Again recently, I reviewed health information that not only deeply troubled me, but the facts clearly call for action from all of us to help support change:
- The life expectancy for men in the United States is 76.3 years, around five years less than that of women.
- 1 in 2 men are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime
- Men make up approximately 55% of the workforce, but account for 92% of all workplace deaths
- The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depression – and while thought to be more common among women, expert thinking is that some of the difference may be that men are less likely to seek treatment or they think they can “handle” it. Sadly, suicide is the 7th leading cause of death, among men.
- Men are often more likely than women to participate in behavior that puts their overall health at risk, through smoking and drinking alcohol, for example
- Over 80) of men remember the make and model of their first car – yet barely half can recall their last trip to the doctor or when their next visit should be
- Many reports note that “men and doctors don’t mix” with findings that men are 80% less likely than women to use a regular source of healthcare and over 50% of men ages 18-to-50 do not have a regular source of healthcare. One large national survey revealed that 1/3 of men in that age group hadn’t had a checkup in more than a year, and 40% had never had their cholesterol checked, ever.
- Research shows that most men only go to the doctor when they feel sick or have a medical emergency and otherwise speaking, “it is not on their radar” or too time consuming.
These facts highlight the need for men to be better informed and educated on basic health, while being encouraged to lead a healthy life.
And championing men’s health— while helping to prevent men’s health problems—is not just “the” man’s issue but something we can all take an active role in influencing.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: Men’s Health & His Disconnect with Healthcare
Commitment Not to Avoid Doctors
Men’s health has dynamic aspects. In addition to certain conditions that only affect men, such as prostate cancer, a number of major health problems—heart disease, lung cancer, suicide—are more common in males compared to females. And while there is an abundance of research to show that lifestyle changes and visits to healthcare professionals for early screening and diagnosis can possibly prevent, slow down progression, or cure these diseases, there is more impacting men’s disconnect to visit a doctor. Experts underscore that the “…biggest problem men have is not so much a specific disease, but the lack of healthcare monitoring earlier in life.”
Men give lots of reasons why they avoid doctors, but some of the reasons they don’t give are deeply embedded socially and culturally. Much has been studied about the societal and cultural biases expected of boys and young men to “be tough and ignore pain.”
This is another reason why each of us must commit to encourage the men we love to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury so they can thrive–optimizing their health and improving their life expectancy.
Routine Exams and Screenings
These are proven, crucial steps to good health and wellness. Experts believe that the failure of men to meet with their physicians on a regular basis is why men are more likely to die at a younger age than women, as well as get and die of serious diseases. Regularly scheduled medical care is a big part of preventing cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Routine exams help identify medical issues, assess risk for future medical problems, encourage a healthy lifestyle, and the development of a strong relationship with your healthcare provider. Depending on age and risk factors, a complete physical exam should be done every 1-3 years.
Regarding screenings, your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugars as well as conduct a depression screening, in accordance with national guidelines. And, too, they will recommend other appropriate testing such as for prostate and colon cancer.
Leading Causes of Illness and Death in Men:
- Heart Disease. While heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, nearly twice as many men die from it compared to women. And too, it manifests about 10 years earlier in males. Consequently, The American Heart Association lists male gender as a risk factor for heart disease.
Men (along with women) can take a multitude of steps to decrease their risk:
- Eating a balanced diet filled with fruit, veggies, lean meats, and decreasing added sugars,
- Staying physically active, and maintaining an ideal body weight
- Quitting smoking (or never ever starting),
- And, because it typically manifests 10 years earlier than in women, men have a shorter time to prevent its development—so start now!
And too, the good news is that a heart healthy lifestyle also doubles-up as a brain healthy one, thereby decreasing the risk for stroke, a leading cause of disability and death in men, as well as Alzheimer’s dementia.
- Lung Disease. Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are leading killers of men (and women). Incidents of lung cancer are up with rates highest among men. And, smoking tobacco is the leading cause. The good news is that as soon as one quits, their body begins to repair the damage caused by smoking. And while millions of Americans have turned to electronic cigarettes to help them quit, it is important to know that the current body of evidence shows that these products contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances.
- Prostate Dancer.It is the most common cause of cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, following lung cancer. Studies have linked obesity, the consumption of foods high in fat such as red meats and high fat dairy products, and not enough fruit, veggies, and legumes to prostate cancer. Thus, lifestyle choices are very important.
And men need to talk with a healthcare provider to determine appropriate screening based on their risk factors – which can aid with early detection and more options for treatment and cure.
- Suicide and Depression. An estimated 6 million men suffer from major depressive episodes every year. Interestingly, there are gender specific differences in how depression manifests. Although depression typically is associated with sadness and crying, in males, depression may manifest as anger, irritability, aggression and risk-taking behaviors including alcohol and substance abuse. And, again, societal and cultural expectations of masculinity have been shown to be a barrier in men taking healthy steps for help. Experts agree that the under diagnosis and treatment of depression contributes to the fact that men are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to women.
- Stress, Chronic Stress and the Lack of Healthy Stress Management. These all take a unique toll on men’s health, affecting both their mental and physical health. I want you to understand that when a body’s fight or flight response is activated (in both genders), it goes into survival mode and takes care of immediate and acute needs, such as getting energy to the muscles. This stress response is meant to be short-lived. However, chronic stress results in a chronic fight or flight response and impairs one’s ability to take care of longer-term needs, thereby shutting down things such as the body’s immune and reproductive systems (stress decreases testosterone levels). And the wear and tear from repeated stress is severe. One large body of research has established that it is a risk factor in the development of heart disease, Alzheimer’s dementia, unhealthy lifestyle choices, as well as anxiety and depression. And while no one is able to avoid the stresses in life, the goal is to be wise to recognize and manage them, regularly.
So how about the special men in your life? Are they maintaining a healthy diet? Being physically active? Getting restful sleep, nightly? Staying hydrated? Avoiding unwise, risky behaviors? Are they maintaining healthy boundaries and managing stress while taking quality time to connect with those they love – with some time to relax? Have they had an annual check-up? If so, great! If not, how can you positively influence them?
As treasured family, friends and fellow workers, we must find positive ways to help encourage the men in our lives to take good care of themselves…and help be part of the change we want to see.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions, and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.