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How to Trick Yourself into Living Longer

Men have a bad habit of avoiding annual checkups — here’s how you could stop being that guy

Photo illustration of man with oil tank outline on chest
Paul Spella

We’re just a few days into 2023, and the “New Year New You” energy is in the air. It’s the perfect time to finally make an appointment for your annual checkup. But you probably haven’t done it, have you? 

Avoiding the doctor is a guy thing. Most women have annual gynecological checkups. But men wait for a sign — like pain, blood or something about their penis, says Gary LeRoy, M.D., who’s seen it all in 30 years as a family physician in Dayton, Ohio.

“Not necessarily in that order,” he points out. “They’ll suck up the pain. They’ll wipe off the blood. But if their sexual prowess is affected, all of a sudden they want to tiptoe into my office.”

Ah, manhood — the organ and the attitude—is at the root of this problem, doctors say. We can handle anything, we don’t need help, we’re strong and possibly invincible. Our excuses — no time, not sick, it’ll pass — are also lame and predictable.

“Embarrassment is really the core of it, I believe,” notes Scott Lundy, M.D., a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic who has agreed to visit office-phobic dudes in a parking lot and even at home. “Or it’s the fear of being told something that could be catastrophic.”

Gen Xers are especially weak at preventive care, a Cleveland Clinic survey showed.

About 3 out of 4 men 55 and older get an annual checkup, but among those ages 35 to 54, only 43 percent do. Because, you know, we’re busy.

Indeed, sometimes even chaos in the crotch isn’t enough to overcome this blind spot. Lundy recalled a patient with penile cancer — a mass that was “large, bleeding and painful” and had obviously been there a long time. Why hadn’t he come in sooner? The patient had no good answer. “There’s a lot of denial,” Lundy says. 

There’s pressure on men — both social and self-imposed — to be strong and self-reliant, Lundy adds. “And that sometimes supersedes logic and supersedes common sense.”

So, try some uncommon sense and trick yourself into getting to the doctor. 

Get bossed around 

Just one sentence to a friendly person can trigger your breakthrough. Tell your spouse or partner: “Think I should go to the doctor?” Prediction: They’ll say yes. Then encourage them to make the booking.

“I’ve had success asking patients to make appointments for checkups as a gift to their spouse,” says Eric Wallen, M.D., a professor of urology at the University of North Carolina medical school. He recalled a woman who in quick succession brought in her father, husband and brother. “This woman was the power, the engine, in this family.”

Use some psychological jujitsu on yourself

The very thing that’s been keeping you from the doctor, your default masculine setting — you feel fine, you’re a busy career man, don’t show weakness — can be used to change your thinking and make that long overdue appointment, Wallen suggests.

“Don’t just say, ‘Well, I’m OK. I’m good until I’m not good,’ ” Wallen says. “But rather: ‘I need to be there as long as possible for my family because I’m a provider.’ It's a very masculine thing.”

Find a female doctor

Wait, what? It turns out that many men are more open about their symptoms with a woman than a man, says Diana Sanchez, chair of the psychology department at Rutgers University, citing a study she worked on in which male and female med students interviewed patients.

“Men were particularly uncomfortable disclosing symptoms when it was a male doctor,” she notes. “There’s something about the culture of masculinity that facilitates this. Men seem to be a little less preoccupied with proving their masculinity with women.”

Who knew? Maybe play doctor with your wife and confess your concerns.

Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness