Local Doctors (and Dads) Share How to Open the Door to a Longer, Healthier Life
Fatherhood has many joys, but the stress of being a leader, provider, problem-solver, fix-it man, encourager, chauffeur, and disciplinarian can take a toll. In the long run, cutting stress and making a commitment to your health will help improve your quality of life.
“You cannot be all things to all people . . . Learn to say no. Avoid topics or situations that you know will induce stress,” advises Dr. Sergio Seoane, a Lakeland family practitioner and Polk County Medical Association (PCMA) member. “If you feel overwhelmed, look at your schedule and make a distinction between those things that are critical that you need to accomplish and those things which are not that important.”
Stress releases a hormone called cortisol in the body that may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2009, heart disease was the leading cause of death according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 25.2 percent of men, and 24 percent of women, died of heart disease that year while another 4.3 percent of men and 6.3 percent of the women died of stroke.
“Men need to accept that there are some things they cannot control. I would advise making time for themselves and doing things they enjoy, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest and sleep,” suggests Dr. Ulyee Choe, interim director of the Polk County Health Department and a PCMA member. “As a father of three young children, I find I have neglected my own hobbies, such as reading and music. I too need to make time to pursue these activities and put some balance in my life.”
While a certain amount of stress is inevitable, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your health. “If you’re overweight, you need to lose weight. If you smoke cigarettes, you need to stop. If you don’t exercise, you need to start. Wear sunscreen,” advises Dr. Seoane, the father of a four-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy. “If you drink alcohol, cut back or stop. Eat fruits and vegetables every day.”
Regular health screenings are the “single most important thing a man can do to prolong and preserve his life,” Dr. Seoane points out. “Make sure all your vaccinations are up-to-date,” he continues. “Make sure you see a physician to get an annual physical examination. You should know what your cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and PSA [Prostate-Specific Antigen] numbers are.”
An early diagnosis improves your chances for treatment or a cure. “Health screenings can help find problems before they start,” Dr. Choe agrees. Dr. Choe and Dr. Seoane also recommend a colonoscopy starting at age 50. While there isn’t a clear consensus on how frequently men should undergo prostate screening, Dr. Choe recommends talking to your physician about a yearly exam and PSA test.
Skin and prostate cancers are the most common cancers in men, according to the American Cancer Society, with prostate cancer being the second main cause of cancer deaths in men (behind lung cancer). “There is no one symptom that defines prostate cancer. Many symptoms can be caused by benign conditions,” says Dr. Arvind Soni, a radiation oncologist at Lakeland Regional Cancer Center and a PCMA member. “If someone has trouble urinating, decreased urinary stream, blood in urine or semen, swelling in his legs, or discomfort, he needs to be seen and evaluated by a physician.”
As the father of two, Dr. Soni advises men to speak with their family physician about having a PSA test performed. “The PSA test cannot tell if you have prostate cancer, but it can provide information and help determine if additional tests are needed. Infections and enlarged prostate can cause the PSA to be elevated,” he adds. The PSA is a protein that is produced in the prostate gland. The test measures the PSA level in the blood.
U.S. health statistics show people are living longer. Life expectancy climbed from 47 in 1900 to 78.7 years in 2011 as antibiotics, good medical care, modern surgery, early diagnoses, and medications have stayed the course of disease. Yet, that doesn’t mean we are living healthier, the doctors suggest. “The American diet is an atrocious diet,” says Dr. Seoane, describing it as “overfed” and “undernourished.”
We are living longer, but I would ask, ‘Are we living healthier?’ As the length of life is increasing, we need to increase the quality of life,” adds Dr. Choe. “Although there are things beyond our control— such as age, gender, family history, and genetics— there are certainly things we can control, such as eating healthier foods, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and preventing or treating chronic medical problems.”
In times of economic uncertainty, dads may be tempted to put off doctor visits to save a few bucks. But that’s not a good idea. “You cannot put a price on your own health. Even in times of economic hardships, you need to take care of your own body,” says Dr. Choe. “If you prevent a small health problem from becoming a larger one later, you will save money in the long run. And you will be better able to support your loved ones, especially if one of them becomes ill.”
Dr. Seoane points out good health care can help sidestep the need for hospitalization, which is expensive. “It doesn’t cost any money to stop smoking. It doesn’t cost any money to exercise. The sidewalks and parks are free for us to run or walk in,” he observes. “Going to a doctor is not that expensive. Most people will spend much more money taking a family of four to the movie theater than for single person to see a physician. And I don’t know any movie that’s worth your life or health.”
Ultimately, every day is special. “Life is precious. The only thing you really have is time… don’t waste it. If you have children… be there for them. Be true to yourself.”
story by CHERYL ROGERS