November 1, 2017 — By Health Ambassador Harry Carson
I recently took my yearly physical examination. Since I left my football playing days (so long ago) where I was examined by multiple doctors to make sure I was physically fit to practice and play on the football field, I diligently made sure that I stayed on top of my own personal health and well being. When I schedule the date of my physicals it is usually 3-4 weeks in advance of meeting with my doctor to make certain that I “listen” to my body and make sure I have noted any changes to be discussed and documented that might have occurred since my last physical examination.
I pay attention to everything that occurs during the examination but there are two specific areas of concern that I pay very close attention to. The first is my blood pressure reading and the other is the results of my prostate exam. When I was younger I never really gave the thought of a prostate examination any serious thought because when I was younger the prostate exam was for older men. Well, now that I am of that older man’s age and with a better understanding that prostate cancer is very treatable if caught early it has become an important part of my exam. The other thing people should know about prostate cancer is, it is more prevalent in the African American male community where many men feel uncomfortable undergoing that kind examination. As I have gotten older and as I have seen many men of my age including men I am friends with being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer it is important for me not to close my eyes but to embrace it and be an example for men to follow. As a result, I have done extensive voluntary work to help make men (especially men of color) more aware of prostate cancer and the importance of early detection.
The other concern I mentioned about my yearly physical examination is my blood pressure reading. Understanding my own family health history and other key factors play into the importance of paying attention to the reading. Hypertension runs rampant in the families of minorities from the Southern United States. Where I am originally from falls within the Hypertension and Stroke Belt of states that start in North Carolina and run through my home state of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. I now live in New Jersey but I certainly understand my roots and where I am from. There was a time, years ago, when I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I remember my doctor telling me that based on my then high blood pressure reading and my family’s history it might be a good idea to start thinking about putting me on medication for my blood pressure. I remember looking at him and saying “Doc, hold that thought!” I walked out of his office and immediately changed my eating habits and doing some type of exercise every day for two weeks. I went back to him and my blood pressure reading was significantly better.
My most recent blood pressure reading was 106 over 74. I was floored! I was looking for something in the neighborhood of 120 over 80. The nurse who took the reading said “this is the best reading you’ve ever had here!” That is saying a lot because I’ve been going to my doctor for almost 30 years. I was proud of myself as it was not my intent to lose weight or to get to those numbers. I had made a conscious decision to eat healthier (less fried foods and foods high in sugar and fat), to drink more water and less sugary drinks and be more active from a cardiovascular standpoint.
I write a lot about brain related issues but it is important to recognize that the heart and a healthy blood flow throughout the entire body including the brain is important to maintain overall good health.
On a personal note, I would strongly encourage everyone, if possible, to take a yearly physical examination to be up to speed with vital stats such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, height/weight and for men a prostate cancer screening. To be proactive in managing one’s own health is important for everyone; if not for themselves personally, then for their family members who might ultimately be responsible for illnesses one could have sustained neglecting their own health and well being.