Live Longer And Better. How Men Can Do It.
Why do men have shorter lifespans than women? Science says women’s additional x chromosome gives them an edge.1 And, estrogen, naturally higher in women, protects the heart.
But estrogen therapy isn’t recommended for men and genes are permanent. So, what can men do?
Fortunately there are plenty of concrete actions men can take to improve their health. Multiple organizations worldwide are dedicated to increasing male lifespan and supporting their quality of life.
Awareness campaigns exist for just about every age group, gender and health condition. But men’s barriers are more tied to behavior and perspectives than lack of resources. For this reason, awareness campaigns are a critical first step.
Some of the most influential groups making inroads include:
- The Movember Foundation, which holds “Movember” events each November worldwide to draw attention to men’s particularly high risks for cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and suicide.
- Men’s Health Network, which holds Men’s Health Awareness Month in June.
- The American Foundation for Urological Disease (AFUD) spearheads National Prostate Health Month in September.
Why Do Men Avoid Doctors?
Men visit doctors two-thirds less than women. Compared to women, men are likely to ignore, not recognize or underestimate symptoms of an illness. They also wait too long to seek medical care, if they do at all.
These habits can be traced to stereotypes that men are supposed to be strong and brave. Those beliefs, reflected in behavior, are contributing to higher COVID-19 fatalities for men than women. Data shows men are less likely to practice social distancing and wear masks, recognize (and acknowledge) symptoms and seek medical help.2 These psychosocial behaviors aren't the only reasons for higher male COVID-19 deaths, but they are top contenders.2
There's hope that the US and world will make it past COVID-19. But what about the ongoing risks to male health? Men, here are some concrete actions you can take to live longer and better.
Change Your Mind. Change Your Health
Transform the way you view illness and strength. Being proactive about health and aware of risks doesn't make you afraid and weak. Instead, taking control of your health is a sign of strength. You could argue that change doesn't happen overnight and you'd be right. But if your body is sick, it's not going to hang tight until you consciously decide to take action.
Telemedicine and at-home lab testing enable you to take action while remaining cool-headed. It puts you in control. Privacy and comfort are built in.
Telehealth visits happen when and where you want. Telemedicine that use written digital communication rather than talking, can help put you further at ease. If you prefer a video call, that's possible also.
Lab testing is simple also:
- Collection kits are mailed to your home.
- You collect your lab sample.
- Drop your kit in the mail.
- Receive results online in a few days.
Although remote care can't entirely replace in-office medical visits, it's complementary and can go above and beyond. Personalized care from telemedicine can offer access to preventative medicine, diagnostics and treatments you wouldn't normally know about, let alone be able to access.
If you don’t need the benefits of privacy and convenience for encouragement, you’re in the minority of men. Here’s why:
Boys And Girls Raised To Seek Medical Care Differently
According to Ana Tomsic, vice president of The National Men's Health Network, at a young age, males are steered away from acknowledging that their body may need help. In an interview on iHEARTRadio during National Men's Health Awareness Month, June 2020, she used the example of a boy falling down. Typically, he's told to get right back up like nothing happened. Messages that equate injury or illness with less masculinity continue until adolescence. It's more acceptable or expected for girls on the other hand to express themselves. (Keep in mind, these are generalizations based on large groups. Individual experiences vary.)
Men In Their 18-40s Fall Off The Health Care "Radar"
During childhood up to age 18, boys and girls routinely see their pediatrician, explained Tomsic. Girls, then become women, and move directly to their OB/GYN. Pap Smears, breast self-exams and annual well-doctor visits are coordinated.
But at 18, male health awareness falls by the wayside. A hard fast “calendar” of care doesn’t exist for men until they reach their 40s. If they visit a doctor between 18-40, it’s likely because they “have the flu or an STD,” she said.
Testicular cancer is most common among men ages 20-40, according to the American Cancer Society. Males are advised to perform self-testicular exams from ages 18-55 but there’s no structure in place to support that preventative step from ages 18-40.
Meanwhile, between the ages of 18 to early-to mid-40s, men are at prime risk for certain chronic diseases or if they're not conscious about their health, laying the groundwork for heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and depression.
Use Your 18-40s To Build Healthy Habits. You’ll Be Grateful Later In Life.
On the positive, men’s 18-40s is an excellent time to develop healthy habits and set the stage for overall well-being in the next phases of their health journey: active aging in their mid-50s and beyond. At this point, the body is more likely to demonstrate its need for support.
Accomplishing this means resisting programmed attitudes. Left unchallenged, the idea that boys should “walk it off” if they fall, for instance when playing sports, can easily morph into a mindset that men are invincible. Sound like an exaggeration?
While women seem to always be watching their "figure," younger men gobble hamburgers, pizza and beer with the thought that they’ll just work it off at the gym or they have "naturally high metabolism."
