July 12, 2023
In 2021 there was a 5-year difference between the average lifespans of women and men, and this gap has remained steady over decades, even as medical practices change.
What explains this health gap? Much of this difference comes down to how we think about our health, and how we take care of our bodies and minds. There’s a common perception that women worry about their health more than men, and studies show this to be true: in 2021, men were less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year and were almost half as likely to have sought out mental health services, leading to higher rates of suicide. Men maintain less healthy diets and suffer more frequently from heart disease.
This may sound bleak, but men’s health can improve with simple changes in lifestyle. Summer is a great time to remind ourselves that healthy living is something to think about year-round. Give your health the attention it needs by following these four steps:
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are better for our health than chips or pizza. But how often do we find ourselves eating what’s convenient, instead of what’s good for us? “The secret to a healthy diet is thinking about your diet,” says Justin Reno, MD, at Gallatin Family Wellness. He suggests that people should plan ahead when shopping and look for lean proteins like chicken, fish, or turkey. Organizing your meals so that greens or whole grains are at the center of what you make, and not just a side dish can also help you prioritize eating healthy. Limit foods that are high in sugar, salt, or fat, and replace chips and candy with healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and yogurt.
Drew Schefano, a physician assistant at HighPoint Orthopedic Associates adds, “Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water will help lower cravings and help with digestion.” By ensuring your diet is rich in essential vitamins and nutrients, you can safeguard your health and improve your overall well-being.
Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. When our daily work is labor-intensive, we rarely need to make time to get up and move around – but as desk jobs proliferate, it becomes ever-more important to create a consistent workout schedule. According to Schefano, “Physical activity doesn’t need to be strenuous; by walking or jogging for 30 minutes each day, you can relieve stress, strengthen your bones, and reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.”
He also recommends stretching daily to protect your joints and prevent injuries. Find an activity that’s right for you – whether that’s running, walking, biking, swimming, or playing in a local sports league – and talk to your provider about creating a safe and consistent exercise routine.
Visit Your Primary Care Provider
We get it – it’s tough to make time for an appointment. But regular check-ups with your healthcare provider are essential for managing your health. Most men report only visiting a healthcare professional when they feel sick, but many of the serious conditions that affect men don’t show symptoms early on.
Dr. Reno says, “By scheduling a yearly wellness exam, you can catch issues like heart disease and cancer while there’s still time to act.” Treatments of diseases are more effective when diagnosed early. Schedule that health check-up you’ve been putting off and ask your provider if it’s time for a colonoscopy, prostate exam, or heart or diabetes screening.
Take Time for Mental Health.
In the United States and across the world, many men don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health. Studies show that men are less likely than women to seek mental health care or to confide in their social networks. “Emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression can have real, physical effects on your well-being, and it’s vital to discuss them with people you trust,” says Dr. Reno. He protects his mental health by playing bluegrass music. “Music has been shown to reduce anxiety and blood pressure; therefore, it is a great way to take care of yourself mentally.”
By taking steps to reduce stress, such as getting more sleep, going outside, or engaging in social activities you enjoy, you can improve your physical and mental health. If you’re struggling and need help, reach out to a mental health professional, or find confidential support 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255.
Taking care of your health is a responsibility that lasts a lifetime. By forming healthy habits of diet, exercise, and stress management, you can give yourself more time with the people you love. Don’t wait – good health starts today.