Some men may feel the need to be strong, stoic or fearless, but these traits traditionally viewed as masculine could partly explain why women usually live longer. In some cases, seemingly “macho” behavior can take a serious toll on men’s long-term health and wellbeing.
Men are more likely to drink too much, smoke and bury their feelings. They’re also more likely to neglect their health. According to one survey, just 4 out of 10 men see their doctor when they should.
“Preventative care is really important and keeping up with it is not a sign of weakness, as many men think,” says Kenneth Perry, MD, Assistant Medical Director and Emergency Medicine doctor at Trident Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina.
So, listen up, guys. When it comes to your health, here are some of the worst mistakes you’re making that could be shaving years off your life.
Skipping routine doctor’s visits
Research consistently shows that men are less likely to go to the doctor than women. Men often delay seeking medical care, or even mentioning medical problems to their loved ones, according to a 2018 survey conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic.
There could be many reasons why men put off going to the doctor. The American Heart Association speculates that some men believe they don’t have the time to spare while others may not have a doctor they trust. In many cases, men might assume there’s nothing seriously wrong or that they can “tough out” their symptoms, according to Dr. Perry.
Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Not going to the doctor when you’re due for a checkup or when you’ve developed concerning symptoms is risky and could have serious health consequences. Medical attention is not only helpful when you have an immediate health problem, such as an infection or the flu, but also essential for your long-term health.
Men who skip routine appointments could also be missing out on routine screenings, vaccinations and important conversations with their doctor about changes in their medical conditions and lifestyle habits. Your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are among the numbers that should be monitored over time.
“Small changes for instance, like your blood pressure going up a point here and there or your weight going up by a few pounds every year could be addressed at routine visits, says Perry. “But if they aren’t addressed right away, by the time they are addressed, it could be very difficult to fix.”
You should also weigh the risks and benefits of certain gender-specific screenings, such as testicular exams and prostate cancer screenings, with your doctor. Together, you can determine whether or not you should have the screenings based on your values, age, health preferences and individual risk for the conditions.
Bottom line: talk to your doctor about how often you need to have regular checkups. Routine appointments will enable your doctor to monitor any chronic conditions you have and potentially identify other health issues that may arise. It’s also a good idea to establish a relationship with a primary care physician so you know where to turn if you need medical attention in the future.
Bottling up your feelings
For the past several decades, research has shown that men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely than women to seek help coping with stress and depression – even though they are also affected by these issues. Women have higher overall rates of depression, but research suggests the condition is often unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated among men.
Avoiding mental health discussions can have some very serious repercussions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that men account for more than 76 percent of all completed suicides. Compared to women, men are also less likely to admit that they’re stressed.
This begs the question: why are men less likely to admit they’re stressed, depressed or feeling down? Some men may not be comfortable asking for help, assuming is not “manly” or that by voicing their concerns they will become a burden to others. The misconception that available treatments for depression or anxiety aren’t effective could also prevent some men from seeking help. The possibility that something could really be wrong may also be a deterrent, Perry speculates. “Many men are nervous too, that there might be something majorly wrong, and if there is something wrong, that it's a sign of weakness,” he says.
In many cases, identifying and treating health issues early on leads to better outcomes. Being proactive about your health could prevent health issues from worsening and taking a greater toll on your quality of life. Some of the symptoms you should watch out for include:
- Anger and aggression
- Changes in mood, energy level and appetite
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with regular activities
If you have any of these symptoms for more than few days and you think you may be depressed, see your doctor. A combination of medication and talk therapy is commonly used to treat depression and anxiety disorder, and exercise, deep breathing, relaxation techniques, yoga and mindfulness meditation can also help. Surrounding yourself with positive people and finding something you enjoy doing can boost your mood, too.
Overlooking regular dental appointments
Men are also more likely to neglect their oral health, falling short on their brushing habits and not visiting the dentist as often as expert advice.
