The guy’s guide to getting a physical

If fear of the unknown has you avoiding the doctor, get the facts on what to expect at a men’s physical

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men's annual physical doctor

Why men need a regular checkup

When was the last time you, your father or brother had a checkup? While males should get physicals every few years from boyhood to adulthood, many don't. Only 41 percent of men over 18 say they go for regular checkups, according to a 2011 Ipsos Reid survey sponsored by RBC Insurance.

Why? "It's partly because of the way men relate to illness," says Dr. Yves Talbot of the academic family health team at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. "Men are expected to be tough and ignore pain." Most men will visit their physician when they have an infection or injure themselves, or as they age and develop health issues. But Talbot says no matter what their age or physical status, men need regular physicals. (For men under 40 with few health problems, "regular" can be as seldom as every seven years. But by age 60, they should go every two years.)

Men might also avoid getting a physical because they're not sure what it entails. While there are few set guidelines for what tests a guy should get when, here is what you can generally expect:

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man on exercise ball

For men in their 20s and 30s

A physical usually starts with a weigh-in and blood pressure test, which is key. About 20 percent of men have high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease, which results in 28 percent of all male deaths, according to Statistics Canada.

After that, it's mostly questions about things like smoking, diet, exercise, stress and family history of illness. The doctor is trying to assess if you have disease risk factors that warrant early screening tests or if you need help for problems like smoking cessation. Know that you'll never be forced to do a test, and will not be judged by the doctor. "A good doctor will offer choices, but patients don't have to go along with everything," says Talbot.

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man and doctor health prostate men

For men age 40 and older

A basic checkup doesn't change unless you have risk factors that require early testing for things like heart disease and diabetes. How about that feared digital rectal exam for prostate cancer? Talbot says patients find this somewhat uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few minutes. And it is necessary at some point, as 25,000 men are diagnosed with this cancer every year in Canada. But Talbot says men in their 40s get this test only if there is a family history, if they have difficulty urinating or if they urinate frequently during the night. Risk goes up after age 50, and 80 percent of prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over 60.

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man heart doctor

For men age 50 and older

Heart disease risk starts rising for men at this age, so you'll get a blood test to check your cholesterol. If there is concern about heart disease, you may be prescribed daily ASA to thin the blood and prevent artery blockages. Men over 50 will often be sent for blood sugar testing for type 2 diabetes, and the test may be repeated every two to three years if you're overweight or have other risk factors. And since one in 13 Canadian men will develop colon cancer, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, doctors get men to do a fecal occult blood test every two years. This is often a home test, and you'll drop off the sample at a lab. If tests come back positive, you will be sent for a colonoscopy.

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older couple walking

For men age 60 and older

Along with the regular screenings men start getting in their 50s, your doctor will ask if you're getting dental care and an annual flu shot. The doctor will also send you for baseline tests to ensure that your hearing, mobility and memory are still good.

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