Guys, you’ve got a heavy load. From taking care of your families, work, finances, homes, community commitments and other responsibilities you take on, you likely have stress in your life. That translates to stress on your body and damage to your emotional and mental health. That’s why one of the best ways to defend against and manage your stress is taking preventive measures to protect your whole-body health.
All that stress on your body can ultimately lead to a shorter life. Men, on average, have shorter life spans than women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die 5 years earlier than women.
The unhealthy majority
Here’s another telling statistic. The CDC reports that most men aged 20 and over suffer from hypertension–almost 52%. A majority of adult American men have high blood pressure. Considering that rate, it’s not surprising that year after year the No. 1 cause of death in adult men–about one in four–is heart disease. The next two leading causes of death in men are cancer and unintentional injuries; this is true for both genders, but men die of these at higher rates. Preventive measures can reduce your chances of all three. Yet it’s not uncommon for men to avoid medical appointments and screenings for cancer and other conditions.
Why is that? Experts think part of the reason for men’s healthcare reluctance is that many men hold onto widespread but outdated perceptions of what manliness is. Some men see traits they find desirable, like strength, stoicism and rugged independence, as incompatible with seeking help. Attitudes have changed over time, but some men still see seeking healthcare as admitting weakness.
Yet taking good care of your body keeps it stronger, longer. Prioritizing measures like doctor visits, screenings, vaccinations and adopting a healthier lifestyle are proven to help men stay active and functional into their later years. And it’s never too late to start.
Having tough conversations
Another potential extender of many men’s lives is seeking out behavioral healthcare. That’s because suicide rates—suicide often ranks in the top ten causes of death in men–are much higher for men. In fact, men take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of women. Researchers have found men are more likely to choose and have ready access to deadly weapons than women. They are often less willing to talk about their struggles or show their suffering to people who could intervene and help.
Even less severe and permanent behavioral health issues can have acute and long-lasting consequences. Problems ranging from anxiety, depression and attention issues to substance use disorder and conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can greatly interfere with men’s ability to function at work, at home and in your personal relationships, greatly affecting your quality of life.
Moreover, behavioral and physical health are closely linked. Deteriorating physical health and increasing physical limitations are strongly correlated with problems like major depressive disorder or increased dependence on substance use. Men who struggle with their moods, emotions, addiction or cognitive function are rarely men who are being vigilant about keeping their bodies healthy, keeping medical appointments or getting preventive care like flu shots and health screenings.
Unfortunately, the stigma still attached to behavioral health is a major roadblock. It’s why we launched normalizetheconversation.com, a site connecting you to resources to find affordable, accessible care for your mental health or substance use disorder. There is help available to you.
8 action items for men’s health
By adopting more health-conscious lifestyles and embracing preventive measures, men can lengthen their lives and strengthen the quality of those extra years.
Eight positive, realistic measures you can take now to protect your long-term health include:
- Prioritizing safety at home, work and when driving or enjoying recreation
. Being conscientious about preventing accidents that could hurt yourself or others can save lives and reduce anxiety. Plus, preventing accidents also prevents the expenses that medical bills for traumatic injuries can bring and the financial hit on your family’s budget.
- Increasing your physical activity.
You don’t have to lift weights at the gym every day or start extreme rock climbing to welcome a more active lifestyle. The CDC recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Just 30 minutes of being physically active five days a week gets you to that goal. Look for ways you enjoy being active—walking, hiking, playing pickleball with friends, swimming laps, cycling, even doing more yardwork. Whatever activities you enjoy, make them a regular part of your schedule. This improves your health and wellbeing while also reducing your daily stress.
- Incorporating more fruits and vegetables in your meals.
Eating meals rich in vegetables and fruits, especially fresh produce, can lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, prevent some forms of cancer, and lower your risk of developing vision and digestive problems. Experiment with new ways to build healthy foods into your diet, like keeping fresh fruit on hand for easy snacking.
- Protecting your skin from damaging sun exposure.
Being in the sun moderate amounts daily actually can improve your health (get your natural Vitamin D dose while reducing stress). But go no longer than 20 minutes without sunscreen, no matter how light or dark your skin tone is. Special UV-protecting hats and clothing can also be helpful, but the best protection when outside is always a sunscreen with high SPF on any exposed skin.
- Stopping smoking, if you are a smoker.
It’s easier said than done, but thousands of men manage to overcome their smoking addictions every day. Talk to your provider about smoking cessation programs and proven tools that might help you break your habit. Almost every medical condition your body can have is made worse by chronic smoking. Even if you’ve been smoking for decades, stopping now will improve your health. Worldwide, nearly half of cancer deaths can be attributed to preventable risk factors like smoking. Changing this one aspect of your life can make a big difference in your health and longevity. Smoking cessation programs are available to some health plans. Ask your health plan administrator or call the customer service number on the back of your member ID card for more information.
- Controlling your cholesterol levels to keep your heart healthy.
When your cholesterol is high, fatty deposits form in your blood vessels, restricting blood flow. Keeping your cholesterol levels in check can keep you from having a heart attack. Talk to your primary care provider about strategies to lower your cholesterol levels.
- Talking with professionals and trusted friends and family about your cognitive, emotional and behavioral health struggles or substance use.
Stress, anxiety and depression are far more common among men than most men realize. Avoiding talking about hard things like your behavioral vulnerability doesn’t help. Professional, discreet help is available to you; start at your primary care provider or visit normalizetheconversation.com for Arkansas-based resources. There is no reason to suffer when treatment can help you feel like yourself again.
- Seeing your primary care annually or as needed for ongoing care.
Schedule an annual wellness visit when your PCP can check your blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat and order a complete blood count (CBC panel) and electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor changes in your body over time. Starting at age 50, men should have an annual screening for prostate cancer, a potentially deadly cancer that is highly treatable with early detection.
Today, we have more access to smart tools, medical expertise and healthcare than at any previous time in our history. If getting time off or transportation to go to see your provider is too inconvenient, you now may have covered telehealth access so you can meet with providers from wherever you are via your phone or laptop. Healthcare today is also often available at extended hours, virtually or from urgent care clinics. Arkansas Blue Cross members can find a provider or view benefits by signing into blueprintportal.com.
Keeping up with your health can be hard work, but as a man, you are up to the challenge.