On average, men die five years younger than women, and at higher rates from nine of the top 10 causes of death. Sadly, many of these deaths are preventable. In addition, research suggests that more men are dying of COVID-19 than women – a finding strongly linked to the same risk factors (like high blood pressure) that impact men’s general health and longevity. Other research suggests that men’s propensity for risky behaviors, like ignoring social distancing, may make them more susceptible to COVID-19 than women.
In recognition of Men’s Health Month (June), and with these current and long-term concerns in mind, there has never been a better time to make men’s health a priority.
Understanding men’s health
The top 10 causes of death among men in the United States include (in rank order):
1. Heart Disease
3. Unintentional Injuries
4. Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
7. Alzheimer’s Disease
9. Influenza & Pneumonia
10. Chronic Liver Disease
While men are uniquely at risk for some conditions (like prostate cancer), these “top causes” can affect anyone. However, with the exception of Alzheimer’s Disease, men die in greater numbers (from these causes) than women. Even in the case of Alzheimer’s Disease, most experts attribute this finding to longevity; many men die of other causes before Alzheimer’s Disease can fully develop.
The role of “lifestyle”
While researchers continue to look for underlying differences between men and women that might explain these findings, most studies point to “lifestyle” as the primary contributor.
Compared to women, men are more likely to:
-Make risky choices
Conversely, men are less likely to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, get regular check-ups (like a physical exam), schedule recommended screenings tests, or keep their vaccinations up to date.
In short, men often increase and ignore their health risks – and have been slow to acknowledge and adopt “healthy habits” that might help them avoid future health issues.
Making healthy changes
Just as “lifestyle” plays a central role in men’s health risks, lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce these risks and improve health (and longevity). In general, regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, stress reduction, and moderating alcohol consumption (no more than two drinks a day) lead to better health, even when men adopt these habits later in life.
Additionally, regular checkups (including a physical exam) often help men detect and treat conditions before they become life-threatening. Physical exams also provide doctors with the opportunity to recommend and conduct screening tests that further inform detection and treatment.
The CDC’s guidance for men’s screenings varies by age and situation. It includes (but is not limited to) the following recommendations:
-A “flu shot” every year
-Cholesterol checks every 5 years (or as recommended by your doctor)
-After age 45, a diabetes screening every 3 years (or as recommended by your doctor)
-After age 50, annual colorectal cancer screenings (note that methods and timing vary)
-After age 50, discuss prostate cancer screenings with your doctor
If you are a man and have not visited with your doctor in some time, consider scheduling a physical exam. In addition to assessing your current health, your doctor can provide further advice on lifestyle changes (including diet and exercise) to help inform your next steps.
If you are a woman, encourage the men in your life to take a healthy step forward – from getting screened to staying active, your advocacy may be just what they need.
Where to get more information
The Men’s Health Network (MHN) offers a variety of useful men’s health resources. Start here: https://www.menshealthnetwork.org/
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) also offer a variety of resources: https://www.cdc.gov/features/healthymen/index.html