30 Days to a Better Man Day 19: Schedule a Physical Exam

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 18, 2009 · 15 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

Men are reluctant to pay a visit to the man in the white coat. Studies have shown that more than half of the men in the United States have not been to see a doctor in the past year. And 55% of men admit that they are reluctant to visit the doctor. When we do go, we usually wait until we’re missing an arm or have a javelin stuck through our head.

There are a few reasons why men don’t visit the doctor on a regular basis.  One reason that I hear quite frequently from my male friends is that going to the doctor is just too inconvenient. I understand this sentiment. You go for what should be a 30 minute check up only to wait in the lobby for an hour and then you spend another 20 minutes sitting bare bottomed on some butcher paper in the exam room.

Another reason men avoid the doctor is that we’ve been socialized since childhood to believe that being a man means sucking it up when you have an illness or injury. Going to the doctor for some men means admitting that you’re weak and defected, and, thus, unmanly.

I think one of the biggest reasons  men don’t go to the doctor for regular check-ups is that we view the doctor as someone we only visit when something’s wrong with us. We don’t see going to the doctor as a way to prevent health problems before they start.

Finally, some of us are nervous about going to the doctor because we’re afraid they’ll find something wrong with us. But of course, that reason doesn’t make an ounce of sense. Because while being diagnosed with something isn’t very fun, it’s a barrel of monkeys compared to dying.

So today, we’re going to get over our reluctance to visit the man in the white coat and schedule a physical for ourselves.

4 Reasons to Get Regular Physicals

Prevent health problems. This is the most important reason. In the West, it seems medicine is geared towards treating health problems and not preventing them. While it’s true that doctors spend most their time treating people who are already ill, more and more doctors are focusing on preventing their patients’ health problems before they start. A regular physical exam is one tool to accomplish this goal.

By getting a regular exam, you can nip your health problems in the bud. If your doctor spots a funky looking mole, it can be removed before you have problems with skin cancer. If he notices that your blood pressure is too high, he can suggest a diet and fitness plan to help reduce it before you have a heart attack.

Also, when you get your physical, your doctor will ask you about your family’s health history. If your family has a history of certain diseases or health problems, your doctor can give you guidance on how you can reduce your risk of suffering those ailments.

Save money. While we sometimes avoid the doctor because we don’t want to pay for an appointment, if a doctor can nip a problem in the bud before it gets serious, you’ll save a lot of money on medical bills down the road.

Establish baselines. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, getting a physical will establish baselines for things like your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Having these baselines will help your doctor gauge your health’s subsequent progression or regression.

Develop a relationship with your doctor. Because men don’t see the doctor regularly, we often don’t have a doctor with whom we’ve developed a trusting relationship. But having a doctor that you can trust can ensure that you get the best care possible. First, we’re more likely to open up to doctors that we have a good relationship with, which means the doctor will get the information he needs to make a correct diagnosis when things are wrong. Second, having a regular doctor means you’ll have someone who knows your health history well enough that they don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time they see you. Finally, when you have a doctor you feel comfortable with, you’ll be less hesitant to go see him when something about your health goes south.

How Often Should You Get a Physical

  • If you’re in your 2o’s… every five years.
  • If you’re in your 30′s… every three years.
  • If you’re in your 40′s... every two years.
  • 50 and above… every year.

What to Expect When You Get a Physical

A lot of men have never had a physical and might be nervous about what to expect. Will they stick their finger up my butt? (Only if you’re older than 50). Will they touch my balls? (If you’re under 40, then yes. Your balls will not only be touched, they will also be hefted). To take some of the edge off of going to get your physical, here’s a broad road map of what to expect.

Paperwork. While you’re waiting in the lobby to see the doctor, you’ll probably be given a bunch of forms that ask about you and your family’s health history. The questionnaire will ask if you use tobacco, consume alcohol, exercise regularly, or have had any health problems recently. It will also ask if anyone in your family suffered from cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, etc. Answer these questions truthfully and to the best of your ability. It will assist the doctor in giving you advice on staying as healthy as you can be. If you’re visiting the doctor for the first time, they usually ask that you arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment in order to fill out this paperwork.

Weight, height, blood pressure, and temperature. When you first walk in, a nurse will probably weigh you, measure your height, and take your blood pressure and temperature. They’ll probably take your pulse too just to check you’re alive and not a zombie.

