According to Dr. Kevin Polsley, an internist at Loyola University Health System and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, men are more likely than women to die from nearly all the most common causes of death, yet they’re still less likely to go to the doctor and will more commonly ignore symptoms that could be indicative of larger health issues.
"A lot of men think going to the doctor is just one more thing on a seemingly endless 'to-do' list,” Polsley said. “But to get all those other 'to dos' done men need to starting thinking about their health and making it a priority.”
Educating yourself about the biggest threats and learning about what you can do to reduce your risk is an important first step. The following health issues and risks are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of death for men in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know about each and what you can do to protect your health.
According to the American Heart Association, men tend to develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than women, which is why they are more likely to die from it at a younger age. Polsley says men have a higher risk for heart attacks than women and the risk increases when there is a family history of the disease.
According the CDC, key risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, but diabetes, obesity, a poor diet, not exercising enough and drinking too much alcohol may also contribute to an increased risk. "Exercise and diet are extremely important in preventing heart attacks,” Polsley said. “Routine preventive care appointments with a primary care physician can also help identify most of these risk factors, and modification and treatment of these risks factors can help decrease the risk as well.”
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in U.S. men and according to the CDC most cases are caused by smoking. Behind lung cancer, men are most likely to die from prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. The risk for both prostate and colorectal cancer increases with age and family history plays a role in increasing your risk for either as well, which is why regular screenings are important in the prevention of both.
Polsley says both men and women should have a routine colonoscopy every 10 years after the age of 50, or earlier if there’s a family history of the disease. "If caught early, the prognosis for colon cancer is good,” he said. As for prostate cancer, researchers are still trying to determine what factors outside of age, family history and race might contribute to an increased risk, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends against prostate-specific antigen based screening for prostate cancer in men who don’t have symptoms.
Of course, accidents are accidents, but there are certainly steps you can take and smart choices you can make to reduce your risk for some of the most common kinds. Falls, fires, and distracted and drunk driving are among the most common types of preventable accidents. Reducing your risk for a fall can be as simple as exercising regularly in order to maintain good balance and ensure your bones and muscles stay strong.
Fire-proofing your home includes obvious measures such as installing smoke alarms, but you should also check the safety of your heating units. Finally, drinking responsibly, avoiding cell phone use while driving and regularly getting enough sleep are steps that can help prevent drunk and distracted driving accidents, as well as house fires (according to the CDC, alcohol use contributes to about 40 percent of residential fire deaths.)
This category refers to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can also include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. When it comes to COPD, the easiest method of prevention is not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke. According to the American Lung Association, about 80 percent of COPD deaths are a result of smoking and men who smoke are about 12 times as likely to die from COPD compared to men who have never smoked.
According to Mayo Clinic, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or reduced. Factors that increase your risk for a stroke include being overweight or obese, not getting enough exercise, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and use of illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. High blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking and secondhand smoke, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease are medical factors that may increase your risk for stroke as well.
Many of these factors can be managed by practicing healthy habits like eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. Of course, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake is also recommended. "Fifty to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented," David Wiebers, M.D., a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and author of "Stroke-Free for Life" told Men’s Health. "Making the simple choices at 25, 35, or 45 years of age can make an enormous difference in preventing stroke when you're in your 60s, 70s, or 80s."
According to the CDC, controllable risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing diabetes include being overweight or obese, high blood pressure (140/90 or higher), abnormal cholesterol levels and not getting enough exercise (fewer than three times a week). Research shows that for adults who are at high risk, moderate weight loss (five to seven percent of total body weight) and regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, five days per week) are the two most effective ways to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, for men, depression is a significant risk factor related to suicide. “Although stress-related illness—such as obesity and cardiovascular disease—and burnout are being increasingly seen as risks to men's health, data suggests that men continue to be less apt to reach out when they are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Kristen Lee Costa, LICSW, a behavioral therapist and researcher and author of “RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress.” “Social conditioning has played a role in encouraging men to ‘tough it out,’ rather than being proactive in finding ways to cope with their stressors. Unfortunately, this leads to grim results—men have higher rates of suicide than women.”
Costa says that being proactive about your mental health is important. Preventative measures she suggests include the usual like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating well. But also, confiding in friends, family members or even professionals in times of need.
Additionally, new research shows that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may be a risk factor for depression in men. A study out of Australia presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference found that men with OSA and extreme daytime sleepiness are four to five times more likely to suffer from depression when compared with well-rested men. “When we don't get enough sleep our bodies and our minds suffer,” Polsley said. “Many men's health issues can be helped if they take steps to manage their sleep apnea. Long-term complications from the disease include high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attacks and stroke, so it's an important condition to diagnose and treat.”
Symptoms for Alzheimer’s most commonly appear after the age of 60 and your risk increases with age. Although scientists are still unsure about the exact causes of the disease, it’s believed that factors such as family history and even high blood pressure, high cholesterol and low levels of the vitamin folate may increase your risk. Research is still inconclusive, so there’s no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s, but according to Mayo Clinic some steps that are likely to help include not smoking, eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet, exercising regularly, engaging in social activities and regularly using your cognitive skills, like by testing your memory.
According to a report from NPR, on average, about 23, 607 people die from the flu each year. The CDC says the flu vaccine is the single best way to protect yourself and recommends getting vaccinated every season. Washing your hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth are also simple but effective steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Pneumonia, on the other hand, can be slightly more complicated. It’s caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi, but in the U.S. common viral causes include influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Symptoms include cough, fever and difficulty breathing and you’re at a greater risk if you smoke or have diabetes or heart disease. You can reduce your risk by not smoking and properly managing your medical problems. Other precautionary steps include practicing good hygiene, like washing your hands and regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
According to the CDC, you’re more at risk for kidney disease if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Other risk factors include heart disease, obesity, older age, high cholesterol and a family history of the disease. Healthy lifestyle habits, like eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, reducing your sodium intake and maintaining a healthy blood pressure are all steps you can take to keep your kidneys healthy and reduce your overall risk for developing kidney disease.