June is Men’s Health Month, a time to bring awareness to disease prevention and longer, healthier lives for men. You may be wondering why women should care about men’s health awareness at all. The fact is men live shorter and sicker lives than women. Our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons are all impacted by this cycle of not taking care of themselves. Women can save lives by looking for signs of common health problems, encouraging men to get a primary care provider, and establishing healthy habits in the home through proper nutrition and exercise.
While women have their own health challenges, it is equally important for them to participate in Men’s Health Month if they want their husbands to be around for the long haul. Current life expectancy calculates on average men live five years less than women. According to Census.gov, 58 percent of women age 75 or older had experienced the death of their spouse, compared to just 28 percent of men. Most of the men in this age bracket were still married. On top of this, elderly widows are more likely to live in poverty even if they weren’t poor before their husbands’ deaths. These stats paint a bleak picture of what is supposed to be your “golden years.”
What causes this shorter lifespan for men? According to Men’s Health Network, men often:
- are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior such as smoking and drinking alcohol
- don’t seek medical attention when they need it
- are less likely to have health insurance
- are more likely to work in dangerous occupations
- are less likely to adopt preventive health habits
As kids, boys are often taught not to complain. How often do you hear the phrases, “walk it off,” “toughen up,” or “big boys don’t cry?” We joke that adult men don’t like to ask for directions and would rather get lost than ask for help. When they don’t seek medical care and aren’t open and honest about aches, pains, and embarrassing symptoms with their doctor, tragic outcomes can occur. To change those statistics, women must become more involved in men’s health for their husbands and sons.
3 Ways Women Can Improve Men’s Health
In general, women often pay better attention to their health. From their teens through childbearing years, women typically have at least a gynecologist they see once a year, and women are often more candid with doctors, too. You can be role models and cheerleaders for the men in your life to help change current men’s health outcomes.
This Men’s Health Month, take these three steps to make a difference in the lives of the men you love:
- Learn more about the health risks men face and early signs and symptoms of common health problems.
- Encourage men to choose a primary care provider and get regular screenings to reduce premature death.
- Work together to set a good example of healthy living for their children with proper nutrition and exercise.
Women have a strong influence in creating healthier habits throughout the family through meals and exercise activities. Here is an action plan for encouraging men to take control of their health.
Step 1: Learn About Men’s Health Problems
In a race you don’t want to be leading, men die at higher rates for nine out of the top 10 causes of death. It’s worth noting that most of these causes, including heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, and even depression, can be prevented and extend not just to men, but to the whole family. Learning more about these diseases, how to prevent them, and signs and symptoms to look for, and then passing that information onto the men you love, is the first step in bringing awareness to men’s health.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, causing about one in four male deaths. Half of the men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Having hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Men can reduce their risk of heart disease by knowing their blood pressure and being checked in-office by their doctor every year. Reducing the risk of heart disease starts with a healthy diet and exercise. You should also quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. It accounted for three percent of total deaths in 2020, a 15 percent increase over 2019. Type 2 diabetes typically develops in people over the age of 45. This condition wreaks havoc on the body, increasing your risk of blindness, amputations, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. Before developing type 2 diabetes, most people experience a period when their blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. This pivotal time is called prediabetes. If you take action with healthy eating and exercise during this small window, you can reverse this diagnosis and prevent type 2 diabetes.
The three most common cancers among men in the United States are prostate, lung, and colorectal.
- Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men and often occurs without any symptoms. If he is straining to pass urine, leaking urine, has bloody urine, and experiences bone pain, he should see a doctor immediately. Fortunately, if caught early, prostate cancer is often treated successfully. Men should have a rectal exam every year and speak to their doctor about screenings once they hit the age of 40.
- Lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer deaths in men. You can have lung cancer before symptoms develop. When they do appear, they include shortness of breath, cough, a change in sputum, chest pain, noisy breathing, hoarseness, and coughing up blood. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the third most common cancer in men. Most colorectal cancers start as polyps on the inner lining. Over time, certain types of polyps can turn into cancer and can easily spread throughout the body once cancer has access to blood vessels. If you experience symptoms, such as a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, belly pain, weakness, and weight loss, see a doctor immediately.
You can reduce your risk for most cancers by maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake.
Step 2: Become Partners in Health
Women should encourage men to take even the smallest symptoms seriously and discuss them with their doctors, even if that takes an extra nudge to get them in the doctor’s office. Ultimately, men should become more comfortable talking about and taking action on their health. Here are some ways you can influence men to take better care of their health by doing tasks together.
