a community newspaper serving western Albemarle County

Hey, Guys, Man-Up: Get a Physical

By Ryan Smith, M.D.

Jiroemon Kimura of Japan died at age 116 in June 2013. He was the last man alive from the 19th century. Most men won’t be around to see age 116. Statistically, your chance of reaching that age is better if you are a woman. In fact, there are several women still alive who were born in the 19th century.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for a man living in the United States is about 76 years old. For a woman, it’s 81 years old. So, on average, men are dying five years earlier than women.

Women also outlive men in every age bracket. By the time we reach age 85, there are nearly twice as many women as men. If there ever were such a thing as a weaker sex, it certainly wouldn’t be women. In fact, men exceed women in nearly all of the leading causes of death; men are about 1.5 times more likely to die from heart disease, cancer and lung disease.

Typically we define what it means to be a man with words like self-reliance, responsibility, and strength. So where are those qualities when it comes to our health?

The reasons for the generally poor state of men’s health are numerous and fairly complex. Many men think of themselves as having the same healthy body they did when they were teenagers, which for some of them is also the last time they saw a doctor.

Compared to women, men are 25 percent less likely to have seen their primary care physician in the last 12 months. Women are consistently better at ensuring they receive the preventative care they need. And it’s often women who convince men to go see the doctor.

The good news is that there is still a lot men can do to improve their health. The next time you are sitting with friends to watch a game, think about these statistics: sitting for more than 6 hours in a day increases your risk of dying of heart disease by 18 percent and your risk of dying from diabetes by 7.8 percent. In terms of danger to your health, some people equate sitting with smoking. Regular exercise can bring about meaningful changes in weight, cardiovascular health, mood, fertility, energy and testosterone levels.

Next, don’t ignore changes in your health. “Problems” in the bedroom could be one of the earliest signs of heart disease in men and can present three to five years before a cardiovascular event. The good diet and exercise habits that preserve cardiovascular health also ensure that men can maintain performance in other areas.

If you’re smoking, cutting back or quitting can substantially decrease your risk of cancer and other diseases, such as heart disease.

Many diseases and conditions don’t have any symptoms, so regular check ups can help diagnose issues before they become a problem. A doctor can tell you what cancer screening is appropriate for your age, risk factors and family history.

Men don’t like going to the doctor and tend not to discuss their health or how they’re feeling. But some of our habits are literally killing us. Being a man also means taking control of your health.

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