There’s this misconception that if they look good or feel good, then their health must be good, adds Tomsic.
“It’s never too soon for young adults to talk with their doctors about heart health, which should include how to manage cholesterol levels through diet and exercise, and, in certain cases, medication,” said Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, M.D., Ph.D.,the lead author of a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
“What is happening in your blood vessels, in particular your cholesterol levels during your 30s and 40s, affects your heart health in your 50s, 60s and 70s,” said Navar-Boggan. The study assesses both male and female risks for heart disease but men on average, experience their first heart attack at 65, seven years before women.
She compares unchecked cholesterol early in life to the long-term effects of smoking a pack a day during that 30-40 year span.
Men would be better off if they sought professional advice and used real data in these earlier years to verify their degree of healthiness.
Cardiovascular health is not just about cholesterol and blood pressure control. An overlooked aspect is glucose levels. A cardiometabolic profile is used to look at the overall factors that contribute to chronic heart disease.
Higher than normal blood sugar is a strong predictor of Type 2 diabetes. Most people are unaware they have elevated glucose.
An Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1) test can provide valuable insight. Health insurance rarely covers an IGF-1 test unless you’re on Human Growth Hormone therapy for hypogonadism or you have signs of pituitary gland dysfunction.
How An IGF-1 Test Can Help Guide Preventive Health Habits
IGF-1, also known as somatomedin C, controls the effects of Growth Hormone (GH) and helps the body metabolize glucose. Poor glucose metabolism is a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes.
- IGF-1 and growth hormone levels are highest during puberty then begin to decline with age.
- IGF-1 supports skeletal muscle growth and is vital for DNA synthesis, wound repair, and healthy skin regeneration.
- Growth hormone is responsible for lean muscle growth and fat metabolism.
- Decreased levels of each cause typical signs of aging such as fatigue, loss of a strong physique and cognitive decline.
In the very least, they could avoid shock when they re-enter the health system and are hit with a bunch of tests starting between the ages of 40-45. That is if they follow the “male health calendar’ that picks up where it left off at age 18.
Men typically start routine care in their 40s with the nudge of a family member, friend or health campaign. Oftentimes, men will think twice about returning due to extensive medical questionnaires, exams, lab tests and out-of-pocket costs. A visit may include a physical prostate and testicle exam and blood pressure check. They may take their first cholesterol and glucose test. If they're lucky, their testosterone may be measured.
This is a little late considering men’s testosterone drops 1% each year beginning at 30, putting them at risk for depression, fatigue and sexual dysfunction. In fact, 1 out of 4 men in their 40s seek help for erectile dysfunction but they may have been suffering in silence for several years.
Meanwhile men’s chronic health conditions are comorbid, meaning one illness can lead to another or they exist simultaneously. ED is linked to depression. Depression can stem from hormone imbalance, specifically low testosterone. Low testosterone can cause ED and create estrogen dominance. Male estrogen dominance, ED and low-T may also indicate hyperthyroidism.
Although hair loss is not usually a medical illness, it can trigger depression and anxiety. By age 35, two-thirds of men begin show signs of male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia). At age 50, up to 85% of men have noticeable baldness, according to the American Hair Loss Association. High dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is the source of male pattern baldness in 95% of cases. The potential to downward spiral fast is real. Ignoring symptoms or self-medicating can make matters worse.
Studies show a correlation between high DHT and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (skin cancer is No.1). Thirteen out of 100 men will get prostate cancer during their lifetime—for 2-3 men, it will be fatal. Five-year survival rates for prostate cancer that has not spread (localized) or that has only spread to nearby tissue (regional) are 100%, according to the American Cancer Society. The Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) is the Gold Standard to screen for prostate cancer.
Although not life-threatening, an enlarged prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), can cause ED, premature ejaculation and frequent urination, especially at night. Poor sleep is another recipe for a slew of conditions. BPH prevention tips include:
- Performing pelvic floor exercises.
- Not holding in urine.
- Following a diet low in saturated fat.
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine.
- Maintaining healthy weight.
- Not smoking.
The Movember Foundation began in 2003 in Australia. It uses the image of a curly Q or handlebar mustache, a “mo” for short, as its distinctive symbol. One of the NGO's most known slogans is “Changing the Face of Men’s Health." To date, the foundation has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world. International Men's Day is November 19. It coincides with Movember's month-long marquee awareness campaign held each November.
There you have it men. It's time to get on the MO've!
1 Arnold AP, Reue K, Eghbali M, et al. The importance of having two X chromosomes. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016;371(1688):20150113. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0113
2 Griffith DM, Sharma G, Holliday CS, Enyia OK, Valliere M, Semlow AR, et al. Men and COVID-19: A Biopsychosocial Approach to Understanding Sex Differences in Mortality and Recommendations for Practice and Policy Interventions. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:200247. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200247.
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