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Instead of bugging your hubby about exercise, why not exercise with him?
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updated 6/20/2011 9:36:36 AM ET 2011-06-20T13:36:36

Statistics don’t lie: Women outlive men by roughly 7 years. And as men get older, they tend to get sicker than we do too. “Men often don’t pursue health issues at a stage when they are preventable,” says Gary Rogg, MD, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

But a woman’s savvy input can make all the difference: 78 percent of men with a spouse or significant other say that that person has an impact on their decision to go to the doctor, according to a survey commissioned by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Here’s how to maximize your influence — without nagging, inducing guilt, or patronizing him — and steer your guy toward a healthier future.

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Don't sound like a broken record

If you want to make a healthful suggestion, say it once — with meaning. “Being heartfelt is underrated,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a doctor in private practice in Boston. “When you say something repeatedly, it can seem patronizing. Be genuine with your concern, even if you fumble with the words.” He will hear you the first time and will be more likely to consider deeply what you have to say.

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Plan physical outings together

If you think your husband —  and his heart — would benefit from regular exercise, find an activity you both enjoy and schedule regular dates to do it. Take a nightly walk after dinner, sign up for a guided bike ride, or try your hand at tennis. Good things come in pairs: A study from Indiana University found that married couples who worked out together exercised more often — and were less likely to fall off the fitness wagon — than married people who exercised alone.

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Discuss his family's history

When you ask men why they don’t go to the doctor, their typical response is that they feel fine. That may be the case — for now — but many genetic health issues, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, go undetected until after the heart attack or stroke. Framing his own health within the context of his family’s health history can make a powerful statement. “If you remind him that his dad had a heart attack when he was 60, that’s not nagging,” says Dr. Rogg. “That’s saying, ‘I love you and want you here forever.’”

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Plan man-friendly menus

Men love to grill, so turn that primal instinct into a better dietary approach. Grilling is one of the healthiest ways to prepare meat, since the fatty juices drip away from the food. Shop for leaner cuts of beef, such as round steak, and buy a grilling basket so he can experiment with fish. “Load shish kebab skewers with vegetables and lean pieces of chicken breast,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. “You’ll get him to eat healthier without making it look like a spa meal.” If it’s not grilling weather, try tacos with ground turkey instead of saturated-fat-heavy ground beef, or whip up a bean-based chili recipe.

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Accompany him to doctor's appointments

Even if you succeed at getting him to schedule a doctor’s appointment, interpreting medical advice can be overwhelming. It never hurts to have an extra set of ears. “Sometimes patients are so anxious they don’t listen, and they miss 98 percent of what was said,” says Dr. Gerbstadt. After the appointment, digest what was said, and if you see him disobeying the advice, gently remind him (once!) what the health care provider advised. “Be a positive advocate, not an enforcer. You don’t have to be his cheerleader, just someone who obviously cares,” she says.

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Make gradual changes

Healthy habits don’t happen overnight. The more drastic the dietary and exercise changes are, the less likely they will take root. “If he’s used to white bread, don’t go to the darkest grain; he’ll be miserable,” says Diane Henderiks, RD. Instead, choose chewy rye or soft whole wheat. Make tweaks in other ways too: Park the car farther away from the entrance of the ball field or shopping mall, buy whole fruit instead of sugar-added juice, and give him a multivitamin with his morning coffee.

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Apply for life insurance

If you have a family, appeal to his masculine provider instinct. A life insurance policy can help sustain your family should the worst-case scenario happen — plus, a new policy generally requires blood work and a physical exam. “That was the first way I could get my son’s father to go for a checkup,” says Dr. Gerbstadt. If neither of your employers offers a policy, visit insure.com to browse quotes from an assortment of providers.

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Set up a screening schedule

Men are usually good at taking directions when the directives are spelled out clearly. With health tests, here are some guidelines to follow: Blood pressure should be checked every 2 years, and cholesterol levels should be evaluated every 5. He should get baseline eye and ear exams starting at age 40 and follow-ups every 2 to 4 years after that. When he hits 50, he should begin regular colon health exams with high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. (Those at higher risk should begin screening at a younger age.) He should visit the dentist at least annually for cleaning and an exam, and schedule a once-a-year skin check with a dermatologist. He should also get an annual flu shot, and have a tetanus booster every 10 years.

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