Do Self-Exams Together
Self-exams are the first line of defense when it comes to taking care of your health. Women are encouraged to do monthly breast exams to detect breast cancer early. Men have breast tissue too and are susceptible to breast cancer. They should also be doing monthly testicle exams looking for lumps, enlargement, or pain that could be symptoms of testicular cancer. Be on the lookout for new or persistent symptoms that can be indicators of a chronic condition that should be evaluated by a doctor:
- Persistent backaches
- Nagging cough
- Recurrent chest pains or headaches
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Obvious changes in warts or moles
- Unusual lumps
- Changes in the color of urine or stool
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Blood in urine
- Bleeding that won’t stop
- Impotence or erectile dysfunction
Turn self-exams into something fun to do together. Doing self-exams together can increase intimacy and help you both better understand your bodies. Watch for abnormal moles or changes in your skin in places you can’t check yourself. Women get most of their skin cancers in places where they can see them, such as their hands and face and below the hemline, but men get most of theirs on their back. By encouraging men to take changes in their bodies seriously, you’ll be helping them take control of their healthcare.
Choosing a Primary Care Provider
Not all health problems have symptoms that will be noticeable to a man’s partner. Even men who are the picture of health can be battling cancer, diabetes, or other silent killers. The best way to detect these kinds of illnesses is by getting regular checkups with a primary care provider.
Cleveland Clinic found 72 percent of men would rather do household chores than go to the doctor. Motivations include embarrassment, lack of convenience, not wanting to hear a bad diagnosis, and not wanting to quit bad habits. Research suggests people with a strong relationship with their PCP have better care outcomes and enjoy a healthier life.
How do you overcome these challenges and get them into the doctor’s office? See if you can pinpoint the main reasons he is avoiding the doctor. If time off from work is a problem, find health providers who have weekend and evening appointments or have offices close to his work. Ask if he would prefer to see a male or female health provider. You can also schedule same-day appointments for both of you and plan a date or fun activity afterward. Take the preparation part off his plate by learning about and compiling notes on his family history, symptoms you’ve noticed, and questions he should ask while at his appointment.
Step 3: Implement Healthy Routines
It is so important for men and women to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet because, everything you consume influences your health. We eat portions that are too large, and our meals include too much fat, sugar, and salt. Good nutrition, physical activity, and healthy body weight are essential parts of a person’s overall health and well-being. Women tend to take on the tasks of grocery shopping, meal prep, and cooking. By taking control of diet and exercise, you can decrease the risk of everyone in your family developing serious health conditions.
Healthy Eating for the Whole Family
When a woman eats healthily, everyone in her household is more likely to eat healthily. When making a plan for feeding your whole family, you’ll want to consider the key components for a healthy diet:
- Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
- Include a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds.
- Reduce the number of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars consumed.
- Enjoy balanced food and beverage choices to reflect your personal preferences while staying within your daily calorie needs.
You can still eat well even when dining out. Encourage smart swaps, such as salads instead of fries or water instead of soda, when you go out to eat. Making sure your husband is packing a lunch from home with leftovers, salads, and healthy snacks will also prevent him from making bad choices while at work.
Get the Family Moving
Any activity that gets your heart beating faster can improve your health. It is recommended to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This goal can be broken into smaller amounts such as 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The best exercise is one everyone looks forward to doing. Remember to incorporate various types of activities that can be fun for the whole family:
- Recruit male friends and relatives with good health habits to participate and help with ideas.
- Decide on an exercise routine that involves and is enjoyable to everyone.
- Exercise doesn’t have to be a workout – join a sports league, go on a hike, bicycle trail, or other outdoor activity.
- Housework, yard work, and playing with kids and grandkids count.
- Try something new with online workout videos, no gym membership required.
Physical activity has immediate health benefits, such as better sleep and reduced stress and anxiety, on top of reducing the risk of all of the health conditions we’ve already discussed.
Women Can Impact Men’s Health
Many of the issues we’ve discussed are sometimes difficult for men to discuss. By learning more about common men’s health issues, becoming a partner in their health, and implementing a healthy diet and exercise routine, women can have a huge impact on the lives of their fathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, and sons.
“The role of women in keeping the men in their life healthy is invaluable. While it may pain you to nag your husband, do it anyway. If you recognize any unusual symptoms in your loved one, do whatever it takes to get him the help he needs. It may save his life.“ – Theresa Morrow, Women Against Prostate Cancer
Ultimately, the goal of Men’s Health Month is to improve men’s health outcomes and that process starts at home.