According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average male life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.4 years — nearly five fewer than the 81.2 years for women. In addition to being vulnerable to male-specific reproductive issues, men also exhibit higher incidents of conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure than women, as well as a much higher risk of trauma.
And yet, there is almost no public awareness of the steps men can take to stay healthy over the course of their lives, said Dr. Stephen Humbard of Humbard Family Clinic in Little Rock.
One way both men and women can help raise awareness, he said, is to participate in National Men’s Health Month this June, which includes the nonprofit Men’s Health Network’s national “Wear BLUE” campaign on June 17 (the Friday before Father’s Day).
Barriers to care
Unfortunately, men’s health problems are often magnified by their reluctance to seek regular medical care and/or to discuss sensitive issues with their physicians. Some barriers to men seeking care might include stress about the physical examination process or a (usually unfounded) fear of learning bad news.
And unlike women, who often experience physical changes from cyclical hormones, childbirth and menopause, men’s physical states tend to remain more static. Men are much less likely to get annual exams than women; however, research shows that married men are significantly more likely to go to the doctor than unmarried men.
“For men’s health, the main thing to really focus on,” said Humbard, “is virtually just staying healthy.” This includes preventing disease by eating well and exercising, as well as avoiding smoking, drugs, excessive drinking and high-risk sexual behavior. Taking protective measures while driving, working, hunting or otherwise recreating, and avoiding potentially violent situations is also important. Trauma is the leading cause of death in males between the ages of 15 and 35, Humbard said.
Early detection saves lives
Male-specific diseases like testicular and prostate cancer respond best to treatment when caught early. “It’s an uncommon to rare thing, to see testicular cancer,” Humbard said, adding that when it does occur, it tends to happen primarily between the ages of 20 and 35.
Most of the time, Humbard said, the problem is going to be something much more benign. “But when cancer is on the table, you absolutely have to rule that out.”
A step-up every decade
A good rule of thumb, said Humbard, is that another “step up” is added to the basic physical every 10 years, though specifics may vary with individual health and family history. His general recommendations include:
- Men ages 20-30: Get a physical every five years.
• Men ages 30+: Get a physical every year.
- Men ages 40+: Get a physical every year with prostate exam and bloodwork.
- Men ages 50+: All the above, plus regular colonoscopies and heart health emphasis.
- Men ages 60+: All the above with focus on not being sedentary.
As men approach their 60s and 70s and testosterone levels start to dip, Humbard said they need to “get up and move around” and to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis.
He warned, however, that testosterone supplements in much younger people have recently become “something of a fad.” A quality physician, he said, will look at low T as a potential warning sign for other problems and draw a wide array of labs to check for underlying medical issues, in many cases referring to an endocrinologist to see if testosterone supplements are the right solution.
“Don’t be afraid to go to your doctor and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this going on,’” said Humbard. “We keep doors closed for a reason.”
A.D. Lively is Little Rock-based writer specializing in health and wellness.