol temporarily short-circuits memory.

Check your memory — and improve it — with an "N-back" exercise in the morning. Pick a word, such as "economy," while you're watching the morning news. Every time someone says the word, come up with the word that person said two (or five) words before it. "This exercise can evaluate how much you can deal with mentally at one time, and then boost it," says Bridgid Finn, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Memory Lab at Washington University in St. Louis. Then consider going for a run. Cardiovascular exercise shunts extra oxygen to your brain, boosting your mental acuity in general. In fact, a recent Duke University review of studies found that cardio work improves attention, brain-processing speed, and memory. It'll help bust that stress, too.

Check again in: 1 week

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

Video: Help keep your husband healthy

  1. Transcript of: Help keep your husband healthy

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: And this morning on TODAY'S DAILY DOSE , how to keep the men in your life healthy at any age. The National Institutes of Health has found that men are 70 percent less likely to visit a doctor than women. So in honor of National Men's Health Week and Father's Day , of course, our chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman has advice on how men should be taking care of themselves. Nancy , good morning.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Natalie.

    MORALES: This is the trifecta for you.

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah, it's a good day.

    MORALES: OK.

    SNYDERMAN: You know, and when we talk about men, I know because men are stronger...

    MORALES: Yes.

    SNYDERMAN: ...they can throw a ball faster, we think that they are sort of impervious to problems.

    MORALES: Invincible. Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Exactly. But that vulnerability for them interesting starts in the womb. Male fetuses are more vulnerable to miscarriage.

    MORALES: Wow.

    SNYDERMAN: And girls come out of the womb , interestingly, stronger.

    MORALES: Wow. Well, there you go. So let's get to some of the questions relating to this. And it underlines, I think, the biggest problem when it comes to men and that is seeing their doctors...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    MORALES: ...as we mentioned. We have an e-mail from Leigh in New Jersey . She wrote, "I have always gone for year -- year -- excuse me -- yearly medical exams and I can't remember the last time my husband saw a doctor. I know he should be doing some health-related tests. What medical tests should I insist he go for now that he is in his late 50s?"

    SNYDERMAN: Well, this underscores the basic thing.

    MORALES: Needless to say, he hasn't had anything.

    SNYDERMAN: We as women, access the system all the time because we're taught to do that.

    MORALES: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Men access the health care system when there's a crisis and when they're sick, usually.

    MORALES: Too late, usually.

    SNYDERMAN: So there's some things that every guy should do well before he's in his 50s...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...and they're free. You know, go to your local drugstore and get your blood pressure taken. Know that. Know your waist circumference. It can't be any higher than 40 centimeters. And then by the time you're 50 real things start to click in. You have to be checked for prostate, you have to be checked for your -- on your heart...

    MORALES: Cholesterol.

    SNYDERMAN: ...and all those other tests. Cholesterol, eye exam , know your skin. If you haven't checked in with anybody by your 50th birthday, that's your 50th birthday present.

    MORALES: Yeah, absolutely. Goes -- it goes without saying . But also, eye exams. I mean, your 40s or 50s, as you mentioned...

    SNYDERMAN: Top, stem to stern, everything.

    MORALES: ...these are all things that -- get it all done.

    SNYDERMAN: Yeah.

    MORALES: OK. Let's move on to another view -- a viewer e-mail. Speaking of the prostate exam ...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    MORALES: ...so important because Randy from Texas sent us an e-mail about a problem that unfortunately one in six men will...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    MORALES: ...undergo, and he writes, "I've been diagnosed with prostate cancer . I want to make sure relatively young men are made aware of the prostate cancer that affects so many males in the US. Can Dr. Nancy Snyderman discuss the symptoms that men should look out for?" Great of Randy to send us that e-mail. And thanks to him.

    SNYDERMAN: Most common symptoms: difficult -- difficulty urinating, having blood in the urine . By the time you start to have pelvic pain and bone pain...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...I worry that things are too long.

    MORALES: It's progressed.

    SNYDERMAN: But here's what I think everybody -- guys need to know about. The best exam is a digital exam, which I know guys don't like to do. But a doctor's finger on your prostate is the best way to look for lumps and bumps.

    Source: Mayo Clinic

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: The blood test ...

    MORALES: How soon -- how young should they be to start those tests?