Getting naked. Depending on the doctor, you’ll then probably be asked to strip down and put on those goofy aprons that leave your butt hanging out for the world to see. This gives the doc easy access to examine all of your man parts.

Skin exam. The doctor will come in and start checking out your skin. He’ll be looking for weird looking moles, paleness, yellowish tinges, rashes, and dryness.

Your ugly mug. Your doctor will check your face for things like puffy eyes and swollen glands near your throat which could indicate a thyroid problem.

Open your mouth and say “ahhhh….” Your mouth can reveal a lot about your overall health. If your lips are cracking and all red, it may mean you have a vitamin B deficiency. He’ll also take a look at your gums and teeth to see what sort of shape they’re in. Finally, he’ll look to the back of your throat to see if there’s any swelling. If you smoke, he might be looking for signs of throat cancer.

Your eyes and ears. The doc will switch off the lights and bust out some tools called an ophthalmoscope and an otoscope. They’re lighted instruments used to examine your eyes and ears respectively. Your doctor will be looking for inflammation in your ears or maybe a perforation of the ear drum. You also might be subjected to a sound test to check your hearing. In addition to checking your eyes with the ophthalmoscope, you’ll probably be given a vision test that will involve reading an eye chart.

Listening to your ticker. The doctor will use his stethoscope to listen to your heart and look for any abnormal sounds that might indicate an enlarged heart or a defect with your heart valves. He’ll also listen to your lungs and check for any wheezing, crackling, or gurgling sounds.

Pushing your gut. You’ll be asked to lie down so the doctor can press down on different parts of your abdomen. He’ll ask you if you feel any tenderness as he presses down in different areas. He’s looking for any possible fluid accumulation or abnormal masses. The doctor is also looking to see if your spleen and liver are in the right place.

You got nerve, man. The doctor will check your nervous system by basically having you do the sobriety test that police officers use. He’ll ask that you walk in a straight line, close your eyes, touch your nose with both fingers, etc. You’ll also test your reflexes with that little reflex hammer. While you’re up, the doctor might also have you bend down and touch your toes to 1) check your flexibility and 2) check your spine.

Checking the boys. If you’re under the age of 40, your doctor will give you a testicular exam. He’ll also probably ask you to turn your head and cough while he holds onto your balls to check to see if you have a hernia.

Let go of your decency…. if you’re over 40, the doctor will likely check your prostate for signs of prostate cancer. The doctor will will place his fingers inside your rectum and check your prostate for tumors. While he’s up there, the doc will also check for signs of rectum cancer.

Checking your bodily fluids. When you’re done in the examining room, you’ll put your clothes back on, and be sent to the lab where they’ll take all sorts of liquid from your body. Blood will be taken to test your cholesterol, your blood cell count, and your glucose level. A man’s urine can tell a lot about his health, so you’ll  also be asked to pee in a cup.

Other tests. Some doctors perform chest x-rays and ultrasounds at physicals, but many don’t. The x-ray is to help doctors get a better look at your lungs and the ultrasound lets them analyze your internal organs more closely.

Today’s Task: Schedule a physical

The manly man is a healthy man. So today’s task is to call your doctor and schedule an appointment for a full physical. Let us know that you completed the task in the Community.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh June 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Odd.. My doctor doesn’t do a lot of this stuff in my physicials.

Also: Any suggestions on how to convince friends to go to the doctor? A buddy of mine plain refuses to get a physical because he is afraid that the doctor will dianose him with a terminal disease. He doesn’t seem to understand or respond to the idea that, if there is something wrong, finding it now will help -keep- it from being a terminal disease.

2 Jaron June 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm

As I read this, I’m in a hotel room across the road from the military’s regional processing station, where I’ll be going tomorrow at 0500 for my physical to join the Army. I think I probably win the award for first AoM reader to get a physical after reading this article. The bad news: I’m gonna have to “spread the cheeks” as part of my exam. Good article, though.

3 Torrey June 18, 2009 at 9:13 pm

This article is really timely as this week in National Men’s Health Week. In a previous job, I created an annual men’s health day for this exact reason. It’s paramount that we take our health seriously and get checked out annually.

On another note, I recently wrote an article about men and the importance of their health on my blog, Men’s Playbook.
http://tinyurl.com/mrlzd5

4 Robert June 19, 2009 at 4:42 am

Curious where the interval info came from. My doctor and health insurance generally recommend no less than bi-annual in your 20′s, if not annually. Reasoning simply being better to catch things early. Physicals are also not very invasive and when done often enough are pretty quick.

