June is Men's Health Month. Wait, why are we talking about men's health on a women's health website? Because men's health affects women in some pretty significant ways, and there's a lot you can do to help the men in your life lead longer, healthier lives.
Let's start with the basics. In general, men have poorer health habits and are less likely to take preventive health steps than women. Men are 24% less likely than women to have visited a health care provider in the past year. When they do get medical attention, they often cancel follow-up appointments, don't finish their prescriptions, and play down the seriousness of illnesses and diseases. Men are also more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and make risky choices, such as not wearing a seatbelt. The results? Men are about 60% more likely than women to die of heart disease and over 40% more likely to die of cancer. On average, women live about five years longer than men.
What's heartbreaking is that some of these deaths can be prevented, but for some reason, too many men are unwilling or unable to make the basic (but, admittedly, not always easy) changes that could literally save their lives.
So what can we do as women to help the men in our lives take better care of themselves? Let's start by understanding why it may be difficult for some men to take the same approach to health as you. Traditionally, boys were brought up not to cry, complain, or show signs of weakness. As a result, it's my experience that many men think that what they don't know can't hurt them. Unfortunately, ignorance isn't bliss. I call it the "terrible toos." In their 20s, men are too tough to see a doctor. In their 30s, they're too busy to take time for preventive care. In their 40s and beyond, they're too afraid of what they might find out. Let the men in your life know that preventive care is important for everyone — even if they feel fine — because it catches problems early, when they're easier to treat. If your partner is nervous about getting a checkup, offer to go with him or meet him afterward for coffee or lunch.
There are many other ways you can help the men in your life lead longer, healthier lives. Be a role model for them and set a good example by following these additional preventive health tips. The best part is, you can do a lot of them together!
- Make time for exercise. Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your risk for serious diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
- Eat healthy. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk products. Get more tips for making smarter food choices (PDF, 805 KB), and find tips specifically for men (PDF, 695 KB).
- Quit smoking. Help loved ones quit, too. It's the best thing you can do for your health and for the health of those around you.
- Educate yourself. Learn about common health issues affecting both men and women. Share what you learn with the men in your life. You can get all the information you need at menshealthnetwork.org and womenshealth.gov.
- Talk about health. Talking openly and honestly about health can help you and your family feel more comfortable sharing health concerns or symptoms with each other. Take even the smallest symptoms seriously and discuss them with a health care provider.
These changes may not happen overnight. Building healthier habits takes time. Eventually, though, you may be able to improve the quality — and the length — of the lives of the men you love. And in the process, you'll be improving your own quality of life, too.