Content submitted by Robert Singleton II, MD, Anesthesiologist for UnityPoint Health
A critical decision confronts me every morning at 4 a.m. Should I start my day with a workout? Five times out of five, it’s a yes. Monday through Friday, I’m pumping iron before heading home to get my 6-year-old daughter, Denise, and 3-year-old son, Robert, dressed for the day and off to summer camps.
Denise recently made a "Doctor Book" with pictures depicting how I make people at the hospital feel better. She wants to be a doctor, like me, when she grows up, and I want to be around to see it happen. The best way I know how to do that is to stay healthy — for myself and my family. Because I not only want to keep up with my kids, I want to feel good doing it.
Since July 2016, I have been practicing as an anesthesiologist at UnityPoint Health – Central Illinois at Proctor and Methodist hospitals in Peoria, IL. The people I support before, during and after surgery range from healthy marathon runners to the critically ill. Generally, healthy people do well under the stress of surgery whereas someone struggling with their health may have an increased chance of complications or a harder road to recovery.
I sometimes think about how some patient illnesses are preventable and some surgeries could have been avoided all together. Would the friendly, 62-year-old retiree need this procedure if he didn’t smoke? Would the pleasant, 48-year-old farmer and father of three not need surgery if he received regular checkups to keep his blood pressure under control? I imagine they ask themselves the same questions.
Guys, staying on top of your health requires effort, just like anything else that’s worthwhile—but it’s not impossible. Here are four steps you can take to ensure you, and doctors like me, have a less likely chance of meeting in the operating room.
Step 1: Get a Primary Care Provider
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says nearly 42% of men are obese and up to 60% don’t see a doctor regularly. Commonly cited reasons are that we are too busy, scared of getting bad news and are concerned about exams, like prostate checks and colonoscopies, will be uncomfortable. In fact, a buddy of mine recently shared he hasn’t been to a doctor since high school, because he doesn’t see the need to go and just can’t imagine the discomfort of a colonoscopy.
I reminded him of the untimely death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman who died last year at the age of 43 after a four-year battle with advanced colon cancer. As the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S, colorectal cancer is actually curable when detected early.
Besides getting appropriate cancer screenings, your primary care doctor is helpful because they can reinforce healthy habits such as the importance of getting enough sleep, taking medications as prescribed, stress reduction techniques and receiving important immunizations like the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine.
Step 2: Prioritize Exercise & Diet
One thing the COVID-19 pandemic showed us is that obesity worsens health outcomes. As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does the hospitalization rate (up to three-fold), intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation and death rate. Moreover, people who are physically active have a 33% reduced risk of all causes of death compared to those who are not.
So, how much exercise do we really need to stay healthy? According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, we need:
- 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity per week. This means raising your heart rate enough to break a sweat. It could include brisk walking, swimming or riding a bike.
- Muscle strengthening activity two days per week. This involves using weights or your own body weight to strength all parts of the body. Examples include resistance band workouts, push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening and some forms of yoga.
My favorite aerobic activity is the elliptical machine. It’s low-impact and can be done year-round. I also love lifting weights. Muscle strengthening is essential because as we age, we slowly start to lose muscle mass. That means our metabolism slows, and it becomes more difficult to perform activities that were easier when we were younger. While I like pumping iron and using the elliptical, it’s important to find activities you enjoy, so you can stick with them long term.
Even more important to maintaining a healthy body weight is your diet. Since everybody’s body and lifestyle is different, work with your doctor or a nutritionist to come up with a diet plan. There are easy ways to stick with your plan by using a variety of apps on your phone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers “MyPlate Plan,” which customizes a diet based on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level—and it’s free.
Together, diet and exercise provide a myriad of health benefits, including lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Physical activity also improves balance and coordination, which reduces the risk of falls and potentially devastating hip fractures. In general, it’ll just make you feel better day-in and day-out.
Step 3: Stop Smoking
One of the biggest determinants of health, in my opinion, is smoking history. Many men don’t realize smoking harms nearly every organ in our bodies – not just the lungs. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S.
I will never forget the 35-year-old patient I encountered during my medical training who was admitted for severe headache and visual changes. The workup revealed stage 4 lung cancer that spread to his brain. Based on previous patient outcomes, only about 50% of patients with this diagnosis are still alive after four months. Smoking is one of the most difficult habits to break and requires a great deal of willpower, social support and even medical help. Despite these obstacles, you won’t ever regret you quit.
Step 4: Wear Sunscreen
It’s summertime - thank goodness! My family is excited to start swim lessons for Denise and Robert. While living life in the sunshine reduces stress and increases vitamin D intake, there is the potential for skin cancer if proper protection isn’t used.
In the U.S., UV rays are strongest from around 10 am to 4 pm, so direct sun exposure should be avoided during these times, if possible. If you must be outdoors, lather on the sunscreen. Everybody needs sun protection, even those of us with brown skin like my family. Aim for an SPF of 30 or above, check to make sure your product isn’t expired and reapply every two hours, especially if you’re in the water.
Happy Father’s Day
This Father’s Day, we’re all acknowledging the great men in our lives, eating barbecued chicken from the grill and gifting neckties, power tools and handmade kids’ crafts. Let’s also let our dads know how much they matter to us, and we want them in good health for as long as possible. Encourage the dad or father figure in your life to start simple by getting a primary care doctor and scheduling a physical.