June 1, 2023
By: J. Barry Dixon, MD
Over the past hundred years, medical technology has improved exponentially. Humans today have better access to care than our ancestors could have dreamed of. Despite these advances in medicine, one thing remains true: men have a shorter life expectancy than women. 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. Each June, we celebrate National Men’s Health Month 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:
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. By scheduling a yearly wellness exam, you can catch issues like heart disease and cancer while there’s still time to act. This month, 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. If you don't have a primary care provider, Lake Cumberland Medical Associates is accepting new patients. To learn more or schedule an appointment, call 606.451.2600 or visit LakeCumberlandPhysicianPractices.com/find-a-doctor.
Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are better for our health than chips or pizza. But how often do find ourselves eating what’s convenient, instead of what’s good for us? The secret to a healthy diet is thinking about your diet. Plan ahead: when shopping, look for lean proteins like chicken, fish, or turkey. Organize your meals so that greens or whole grains are at the center of what you make, and not just a side dish. Limit foods that are high in sugar, salt, or fat, and replace chips and candy with healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and yogurt. 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. 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. Find an activity that’s right for you – whether that’s running, biking, swimming, or playing in a local sports league – and talk to your provider about creating a safe and consistent exercise routine.
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. This is tragic – 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. 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.
Men’s Health Month is only 30 days, but 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.