Healthy living guidelines for lifestyles, exercising, and nutrition abound. Data suggests the majority of men are aware that changes to their diet or lifestyles could benefit their overall health, yet fewer than 50% actually follow through on those changes. Life expectancy statistics are slowly increasing relative to changes in American lifestyles, as more emphasis is placed on healthier diets, regular exercise and quitting smoking. However, men still lag when it comes to health and longevity, as women are outliving men by approximately 5.1 years.
This gender gap is not unique to the U.S. Demographic studies show that in industrial societies and in developing countries as well, men have higher mortality rates from most all non-sex-specific health problems. Men fall ill at a younger age, are more likely to have chronic illness, are less likely to visit doctors for routine checkups, and only seek medical help when their illness is in its later stages.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top health threats for men are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, and diabetes. The reasons for the poor state of men’s health are a complex mix of biological, social and behavioral factors. Some of these include:
- Diet – Women are twice as likely as men to eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies each day.
- Lack of exercise – Many men have sedentary desk jobs and don’t come close to getting enough exercise to maintain good health.
- Work stress – There is no question that work stress can increase the risk of heart attack, hypertension, and stroke.
- Alcohol abuse – Although there are certainly women who abuse alcohol, men are more than twice as likely to be binge drinkers and to become alcohol dependent.
- Smoking – More men than woman engage in smoking, the riskiest of all behaviors.
- Risky behavior – Whatever the reason, men engage in riskier behaviors and are more likely to pay the price for that in terms of injury, trauma and death.
- Reluctance to receive routine medical care – Men are more likely to take better care of their cars than their health. Many men don’t seek medical attention until they can no longer ignore their health.
- Lack of awareness regarding health issues – Men fail to take the simple steps that can protect against chronic disease such as heart disease and cancer.
- Stigmas surrounding both physical and mental health – Men are more than twice as likely to lack social support. Women have larger and more reliable social networks. It is thought that strong relationships and good communication are two of the reasons why women live longer than men.
Of course, making recommended lifestyle changes can really make a difference in men’s long term health by lowering the risk of developing chronic disease. Men can take charge of their health by making better choices. To stay healthy and increase their longevity, men need to start following the rules.
Stop avoiding medical visits – Be proactive in preventing disease. Don’t wait to visit the doctor until something is seriously wrong. Get recommended screenings and health evaluations when needed.
Manage stress – Stress wreaks havoc on our immune, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems and plays an aggravating role in many chronic diseases. Take steps to reduce the stress induced wear and tear on your mind and body. Learn healthier ways to deal with stress by getting enough sleep, exercising, and building social and community support.
Maintain a healthy weight – Carrying extra weight, especially belly fat, increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Limit alcohol consumption – Overindulgence can lead to long-term problems such as heart disease, liver damage and pancreatitis. One or two drinks is considered the maximum daily amount to avoid long-term health conditions.
Be tobacco free – This means tobacco in all forms. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and is a main cause of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary heart disease and stroke. If you only make one healthy change, make it this one.
Pay attention to nutrition – Good health requires vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Healthy eating means getting plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and reduced fat dairy. Cut way back on added sugars, sodium, refined foods and unhealthy fats.
Be physically active – Physical activity that gets your body moving helps to control blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight, helping to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. If you are a non-exerciser, start at a comfortable level and work up from there until you can exercise at a moderate pace for at least 30 minutes daily.
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