Treat your body like your car and get it in for a regular tuneup.
Men don't see the doctor as often as women do. According to the American Journal of Public Health, the No. 1 reason men don't go to the doctor is that they don't like to wait around. Apparently, men are put off by sitting in a waiting room—but it goes deeper than that.
"Embarrassment is another factor," says Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh, a family doctor from Legacy Clinic in West Linn, Oregon. "Men find it difficult to discuss emotions, physical problems or sexual difficulties." Also, many men under 40 don't see why they should see a doctor if it's not an emergency.
"This primarily has to do with the way men in our culture are socialized," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. "One thing that's different from women is that by the time most women are 16 to 18 years old, they're socialized to get gynecological care every year. Around the time men typically stop having contact with doctors altogether is when women are just getting started."
While there are a lot of reasons why men don't get regular checkups, here are some reasons why they should.
Reason 1: Preventive exams and screenings can spot something before it turns serious
"Going to the doctor is something that's going to keep you healthy and keep you running at maximum capacity," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. While in later years all men need to get prostate cancer and colon cancer screenings, young men are the ones most likely to get testicular cancer.
"It is a rare cancer, but not that much more rare than cervical cancer, for which many women get their regular Pap smears. Had he not been regularly screened, Lance Armstrong would not have survived [testicular cancer]," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. "That's something that a young man needs to check for every single year, starting practically from birth. Looking at the testicles for cancer is something you start early on and go up through age 40 or so."
In between doctor visits, you can do testicular self-exams, but these should be in addition to regular check ups—not replace them.
Reason 2: Your daily habits could be killing you
According to a Harris Interactive poll, men usually spend nearly 19 hours a week watching television but less than five hours a week exercising. "Heart disease and diabetes don't happen when you turn 40 or 50," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. "The processes that lead you to become a heart patient start very early on. With our epidemic of obesity, we're seeing fatty plaque sometimes in adolescence. So the process that leads you to that eventual heart attack at 50 or 60 starts in your teens and 20s."
That's one reason why men should get routine checks for risk factors related to heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. "Regular doctor visits to check in on your daily habits can be remarkably successful in helping you curb those habits," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. "If you're coming in for your yearly checkups starting as an adolescent, those upticks in weight that lead to obesity won't go as unnoticed as when you go for years without a checkup and suddenly you're 40 and wondering what happened to your high school physique."
Reason 3: You could have diabetes (or be prediabetic) and not even know it
The No. 1 risk factor for heart disease is diabetes. Sugar in the blood vessels damages them. It does so especially in the very fine blood vessels in your eyes, making diabetes the top cause of blindness. Sugar also damages blood vessels in the kidneys, so diabetics often have kidney failure. And it damages the blood vessels in your arms and legs, so amputations are common in diabetics. Finally, it damages the blood vessels that send blood to your heart.
"Once you become a diabetic, your risk of having a heart attack is the exact same as someone who has already had a heart attack," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. And you can prevent that. "If you wait to have your first visit with a doctor in your 40s and 50s, you may already be a diabetic."
Diabetes can also hurt your sex life. Sugar damages blood vessels in the penis, leading to impotence. Says Dr. Rouhbakhsh: "If you head these things off, you may not need Viagra when you're 40 or 50. It's a great example of what, with a little prevention, could be avoided or eliminated altogether."
Reason 4: You should treat yourself better than you do your car
You wouldn't deprive your car of a tuneup, so why would you go for years without tuning up yourself? "Your body is so advanced that it can take years of the wrong fuel and still adapt to it," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh.
You want to avoid the health problems of not getting that tuneup for your body. So if you value your life like you value your car, visit the doctor.
Published on May 15, 2009; updated on May 6, 2014.