It probably comes as no surprise that there are notable differences in the health of men compared to women. But when you take a closer look at the statistics outlining this health disparity, it can be quite alarming. For example, the average life span for men is about five years less than women, and there's been a gradual increase in this gap over the years. Men are also twice as likely as women to die of a heart attack and significantly more likely to die of cancer. Not only that, but men are also less likely to undergo treatment for mental health conditions, becoming four times more likely than women to commit suicide.
Although these facts may seem dismal, they're mainly due to one reason: women tend to prioritize their health more than men by taking proactive measures to stay healthy. In fact, when compared to women, men make about half as many doctor appointments for preventive care and screenings. But it's important to remember that men's health is not just a "man's issue." It is a family issue and can impact everyone around them, including their spouses, partners, mothers, daughters and sisters.
That's why Men's Health Month is observed nationally every June. It serves as a great opportunity for men to reevaluate their well-being and regain control of their health. It's also a designated time for health care providers across the country to administer health screenings, share education and engage in community outreach activities that raise awareness about the unique health issues that affect men and boys.
In celebration of Men's Health Month, here are some simple ways men can begin to improve their well-being and achieve a higher quality of life:
Go to the doctor
It may seem simple, but when you feel sick -- and even when you don't feel sick -- it's important to go to the doctor. Having regular appointments with your primary care provider cannot only help build a trusting relationship, it can also help you stay on top of your health and identify any issues before they become serious. Recommit to your health this month by scheduling an annual exam or an appointment to address a specific health issue you may be ignoring. Ask specific questions about your health, like "Should I get a blood sugar test for diabetes?" "Is it time for me to have a colon cancer screening?" "Am I up to date on immunizations that can reduce my risk for diseases like shingles?" Your annual checkup is the perfect opportunity to ensure you and your provider are doing everything you can to stay on the road to good health.
Keeping a variety of healthy foods in your daily consumption will help ensure that you're getting the nutrients your body needs, including vitamins, minerals, fiber and lean protein. Use vegetables and fruits as your primary sources for vitamins, minerals and fiber, and focus on lean proteins like chicken, turkey, fish, Greek yogurt, beans and lentils. Limit foods and drinks high in calories, sugar, salt, fat and alcohol, and concentrate more on foods that provide good nutrition and a large number of vitamins.
Physical activity is one of the most effective ways you can improve or maintain good physical and mental health. Regular exercise can help you achieve a healthy weight; reduce your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers; increase your bone and muscle strength; and improve your mood while decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety. Exercise can come in many forms too, so find what works best for you -- whether it's walking, jogging, lifting, fitness classes or a local intramural sports league. Be sure and talk to your provider before you start a new exercise routine.
Get plenty of rest
When your body gets the sleep it needs, your immune system is able to recharge and prepare to fight whatever seasonal illnesses may come your way. Healthy sleep hygiene can also help lead to better weight management, improved mood and even increased productivity. Staying up late and going without enough sleep can contribute to common heart health problems, like high blood pressure and heart attacks. Just like your immune system, your heart needs time to rest to function powerfully and properly.
Lower your stress
Statistics show that men have more difficulty managing stress compared to women. This could be because women find more support in their social networks and tend to confide in them, while the male mentality can tend to avoidance of discussions around mental health and are less likely to disclose issues with their family, friends or even their doctor. Stress itself has also been linked to elevated blood pressure and high body weight, so it's critically important to prioritize stress-relieving activities and exercises.
There's no better time to start improving your health and wellness. So, remember to eat well, exercise often, get plenty of rest and lower your stress. Most importantly, remember to schedule your annual wellness exam or an appointment to address any issues you may be experiencing and ask about different health screenings.
Others count on you. From the routine to the unforeseen, count on us.
Dr. Scott Featherston is a primary care physician at National Park Medical Center. For more information about men's health issues and Men's Health Month, visit http://www.menshealthmonth.org or http://www.NationalParkMedical.com.