5 Kirk June 19, 2009 at 4:46 am

You note that more the half the men in this country haven’t been to the doctor in a year. There is one major reason why this is true. A lot of men, my self included, don’t have health insurance. Believe me this article is preaching to the choir. My father is nurse and has always touted the benefits of regular checkups. But without someone picking up part of the tab there is no way my $9/hr job can cover a regular physical exam.

6 Robert June 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

If you’re not comfortable with the thought of your Doc putting is finger in your bum, then have a PSA exam. It’s a simple blood test, and odds are if you’re there for a physical they are going to draw blood to check cholesterol and such.

7 Steve June 19, 2009 at 9:31 am

to Kirk – try finding a doctor that takes nothing but walk-in business. In my area we have at least a dozen clinics that do not take insurance but will give a basic physical exam for about $35.00 excluding any blood tests. They only take immediate payment so their cost is relatively low because they do not have to file any insurance papers.

8 Dan July 31, 2009 at 12:47 am

Sorry, I’m not going in for a physical again if I have to get undressed and have someone mess with my privates or try to do a rectal exam. I’ve been there and done that and at 47 years old I’ve just gotten to a point where I’m not at all comfortable getting undressed like that. If they can listen to my heart and lungs through my shirt and tell me what’s wrong with me if I tell them my symptoms I’m OK with that. I had a prostate infection recently and the doc was able to diagnose and treat me successfully without doing a rectal exam at all (I refused).
I did consent to my first physical in I don’t know how many years last year but when they told me it was “head to toe” I said “well we are skipping the parts from the shoulders to the knees”.

I’m sorry, I’m just not willing to subject myself to the kind of humiliation that the kind of exam you described.

9 John October 2, 2009 at 10:50 am

I’m with Dan. Never will I let a doctor do that to me. I have to visit the doctor once a year to get my meds refilled. Every time I call, they want to give me a physical. I always just ask for an office visit, but when I get there its in the books as a physical. I think its all about the money, because a physical is over twice the cost of a office visit.

10 LNMD August 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I have been a family physician for 17 years. I am so surprised at the last two comments from John and Dan. For doctors, we see naked bodies every day of our lives, and it is our job to find medical problems by examining your body. There is just no way around it. What if that prostate exam would have revealed an enlarged prostate, or worse, a mass? Doctors are not into humiliating you, we just have to examine areas which YOU find humiliating! I am so tired of hearing about “it’s all about the money” Iwish I had the time to explain insurance to everyone, but read your insurance book, you can figure out the cost yourself!! You chose that insurance!

11 Mike September 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Maybe physicals are effective because they help you overcome self-esteem issues, or maybe even make some healthy choices so that you look better naked. I floss religiously for the week before I visit the dentist. . .

I think of my health as prerequisite to all of my other interests because how am I going to help my family/cmomunity/career, travel, learn, etc if I’m dead, sick, depressed, or tired?

12 Mike April 19, 2013 at 10:45 am

An interesting article & study against the use of general medical check-ups:
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/making-a-case-for-the-medical-check-up/

13 Jon May 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

LNMD, Obviously I don’t know you personally, but from your post it sounds like you’re only looking at the whole probe thing from your point of view. That would be fine if you were probing your own butt and were the only person in the room, but if I’m paying the tab (or my insurance is) I expect respect from doctors.
I have had an annual physical for decades, and quarterly lipid tests. I’ve had the dreaded rectal exam every year for 16 years. The last time it was done by a PA who was so rough that he actually tore something. I’m due for my physical in another month or two, and I will refuse the probe this time. Sorry – done with that for a while. With all due respect for your profession, and with humor intended (not being mean) – shove it up YOUR a**!

14 Graham Proud January 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

Like Robert, I am curious where the interval information has originated from.

I am 53, and I have just seen too many cases of prostate and other cancers go from not detectable to critical in three months.

I think over 50 you should be doing something every six months. I also have a physiotherapist look me over every year or so, to make sure posture isn’t falling off.

15 Charles March 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm

I came to see how a physical could help me.,, Well, people already know if they are in shape, and they should be eating healhy and not wait for an illness to start eating right. And Doctors have no formal training on nutrition and give terrible nutrition advice. So I am not convinced there is much merit.
Skin exam should be done by a dermatologist.

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