I am now going to engage in the popular game of constructing a list — in this case, of the most important choices for staying sound in body and mind for years to come.
And since we are dealing with the game of life, I am taking this game very seriously. Obviously, there is no scientific way to prove that these are the 12 most important health practices for all men — or that I have ranked them in the right order. But I think that I can make a pretty good case for both the list and the order.
At the very least, it will be good way of summarizing what I feel are some of the most important health messages to come out of my new book, Dr. Timothy Johnson's OnCall Guide to Men's Health, which help give men of all ages a strategy for staying fit and well.
As you will see, I have cheated a little by combining two items in some cases. And I have chosen both screening tests and preventative practices for the list. But every item shares this one dynamic: They are all under your control. So here goes.
The Top 12
1) Don't smoke. Smoking is estimated to kill 400,000 Americans every single year. That's the equivalent death toll of three jumbo jet crashes every single day! Choosing not to smoke is, without a doubt, the single most important health decision you can make.
2) Control your weight. This is not as easy a No. 2 choice for me as was No. 1. That's because the connection between obesity and actual illnesses or deaths is often more indirect than is the case with smoking. But I have come to accept the estimates of the Surgeon General's Office that obesity is responsible for approximately 350,000 deaths every year, and that if American men continue to stop smoking in large numbers, it may even replace smoking as the No. 1 cause of death for men.
3) Drink alcohol in moderation. This message can be taken in both positive and negative terms. Truly moderate drinking (one to two standard size drinks per day) does reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, the No. 1 cause of death in our country. However, excessive drinking is a major cause of both physical disease and social tragedy. Approximately 10 percent of people who start drinking socially will become alcoholics. The decision to drink even socially should not be taken lightly.
4) Exercise regularly. This health practice has enormous physical and emotional benefits. Besides reducing the risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis, regular exercise can be helpful in raising our general mood and reducing the risk for depression.
5) Have regular cholesterol and blood pressure tests. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure can be described as "silent killers," since they can cause extensive damage to our heart and arteries without producing any telltale symptoms until it is often too late. Therefore, the only way to find out if you have a potential problem is to get tested.
6) Have regular colonoscopy and prostate serum antigen testing. I strongly believe in the value of both of these tests in detecting two common and potentially lethal diseases — colon and prostate cancer — when they are still curable. There are not many cancers that we can either prevent of detect early enough to make a difference, but these are two.