There’s a scene in an early season of "Mad Men" when a then mid-30s Don Draper visits a doctor and discovers that he may be a ticking time bomb. He has alarmingly high blood pressure -- and it’s no wonder, considering his two-pack-a-day smoking habit and daily devotion to whiskey and rye, not to mention the stress of keeping a giant secret and a stable of mistresses. And yet he looks … well … like Don Draper.
That, in a nutshell, is the 30s: You can still walk the walk, but this is a decade for taking stock. Dr. Gary Rogg, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York, points out that outwardly healthy men can be developing heart problems during these year without a clue. “We know from autopsies done on young men [who died, for example, in accidents] that there are often early signs of atherosclerosis,” a precursor of heart disease.
An annual physical now will look the same as it did 10 years ago -- an assessment of weight and blood pressure, heart, lungs, lymph nodes, carotid arteries to look for any abnormalities such as heart murmurs, breathing problems and early vascular issues -- but becomes a bit more urgent. Keep up that testicular self-checking, too; surprisingly, testicular cancer is more common in younger men than older ones, says Rogg.
Maybe you’ve done this important check already. OK, we didn’t think so, so now’s when to get a fasting lipoprotein blood test for good, or HDL, and bad, or LDL, cholesterol, as well as triglycerides. Cholesterol isn’t a disease or condition; it’s an assessment that can indicate your risk of developing heart disease.
What you need to aim for is not just keeping your LDL lower -- 100 mg/dl is optimal -- but inching your HDL higher, over 60 mg/dl, according to American Heart Association standards. Generally, a good total number is 200 mg/dl or less; over 240 is considered high.
Measuring your triglycerides, the most common type of fat in your body, is also a key number -- inching over 150 mg/dl is cause for concern. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL or high LDL may encourage atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. This test becomes more crucial if you have a family history of heart disease, and if you smoke.
A lot of men who found staying trim a breeze in their 20s notice their belts need letting out. Checking your body mass index will help you get hold of your belly fat issues now, important because belly fat can be related to heart problems down the road.
Figure out your BMI with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute calculator. Your physician may calculate this number in his office, but even if he doesn’t, you should know it, because a high BMI ups your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers. Just bear in mind that BMI readings may overestimate body fat in men who work out a lot or who have a muscular build.
Get yourself to a dermatologist, especially if you've spent a lot of time outdoors throwing a football at the beach but not enough lotioning up. Look at it this way: A full-body check now is way more palatable than losing a chunk of your nose to a basal-cell carcinoma 10 years down the road. Skin checks are generally recommended every few years.
Your doc will be looking for any suspicious moles that fit the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE criteria -- and which you should keep an eye out for too. A is for asymmetrical; B for bleeding; C for (changing) color; D for diameter (greater than 6 mm) and E for evolving.
If you think skin cancer can’t happen to you, think again: CDC stats indicate that melanoma rates among men increased significantly from 1999 to 2008.