How to feel great in your teens and 20s and for decades to come.
Teens and young men have tremendous resilience and healing capacity. Ron Sinha, M.D., is an internal medicine physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who frequently lectures about men’s health issues. He notes that it is during this age when men typically feel invincible.
“You can eat a large pizza and barely gain a pound. You can pull all-nighters consecutively for a week before final exams and recover after sleeping in a full day,” he says.
Unfortunately, as high levels of male hormones begin a natural and gradual decline with age, these super-human capabilities fade and poor diet and exercise habits you’ve established while young begin to catch up with you.
“Teens and young men benefit long-term when they see a doctor for a full physical exam every few years, get needed vaccinations and learn the importance of a good diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep before bad lifestyle habits get deeply ingrained and harder to change,” Dr. Sinha says.
Although most vaccination series are completed by age 18, there are seasonal vaccines and boosters that everyone needs. Dr. Sinha says healthy young men should get the following:
- Flu shots — The flu is an unpredictable illness. While it rarely endangers healthy young men, it can make you very uncomfortable. In addition, every year flu seriously sickens some young men and may even put them in the hospital. Flu shots also help prevent you from spreading the flu to others who may be at greater risk, like the elderly, babies and people with serious illnesses like cancer.
- Tdap vaccine — Young men are active risk-takers and get their fair share of cuts and bruises. This vaccine is often given after a severe cut or burn to prevent tetanus (lockjaw), a dangerous blood infection. In addition, it prevents you from catching and spreading diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine — This sexually-transmitted virus can cause genital warts and throat cancer in men. It is also a leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Getting the vaccine protects you and your future partners. Typically, it is offered by pediatricians to boys just before puberty, but it is not too late to be vaccinated as a young man.
There are relatively few tests young men need. However, getting a blood test so that you know your baseline lipid (cholesterol) and glucose levels, as well as blood pressure, is smart, Dr. Sinha says.
Young men should also know their family health history. If a relative had an early heart attack, or if relatives have had certain cancers, you may need early screening tests for cardiovascular disease and cancers.
One cancer that tends to strike younger men is testicular cancer. Doctors used to recommend that all males in their 20s and 30s do testicular self-exams, feeling for an unusual lump or change. However, new research has shown that this makes little difference in the ability to detect testicular cancer early. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force therefore no longer recommends testicular cancer self-exams for all men. The American Cancer Society advises talking to your doctor about whether self-exams will help you.
Finally, if you have had unprotected sex or used intravenous drugs, tell your doctor. These conversations are confidential and help your doctor manage your health. Your doctor may recommend screenings for certain serious sexually-transmitted or blood-borne diseases like AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
“Enjoy your good health and energy as a young man, but don’t take it for granted,” Dr. Sinha says. “Get in the habit of taking care of your body. Eat right, get both adequate rest and exercise, reduce stress and see your doctor regularly