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The Importance of Men's Health
Men's health has improved significantly over the past century, along with lifespan and quality of life. (1) However, there's significant variation in men's life expectancy between countries, and men in the United States die 5 years earlier on average than women. (2) In fact, there isn't a single country in the world where men live longer than women. (3)
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), many chronic illnesses including heart disease, HIV, and lung cancer are more prevalent among men. (4) Unhealthy habits such as poor diet, smoking, and drinking are more common in males, and men are less likely to attend preventative screenings or regular health checkups. Men also have an increased propensity for risk-taking and interpersonal violence, which contributes to higher rates of death caused by injuries.
Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that sex-responsive approaches to healthcare should be considered to improve overall health and well-being. Men and women have unique healthcare needs due to physiological differences and variations in hormones. That said, equality, equity, and inclusivity are paramount when it comes to separating men's and women's health. Both fields should complement each other and recognize sex and gender identity as a diverse spectrum. Some men's health issues will apply to people who were assigned male at birth, and others may apply to people who have transitioned into a man.
This guide provides an overview of men's health, including information about men's emotional health, men's physical health, and men's mental health.
Men's Mental Health
The second-leading cause of death in American men under age 44 is suicide, and it's the tenth-leading cause of death in men of all ages. (5) Men's mental health has been impacted by rigid cultural norms regarding masculinity—especially when it comes to expressing vulnerability. (6) Experts suggest that men are more likely to engage in harmful or dangerous coping mechanisms as a result of this reluctance to seek help for mental health symptoms.
Men may try to suppress emotions when they feel depressed or anxious, and they might express sadness or hopelessness as anger or hostility. (7)
Some mental disorders that occur in men include: (8)
One of the most important ways men can improve their mental health is by getting in touch with their feelings and expressing them openly. This may require guidance and support from a licensed therapist.
Men's Physical Health
Some physical health disorders are unique to men, including erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer, and low testosterone. (9) However, heart disease and cancer are the leading cause of illness and death, regardless of gender.
While there are genetic and environmental factors (and accidents) beyond a man's control that contribute to ill health, lifestyle is something people can shift. It may take the help of a nutritionist, counselor, and/or group therapy sessions, but consistent health-promoting habits are the keys to excellent physical health.
Consider the following:
Sleep: It's impossible to overstate the importance of a good night's sleep—which usually means between 7 and 10 hours. During sleep, the body heals and optimizes vital processes, including the heart and circulatory systems, the respiratory and immune systems, hormones, metabolism, and cognition. (10)
Diet: Overeating calorie-dense foods with low nutrient profiles is a problem that contributes to the majority of chronic diseases. (11) To maintain a man's health, a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein should make up the majority of their diet.
Physical activity: Exercise improves brain health, helps people manage weight, reduces the risk of diseases, and strengthens bones and muscles. (12) The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and two sessions of strength training per week. (13)
Social support: A person's family, friends, neighbors, and wider community are crucial to their physical and mental health. (14) Positive social support from these groups enhances resilience to stress, protects against trauma-related illness, and reduces medical morbidity and mortality.
Men's Emotional Health
Positive and negative emotions are a normal part of daily life, but processing them in a healthy way isn't always easy. However, if someone represses their feelings persistently over time, it can render them more vulnerable to illness. (15) As such, it's important for everyone to speak with someone—a trusted loved one or therapist—regularly about day-to-day emotions.
It's especially important for men or boys who were taught that "feelings are for girls" or it's "not manly to have emotions" to learn about the science of men's emotional health. Both sexes experience the full spectrum of feelings, and being able to calmly and unashamedly name them is good for any individual's emotional and overall health and well-being. (16)
Men's Sexual Health
Men's physical, emotional, and mental health directly correlate with their sexual health. (17) The absence of disease doesn't automatically mean a man is sexually healthy. A man's sexual health involves healthy desire and erectile function, as well as the ability to make sure sexual experiences are safe, consensual, and mutually enjoyable.
Other elements of men's sexual health include: (18)
Avoiding sexually transmitted infections
Taking Control of Men's Health
Men who are concerned they might have a health issue shouldn't hesitate to contact a trained health professional. Being vulnerable might feel like a weakness, but the fear of being seen as weak can manifest into denial and delay medical care if a problem arises. For most health concerns, early intervention and treatment drastically improve outcomes.
Promoting men's health or managing chronic illness is all about lifestyle. It takes time to change, and the path is rarely straightforward, but the health benefits of healthy daily habits are practically unlimited. Men can maximize efforts when it comes to exercise, diet, social connection, and asking for help when necessary to improve quality of life and life expectancy.