Men’s health by decades

A guy’s guide to health, from early adulthood to retirement and beyond.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Men are living longer than ever before. Advancements in medical technology, better awareness of diets and diseases, and societal norms against bad habits such as smoking are all helping men extend the length of their lives.

According to Census Bureau estimates, a man born in 2012 in the U.S. can expect to reach 76 years of age, compared with a life expectancy of 70 in 1980. The predicted life expectancy for a woman is 81 years, up from 76 in 1980.

But each decade has its own specific health challenges. What are some issues and benchmarks men should be aware of in their youth, their middle age and in their retirement? The following is a general exploration of men’s health, decade by decade.

-- By Michael Ko for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 17 Three generations (Ariel Skelley/Getty Images)

20s

Schedule a physical
A checkup can help you catch potential problems early on, before they become full-blown. For example, most people with high blood pressure don’t know it, and high blood sugar and cholesterol levels often won’t produce symptoms by themselves.

A good, trusted doctor might be able to tease something out of your family history and make a useful recommendation, or make a more accurate diagnosis because you’re willing to share information.

Although some studies suggest that an annual physical might not do much for already healthy people, medical guidelines still recommend that men visit a doctor at least twice during their 20s.

“Many men go to the doctor for the first time in their 40s – on a stretcher with a heart attack,” says Dr. Ridwan Shabsigh, president of the International Society of Men’s Health and a New York City urologist. Don’t be that guy.

2 of 17 Man getting a physical (Brad Wilson/Getty Images)

Get checked for STDs

Almost 20 million sexually transmitted infections and diseases are expected every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to the American Sexual Health Association, as many as one in two sexually active people will contract an STD by the time they’re 25.

Yet many people still aren’t getting diagnosed. Many STDs don’t have obvious symptoms, and there’s still a stigma attached to having an STD or even getting screened.

It’s important to get checked as soon as possible. If you leave an STD undiagnosed, you put yourself – and your partners – at risk. Don’t let this become an issue, especially if you plan on settling down or having children; STDs can complicate pregnancies.

3 of 17 Blood in a test toob (David Tise/Getty Images)

Cultivate healthy habits

Good habits established in your 20s can have a positive effect on your future health. Most men already know about the foundational benefits of exercise, sleep and a good diet. But this should also be the decade to think about how your bad habits – smoking, drug use and binge drinking – might take their toll. Alcohol addiction, especially, can lead to severe long-term health risks including nerve damage, liver disease and dementia.

“We know the brain continues to develop into the early to mid-20s,” says William Corbin, an Arizona State University psychology professor who studies drinking behavior.

“Unfortunately, that’s when heavy drinking is often at its peak, so it may be especially problematic for brain development.”

4 of 17 Cigarettes in an ashtray (Image Source/Getty Images)

30s

Focus on heart health
Your heart is a vital organ, and this decade should be about protecting it. One practical step is to watch what you eat.

In March, the American Heart Association released a report saying that 75 percent of the world’s population consumes nearly twice the daily recommended amount of sodium. Salt-heavy diets can contribute to high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the world. In the U.S., adults consume about 3,600 mg of sodium per day; the AHA recommends less than 1,500 mg daily.

About 28 percent of Americans have hypertension, or high blood pressure, according to CDC estimates.

A British study that appeared in the May issue of the American Journal of Medicine found that men who ate a “Western” diet – fried and sweet foods, processed and red meat, and high-fat dairy products – are at increased risk for premature death. The men who made it to old age suffered from more health problems.

5 of 17 Fruits and vegetables (Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Focus on flexibility, to prevent new injuries and fix old ones

Michael Osaki, director of Greenwood Physical Therapy in Seattle, sees a lot of men in their 30s, “guys with a wife and a baby and a mortgage.”

“They’re more inactive, with desk jobs, sitting in front of a computer 60 hours a week,” Osaki says. “But they still challenge themselves like they did in their 20s. There’s a disparity between what they think they can do and what their body can do.” 

That means going all out for that Saturday pickup basketball game. But muscles might be stiffer, and they’re living a more sedentary lifestyle, perhaps with some extra weight. It all puts men at greater risk for patellar tendon and Achilles tears and knee ligament damage. Osaki, who rehabilitates sports injuries, says men really need to focus on flexibility and stretching as a means of prevention.

He also recommends treating old injuries before they get out of hand. “I have a lot of cases where the guy was injured in high school, dislocated shoulder in football, and then they take up tennis or golf as an adult, and then that shoulder pain might flare up,” Osaki says. 

6 of 17 Man stretching (Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images)

Educate yourself about cancer

Men in the U.S. “have slightly less than a 1 in 2 lifetime risk of developing cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society’s 2013 “Cancer Facts and Figures” report. For women, the risk is about 1 in 3. Cancer kills more men than women.
Cancer will probably be an issue at some point. Start learning about it.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among males aged 15 to 34 years old. However, it’s relatively rare compared with other types of usually later-developing cancers that affect the colon or prostate gland. About 90 percent of testicular cancers are cured, regardless of how bad it is when it’s first detected.

The ACS puts out a recommendation for age-related screenings for different cancers. Men in their 30s should be screened during routine physical examinations for cancer of the thyroid, testicles, mouth, skin and lymph nodes. Self-exams are also a good idea.

7 of 17 Melanoma (Kallista Images/Getty Images)

40s

Vision/hearing
Many men, starting in their 40s, may start to experience problems with their ability to see clearly at close range, especially while reading or on the computer. This normal change in the eye’s focusing ability is called presbyopia, and it could get worse over time, according to the American Optometric Association.

The AOA recommends getting an eye exam every two years starting this decade.
Increased risk factors for eye problems include diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration, a visually demanding job and general health issues such as high cholesterol, thyroid conditions and arthritis. Many medications also have ocular side effects.

Although “old-age” hearing loss, or presbycusis, probably won’t set in until later decades, if you’ve been experiencing hearing problems, you might want to get checked for ostosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the ear that affects hearing. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of all adult Caucasians are affected by this disease.

8 of 17 An eye chart (Maria Toutoudaki/Getty Images)

Maintaining muscle mass and strength

Studies suggest that men lose between 0.5 to 1 percent of their muscle mass per year as they get older. This age-related muscle loss is known as sarcopenia.

Osaki, the physical therapist, recommends that men in their 40s take on strength training and weight-bearing activities such as walking, hiking or running, to maintain muscle mass.

“Now you have to exercise to do the sports you want to do,” Osaki says. 
Alex Stewart, a writer for bodybuilding.com, says it’s possible for men to keep a muscular physique in their 40s. But they have to take a much different approach to workouts than they did in their youth: higher repetitions with less weight to decrease stress on joints and ligaments; better form and posture because bodies are much less forgiving than they used to be; and more warm-up and rest in between.

9 of 17 A man lifting weights (Tony Latham/Getty Images)

Stress and lifestyle management

Are you earning enough? Are you saving enough? Has your career gone the way you envisioned? What about your family life? All those pressure-packed questions around career, money and family can create a lot of pressure at midlife. 

That can lead to a lot of stress, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of men in their late 40s and early 50s. It doesn’t help that your body isn’t what it used to be, that it seems to be slowing down. 

Experts say you should continue your checkups, or start that routine as soon as possible. It’s more important than ever to ditch bad habits and to keep on top of health benchmarks such as cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Lose the extra weight. Make time to exercise and relax. Start looking into screening guidelines and recommendations for big diseases. Consult a mental health professional.

10 of 17 Man relaxing on sofa (Ocean/Corbis)