Men, Health, Life Expectancy, and Healthy Changes
Men of all ages face specific health challenges and experience different health outcomes than women. In the COVID-19 pandemic men experienced more severe symptoms and were at a greater risk of dying than women.
Globally, men’s average life expectancy is about four years less than women. There is not a single country in the world where men are expected to outlive women. In developed countries such as the United States, what is known as the “sex gap” in life expectancy is actually increasing.
Both race and socioeconomic status also impact a man’s health and life expectancy. In the U.S., African-American men’s life expectancy is eight years less than Hispanic men and five years less than white men. Studies show that American men living in the poorest, most disadvantaged neighborhoods have significantly reduced life expectancy compared to those living in less deprived neighborhoods.
Making men’s health a priority is the first step to closing the sex gap and building healthier communities.
Causes of death
The most common cause of death for men globally is ischemic heart disease. Also, seven of the top ten causes of death are non-communicable diseases like stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes.
Each of these conditions is influenced by lifestyle factors and has less to do with the biology of being a man. Smoking, consuming risky levels of alcohol, eating a poor diet and delaying appropriate healthcare are all factors that contribute to these conditions.
That’s why it is vital to encourage men to adopt healthy lifestyles and make changes at an early age. This can help improve longevity and reduce the risk of chronic disease. When men are involved in self-care they live healthier lives, enjoy better relationships and raise healthier families.
Making changes for a healthy lifestyle
Men can make small changes in how they live their day to day life that can add up to long-term improvements in health. The roadmap to wellness follows the six pillars of a healthy lifestyle:
1. Eat a healthy diet. The best eating plan for wellness is a plant-based, whole-food diet. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, which are associated with health benefits in men of all ages. Nutritious eating improves learning and behavior in school-aged boys. It can also impact reproductive health and fertility in young men, with improved chances of conception with their partner, along with better pregnancy outcomes and generally healthier children.
2. Increase your physical activity. Moving more and sitting less is crucial to staying healthy. Sitting for prolonged periods increases the risk for negative metabolic changes in your body, including weight gain, diabetes and high triglyceride levels. Some tips to increase your activity throughout the day:
- Taking a break to move around on the hour is important.
- Use a standing desk or wear a pedometer to count your steps.
- Take frequent walking breaks during the day and stand when talking on the phone.
- Swap out just 30 minutes of TV watching for physical activity to improve your metabolism.
- Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week to lower your risk for heart disease and improve sexual performance.
3. Manage stress. Stress affects our bodies as well as our minds. It triggers inflammation and is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Stress also triggers unhealthy lifestyle choices such as eating processed or fast foods, drinking too much or smoking. Finding ways to manage your stress is a key part of staying healthy.
- Have a plan for managing your stress.
- Try to incorporate a few minutes of meditation into your daily life.
- You might also try exercises like yoga or tai chi, which can not only lower stress, but can also improve mood and even lower blood pressure.
- Reach out for help if you are struggling.
4. Maintain healthy relationships. Loneliness and social isolation can both affect your overall health and wellness. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk for depression, cardiovascular disease and decreased longevity. Men tend to be independent and isolate when they feel down. Keeping up with friends and family on a regular basis and having someone to talk to when things get tough are important ways to stay healthy.
5. Improve your sleep. Getting seven hours of restful sleep is crucial to maintaining good mental and physical health. As men get older they tend to sacrifice sleep for work and family responsibilities. Chronic sleep deprivation has adverse effects on metabolism, mood and memory. It slows muscle growth and impairs the immune system leading to increased risk of illness. Carving out time in your busy schedule to get enough sleep and developing a routine to prepare for sleep are good places to start.
6. Avoid substances. Men are more likely than women to smoke, drink excessive alcohol and use illicit drugs. They are also more likely to die from an overdose. Addressing triggers like depression and anxiety that lead men to self-medicate is the first step to changing behavior. When men pay attention to their mental health, they live healthier lives.
Help is available
Here are some resources to help you with your health and wellness goals:
- Lifespan Living blog
- Center for Weight and Wellness
- Don’t Change Much (Canada)
- Men’s Health Network (USA)
- Global Action on Mens’ Health (GAMH)
Other resources for improving your mental health:
Learn more about the Men’s Health Center at The Miriam Hospital.
About the Author:
Mark Paulos, MD
Dr. Mark Paulos is an internist and co-director of the Men’s Health Center at The Miriam Hospital. He practices in both the department of urology and department of medicine and has faculty appointments in both at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. In his practice, he focuses on the link between sexual health disorders and metabolic and cardiovascular health.
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