Most men only brush their teeth 1.9 times per day, which is just under the recommended amount of two times per day. Yet, men are more likely to develop oral and throat cancers and gum disease than women.
Complicating matters, skipping dental checkups and neglecting oral hygiene have been linked to some chronic health issues, like diabetes as well as heart and lung disease.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of gum disease, since they have a harder time fighting off bacteria that infect the gums. Gum disease may increase the risk for respiratory infections since bacteria from the mouth and throat may be inhaled. A 2018 study presented at an American Heart Association meeting also found that adults who brush their teeth less than twice a day for less than two minutes, have a higher risk of heart attack, heart failure or stroke.
“Good oral hygiene helps prevent bacterial buildup in your mouth,” says Perry. “If you have a broken or cracked tooth that’s allowing bacteria to get in, that can be the source of an infection that becomes very, very life-threatening.”
Most men should visit the dentist twice a year, and maintain good oral hygiene, by brushing and flossing. Keep in mind, there is a proper way to brush your teeth: brush with a fluoride toothpaste, using small circular motions and short back-and-forth strokes – and don’t forget to brush along your gum line, too. Be sure to floss every day; doing so will help remove any leftover food that a toothbrush can’t easily reach. If you notice any symptoms, such as toothaches, sensitivity, bleeding, sore gums, cracked or broken teeth or popping of the jaw, see your dentist. Talk with your dentist about how often you should have regular cleanings or check-ups.
Drinking too much alcohol
Men are more likely to drink excessively than women, the CDC reports. In fact, men are nearly twice as like to binge drink, or have five or more drinks during one occasion. The CDC also reveals that 23 percent of men admit to binge drinking five times a month.
Excessive drinking is associated with several chronic health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, depression, mental decline and alcohol dependence. Even light drinkers, who have no more than one drink daily, are at increased risk for esophageal cancer.
A large 2018 study published in The Lancet, concluded that the safest level of drinking is none, and the health risks associated with drinking outweigh any possible benefits. Health officials recommend that if you haven’t started drinking, don’t start. The 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that men who do drink, limit themselves to no more than two drinks per day. Remember that a standard drink is considered to be: 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of liquor (40 percent alcohol).
If you think you may be addicted to alcohol, talk to your doctor or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s confidential hotline at 1-800-662-HELP for local treatment centers, support groups and other resources.
Neglecting your skin
Men are more likely than women to develop melanoma⎯the most deadly form of skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). They are also less likely to survive the disease. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 9,320 Americans will die of melanoma in 2018 and of those, 5,990 will be men and 3,330 will be women.
Part of the problem may be lack of awareness among men. A 2016 survey from the AAD found that men tend to be less informed about skin cancer. They’re also less likely to wear sunscreen. Meanwhile, women are more likely to use makeup and lip products that often contain sunscreen, which offer an additional layer of protection. Women also tend to interact with the medical community with more frequency as well, which allows them more time to point out any concerns to their primary care doctors, OBGYNs or dermatologists, Perry notes.
But researchers also think that men have thicker skin with less fat underneath than women, which may make their skin more susceptible to damage from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Some studies show that men’s skin reacts more intensely to sun exposure than women’s, and that men’s skin may not heal as well from sun damage. The CDC also reports that on average, most men spend more time outside during their lifetime than women, which can have a cumulative effect and result in more damage.
Men should follow typical skincare recommendations, like wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30 reapply every two hours while exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays. It’s also a good idea to reduce your sun exposure by wearing long-sleeved shirts and hats or seeking shade during peak daylight hours.
Talk with your dermatologist if you have an increased risk of melanoma or you’re over 50, have large or unusual moles, fair skin or a history of skin cancer, to determine how often you should have regular skin checks. Pay attention to your skin, too: if you notice unusual or changing spots, itching or bleeding, see your dermatologist.