    SNYDERMAN: I think -- I think men should do it in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and if you have a family history or if you are of African-American descent, maybe earlier. By the time you're 50 you have to have a routine screening test . Age is the number one predictor of prostate cancer . There's a correlation sort of like between like with breast cancer in women . The older you are, the higher your chance.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm. And it's...

    SNYDERMAN: The blood test ...

    MORALES: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: ...is not a great screening test . It's very sensitive, not so specific. But this is one where guys, you just have to sort of suck it up and say, `I'm going to go in for my exam.'

    MORALES: It is the second leading cause of cancer death among men, so.

    SNYDERMAN: And if caught early, really good cure rate.

    MORALES: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: But caught late it can go into bowel and bladder and then it's a real problem.

    MORALES: OK. Let's go outside. We've got some viewers out on the plaza. Lori from Boynton Beach , Florida , has a question for Nancy . Go ahead, Lori . Good morning.

    LORI: Hi. My husband is in his 50s, and he runs to stay heart healthy and I'm wondering what tests should he have so that we know he's not overdoing it and that everything he's doing is working.

    SNYDERMAN: Hi, Lori . Well, it's interesting because every sort of weekend jock suddenly throws himself into a fitness exercise...

    MORALES: At 50.

    SNYDERMAN: ...like he's 22. And therein lies part of the problem. At least go get a basic, you know, check.

    MORALES: Stress tests.

    SNYDERMAN: It's like taking your car into the garage. Just get -- make sure you're checked, blood pressure , basic heart attack -- I mean a heart screening so you don't have a heart attack . And then start slowly. You know...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: ...the real -- the real issue with a lot of men is they decide they're going to start running and they go out for five to 15 miles. You know what, you do a walk/run, you do it gradually, you do it with a buddy and you do it smart. And you do it with some observation.

    MORALES: Don't go out and do a marathon on your 50th birthday...

    SNYDERMAN: Right. Don't try to be Natalie Morales .

    MORALES: ...just to prove something. Yeah, right. No. Not. OK, next we have a viewer e-mail from Kelly in Charlotte , North Carolina . She asks, "My husband is overweight. We're trying to start a family and I need help motivating him to lose weight, not only for his own health but the health of a future child. Please help me help him." Desperation here.

    SNYDERMAN: Tough, because guess what?

    MORALES: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: Almost a third of men over the age of 21 in this country are now obese. We are a fat nation.

    MORALES: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: But here are two things that you should think about. One is that we know that infertility problems in men are as important as infertility problems in women. Obesity may be an issue there.

    MORALES: Absolutely.

    SNYDERMAN: And if nothing else, I believe in guilt. If you want to grow up to see those children go up to be fine, young adults you've got to be around. And if you're really, really fat you put your health at risk. But the reality is, you can't motivate somebody else.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    SNYDERMAN: He has to find that, he has to want it and he has to own it.

    MORALES: All right, so, Kelly , a little guilt will definitely do some of the trick.

    SNYDERMAN: I'm....

    MORALES: Absolutely. OK. And finally, let's go back outside. We've got one more question from our crowd. We have Mike from Bancroft , Iowa . Mike , good morning.

    MIKE: Good morning.

    SNYDERMAN: Hey, Mike.

    MIKE: Good morning.

    MORALES: Go ahead with your question.

    MIKE: I'm an Iowa school superintendent with a very stressful job. I'd like to know what I could be doing to give myself more energy without taking vitamins?

    SNYDERMAN: Well, you know what, I'm not a big believer in all things vitamins because I think they just give you expensive urine. You have to pick the

    things you put in your mouth.... So I think you're very smart to start off.

    MORALES: That got a laugh from Donald Trump .

    SNYDERMAN: First thing, I'd find out how much you sleep. I bet you don't sleep enough. I bet you sleep crazy hours and you -- if you snore, I mean, ask the person you're sleeping with to tell you if you snore at night. If you do, that may be an underlying problem. And look at the foods you put in your mouth all day long and when you eat, the alcohol you drink. Those are basic issues. And then, frankly, I would go to the doctor and get a basic old blood test . Make sure your blood count is fine. And because you're 50, because you have all these responsibilities, a basic old heart work-up wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

    MIKE: All right, thank you.

    MORALES: Doctors orders, Mike , all right?

    SNYDERMAN: But you can -- you can put the vitamins aside until everything else is figured out.

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