By Sara Rider
Most of us have heard the stereotypes: men hate to go to the doctor, while women go to the doctor all the time. But there are numbers that back up those statements. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are 33 percent more likely than men to visit a doctor. And womens’rate of doctor visits for annual exams and preventive services is twice that of men.
You can add another statistic to those as well—according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as of 2011, the average life expectancy for American men was 76 years. For women? An average of 81 years.
More doctor visits may not correlate to a longer life, but something is going on here. And National Men’s Health Week, June 9-15, is a good time to raise awareness of men’s preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases and conditions.
Guys, Let’s Talk: Lost Years of Life
Many of us have lost a male friend or family member who died at far too young an age. What makes the loss more difficult is that too often the cause of death was something that could have been treated—or prevented.
According to the CDC, the five leading causes of death for men in America are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. While all of these cannot be prevented, a man’s risk of dying from any one of these can be lowered. Heart disease, for example, is the cause of death in almost 25 percent of all men. But significant research has shown that heart disease can often be prevented or its effects reduced. And different groups of men are more likely to die from other causes. For example, Hispanic men are more likely to die from diabetes (4.2 percent versus 2.9 percent in the overall population).
Building Blocks for Health
So what can men do? First, the Mayo Clinic advises not smoking. If a man already smokes, the CDC reminds us that it’s never too late to quit smoking. Even if someone has smoked for years, quitting will have immediate and long-term health benefits, lowering a man’s risk of heart disease, cancer and lung disease.
Next on the list, according to the Mayo Clinic, is diet, which can benefit a man’s health in many ways. The CDC advises a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. The vitamins and minerals found in fruits and veggies may offer some protection from a number of diseases. Eating right also means not eating certain foods—or at least limiting intake of foods—that are high in calories, sugar, salt and fat, according to the CDC. These dietary changes can help men maintain a healthy weight, which the Mayo Clinic says is also crucial to men’s long-term health.
One of the other main strategies to improve men’s health is to keep moving. According to the CDC, all adults need 2 hours a week of moderate intensity aerobic activity. In addition, adults need muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week that focus on strengthening all of the major muscle groups. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise not only helps with weight control but can lower risk of heart attack and stroke, and can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Take Action, Take Care
While eating more fruits and veggies, limiting fat, and increasing exercise will all help men improve their health, one more important step is for men to have regular check-ups. The CDC recommends at least an annual visit—and to schedule an appointment quickly if experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, trouble urinating or excessive thirst. Even without these more dramatic possible warning signs, men should use their regular doctor visits to talk about any symptoms they may be experiencing. It doesn’t do a lot of good to schedule a doctor’s appointment and then fail to mention aches or pains or changes in your body. The Mayo Clinic takes the annual visit a step further and reminds men to be sure to follow their doctors’advice. This can be particularly true of medications that the doctor prescribes. According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 50 percent of patients do not take their medications as prescribed. But complying with all of your physician’s recommendations is particularly important if someone has chronic problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure.
If you’re not seeing a doctor because you don’t have insurance, the Affordable Care Act gives you a way to get coverage. The next open enrollment period begins November 15, 2014. People can sign up after that date by going to healthcare.gov. The uninsured can also qualify for special enrollment at any time if certain criteria are met, such as losing healthcare coverage through loss of a job or a change in employment to a company that does not offer health insurance.
Set a Good Example
Since many men are dads, or grandfathers, older brothers or uncles, it’s important to remember that your behavior sets an example for the rest of your family, particularly your children and grandchildren. The Mayo Clinic reminds men that their actions influence the lifelong health habits of their family members.
Some of these health habits have nothing to do with how many servings you have each day of fruits and vegetables. Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of death for men—much more so than for women. So every time men buckle up and don’t speed, they’re setting a good example for their younger passengers. And although sharing feelings is something women may maintain, men never do; building a good support network is also crucial to men’s health. Suicide is another leading health risk for men—and depression is a significant risk factor. So sharing problems and fears, having friends and family to turn to in bad times—all of these things will help men lead a longer, happier and healthier life. And yes, those extra servings of fruits and veggies won’t hurt either.
Sara Rider is a native Austinite who has worked with physicians and hospitals throughout Texas. She frequently writes freelance articles on health topics for newspapers and magazines.