According to WebMD, men are 33% less likely to visit the doctor than women. The Men’s Health Network, meanwhile, notes that men are at a statistically higher risk for nine of the top 10 causes of death than women. So why are men traditionally less healthy than women? Why do men, on average, not live as long as women? Is it simply the gender stereotype of men avoiding doctor’s visits that leaves them more at risk for fatalities caused by serious diseases? Or are men simply more susceptible to those diseases in the first place?
To better understand the reasons behind men’s less-than-flattering health statistics, we took a look at the top five health risks that men face. Each of these conditions should be on the radar for every male as they get older, with regular physical exams and doctors visits recommended to catch warning signs early. With awareness and vigilance all the way around, perhaps we can fight the statistic that says men will live, on average, five years fewer than women.
- Heart Disease
Cancer isn’t far off, but heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to the CDC, the United States sees some 610,000 deaths per year caused by heart disease—equating to one in four deaths. In 2009, more than half of those deaths were among men. Worse, men are much more likely than women to experience sudden cardiac incidents, and half of the men who die suddenly from coronary heart disease have shown no previous symptoms.
The good news is that a doctor can discover warning signs before an incident. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are both risk factors that can be spotted in a physical exam while smoking by itself is a risk factor. Improving diet, adopting a more active lifestyle, losing weight, cutting back on alcohol use, and of course, quitting smoking are all ways to prevent the risk of a heart disease-related fatality.
- Lung Cancer
As mentioned above, cancer is the second leading cause of death for both men and women, claiming nearly 585,000 lives each year (in the U.S.) across all cancer types. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer among both men and women but is more common in males. The challenge with lung cancer is that it is difficult to catch early. It can be tough to spot on x-rays until it grows beyond a certain point, and often, by the time it has grown, it has also metastasized outside of the lungs. Once again, though, the highest risk factor is something that men can control: tobacco smoke. WebMD says that 90% of all lung cancers are caused by tobacco smoke. Bottom line: stop smoking, or don’t ever start. The moment you quit, your risk of lung cancer begins to diminish.
- Prostate Cancer
The second leading cause of cancer deaths in men (and the most common cancer diagnosis), prostate cancer, like lung cancer, can be difficult to treat. Doctors debate the effectiveness of prostate cancer screening methods (which include a blood test and a digital rectal exam), and prostate cancer can still be difficult to detect until it has spread to other parts of the body. While these exams are still generally recommended annually for men over 50, perhaps the best course of action is for men to speak with their doctors about their risk factors. Prostate cancer is more common among men with high-fat diets (and not enough fruits and veggies), men who are black, or men who have a history of the disease in their families.
The Internet Stroke Center states that strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. Not only do roughly 140,000 people die from strokes each year in the U.S., others who do not suffer fatalities from strokes often deal with disabilities or other complications for the rest of their lives. The risk of stroke increases about evenly for men and women as they get older, but statistics show that men are at least slightly more susceptible. As with heart disease, high blood pressure is a key risk factor, making frequent doctor’s visits, exercise, improved diet, reduced alcohol consumption, and a non-smoking lifestyle are all important stroke prevention techniques.
In 2003, the CDC estimated that roughly one in three boys born in 2000 would eventually become diabetic—meaning that the disease is only growing as a major health risk for men. In fact, diabetes is just growing: the number of cases tripled between the 1960s and the 1990s, and is only continuing to grow. Luckily, men—or women, or parents of millennial children who are especially at risk for becoming diabetic—can prevent the disease through weight loss, daily exercise, and healthy diet.
As you can see, most of the major health risks for men have similar risk prevention methods: frequent doctor’s visits and exams, regular exercise, healthy dietary habits that include plenty of fruits and vegetables, and quitting smoking, to name a few. For the most part, we have enough knowledge to lower the risk that men face of each of the above conditions. We all just need to learn to use that knowledge to build healthier lifestyles.