Not talking about problems in the bedroom
While many men suffer from sexual or urinary problems at some point in their lifetime, like erectile dysfunction or trouble urinating, many of them aren’t talking about it – with each other or their doctors. But as you age, it’s especially important to address these symptoms, since some of them may signal underlying health issues. For example, erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to get or keep an erection strong enough for sex, could be a red flag for vascular disease. Type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney and liver disease, cancer treatment and multiple sclerosis can all lead to ED.
Sometimes, sexual problems are linked to work-related stress, past sexual trauma or relationship problems. Taking certain medications, smoking, heavy drinking, being overweight and being sedentary can also contribute to sexual dysfunction. Being diagnosed and treated for an underlying condition or mental health issue however could reduce or improve ED. Certain lifestyle changes, like limiting alcohol, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight could also help.
Problems with urination are another “below the belt” issue that can affect men. If you’re having trouble urinating, or you’re urinating more often than usual, it could be benign prostatic hyperplasia – a condition that can arise as you get older and your prostate gland grows. Certain medications like nasal decongestants could cause urinary problems, too.
Talk to your doctor if you experience premature or delayed ejaculation, or a notable drop in your sex drive. It’s also important to ask your doctor about any urinary changes.
You and your doctor can work through these issues. Your doctor can determine if you would benefit from medication, hormone therapy or a vacuum device that helps produce an erection. Surgically implanted devices are typically only used as a last resort.
Taking too many risks
Men are more likely than women to drink heavily and take risks, like driving too fast or without a seat belt. This could help explain why unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, drug overdoses and traffic accidents, are the third leading cause of death among men.
Among drivers involved in deadly car accidents, men are almost twice as likely as women to have been drunk. Heavy drinking also increases aggression, which can lead to fighting and physical injuries.
“I don't think guys always think through what would go wrong,” Perry suggests.
When men do experience close calls, they tend to brag about them, according to the Cleveland Clinic survey. The researchers found that among men who finally do discuss their health with other men, 36 percent are simply boasting about their injuries. For 42 percent of the men polled, it took brushes with disaster for them to finally open up about their health.
Continuing to smoke
Nearly 18 percent of American men still smoke as of 2016 – even though the negative health effects of smoking, such as an increased risk for heart disease, lung disease, cancer, stroke and infertility, are well-established.
Men who smoke are 17 times more likely to die from bronchitis and emphysema and 23 times more likely to die from cancer of the trachea, lung, and bronchus. Middle-aged men are also nearly four times more likely to die from heart disease.
So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, it’s time to kick the habit. Talk to your doctor about medications and cessation techniques that can help you quit. You could also consider joining the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program, to learn more about group programs in your area.
You skip exercise – or you neglect flexibility and balance training
You probably know you’re supposed to exercise, but how often are you doing it? And are you including balance and flexibility training in your regimen?
In general, most adults should get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking or yoga, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity, like running or swimming, per week. Exercising beyond 300 minutes can provide additional benefits, too.
Unfortunately, only 26 percent of men are actually meeting these goals. Men are also more likely to be overweight.
Skipping exercise and living a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of not only physical problems, but also mental health issues like stress and bad moods. The drawbacks of a sedentary lifestyle could also be costly: according to a 2010 study, the annual cost of being overweight is $432 for men and the annual costs for being obese are more than $2600.
Exercise is an essential part of keeping your mind and body well. It triggers the release of certain brain chemicals ⎯ serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine ⎯ which can help ease stress and improve your mood and energy level. Regular physical activity helps reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers. Breaking a sweat will also help strengthen your muscles, which will support and strengthen your bones as you age.
It’s also important to incorporate strength training into your routine, as well as flexibility and balance training, which can lower your risk of injury, relax your muscles and enhance your range of motion.
In addition to your regular cardio or strength training routines, make sure you stretch regularly. Before stretching, however, be sure to loosen up your muscles by walking and moving your arms in a circular motion. It’s also a good idea to incorporate some flexibility exercises into your exercise regimen, such as the standing hip flexor stretch or seated head-toward-knee stretch.