What the Mad Men Could Learn About Men's Health

When it comes to quality of life, healthy habits help make the man.

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Dr. Samuel Nussbaum is executive vice president, clinical health policy, and chief medical officer for WellPoint, Inc.

Imagine Don Draper and Roger Sterling starting their day with a workout, instead of a Scotch and a smoke. These two charmingly, yet unapologetically flawed characters on the popular TV series Mad Men provide plenty of reasons to raise eyebrows. They also, intended or not, help raise awareness about men's health.

This week is National Men's Health Week, a time to focus on preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men. It's an annual reminder to exercise, eat healthy, quit tobacco and get regular health screenings.

But the message is often eclipsed by a cultural sense of invincibility not unlike that played out by the "mad men" of the 1960s.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

We can credit Don and Roger for re-popularizing skinny ties, pocket squares, and cufflinks. But their health habits (never mind a number of their other behaviors) should remain relegated to history.

Certainly, we know more now than we did in those days; the dangers of smoking, the importance of exercise and healthy eating, and the fact that unhealthy behaviors eventually catch up with us in the form of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

But we haven't necessarily learned from all this. We drink more alcohol than we did in 1965. We eat more, and more poorly. Two-thirds of us are overweight and we are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

[Read: Michelle Obama Promotes Let's Move! Initiative]

I know changing bad habits isn't easy. Men, especially, can be slow to come around. We are notoriously stubborn, something Don and Roger epitomize and something to which even my own family would attest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are twice as likely to visit the doctor for annual exams and preventive services than men. Women live longer than men, too. And while gender may or may not play a role, men arguably struggle more to balance self-indulgence with self-awareness.

Work, stress, poor diet, and time constraints all stop men from taking better care of themselves. But these hurdles aren't insurmountable. Simple steps can have a huge impact on your health.

See your doctor for routine care appointments and immunizations. Don't wait until you get sick or have symptoms; regular checkups and screenings are the key to catching problems early or preventing them altogether.

[See our slideshow: 10 Winners in the Healthcare Debate.]

Know your numbers. Knowing your cholesterol level, along with your body mass index and blood pressure, can tell you and your doctor a lot about your risks for certain diseases.

Manage any health conditions you already have, such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure or cholesterol—and follow your doctor's treatment advice.

Back in the Mad Men era, Don and Roger didn't know their bad habits could harm their health. As men today we do know better, and we can live better—if we're willing to man up.