Over the past 50 years, life expectancy for men has increased dramatically. As of 2016, a man born in this country could expect to live an average of 79 years and 8 months. Although living longer is important, being able to live life to the fullest is equally important. By investing in healthier lifestyles, including a good diet and exercise, it is possible to not only live longer but to live better.
General health guidance applies to men and women alike – eating well, being physically active and taking care of your mental health. But some conditions only affect men while others affect men more acutely than women. Knowing how to address these issues could help men lead healthier lives well into the golden years.
#1 – Enlarged Prostate
The prostate is a gland unique to men, located beneath the bladder and connected to the penis. An enlarged prostate, medically known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), may compress the urethra, which passes through it. This can make it difficult for men to empty their bladder as they are unable to generate enough pressure to overcome the enlarged gland.
Symptoms of this condition include frequent urination, the feeling that a man needs to empty his bladder quickly, difficulty starting a urine stream or a poor urine stream.
There isn’t a way to prevent BPH as the prostate grows in all men. However, there is some research to indicate that diabetes, heart disease, erectile dysfunction and obesity may lead to a higher risk of developing an enlarged prostate.
#2 – Low Testosterone
Young men have a significant amount of testosterone. This essential hormone is critical in the development of muscle and bone. Beyond puberty and sexual arousal, testosterone is also important for brain and body function.
As men age, testosterone levels naturally decline, starting at around age 30. About 20 percent of men older than 60 have low testosterone, and this number increases to 30 percent once men reach their 70s.
Low testosterone in men can lead to a low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, reduced semen volume, hair loss, fatigue, loss of muscle mass, increased body fat, mood changes and decreased bone mass.
Although aging contributes to low testosterone, younger men may suffer from the condition as a side effect from chemotherapy, metabolic disorders, pituitary gland tumors, medication, or injury to the testicles. Obesity may also contribute to low testosterone.
Treatment may be as simple as a healthier diet and exercise, especially if low testosterone is caused by obesity. If you have symptoms of low testosterone, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from hormone therapy, but lifestyle changes could make a difference as well.
#3 – Heart Disease
Heart disease isn’t unique to men, but it is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in every 4 male deaths is caused by cardiovascular disease and that half of men who die suddenly had no previous symptoms.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the leading risk factors for heart attack or stroke along with obesity, diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.
Although the most common form of cardiovascular disease is coronary artery disease, which is the narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart, that is just one type of heart disease. Irregular heartbeat, heart valve disease, heart muscle disease, pericardial disease and vascular disease can all lead to death in men.
Prevention includes monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol during routine physicals. A healthy diet and active lifestyle may also help prevent cardiovascular disease in men. Another factor that can impact heart health is that men often avoid doctor visits. Regular trips to your doctor can help spot problems early, so don’t hesitate to schedule an annual checkup – and don’t ignore odd pains or feelings in your chest.
#4 – Accidental Injury
Another problem not unique to men but more likely to affect them, accidental injuries are a leading cause of death in the U.S. The National Institutes of Health found that boys and young men were more likely to die of an injury than girls or women by as much as 20 percent.
Science can help explain that statistic. The frontal lobe, where judgment and consequences form, develops more slowly in men than it does in women. This can lead men to engage in riskier behavior, like biking, driving under the influence or extreme sports, more often than women. Men are also more likely to accept a dangerous job like firefighting, construction or military combat.
A greater proclivity for risky behavior plus slower frontal lobe development is a recipe for disaster – sometimes literally. Some research has indicated a societal connection to this issue, with parents encouraging stereotypical gender roles for children. Young men are encouraged to play sports and hunt while young girls are encouraged to engage in less dangerous activities.
The way to combat this is to be careful, of course. Men can’t do much to speed along the development of the frontal lobe as youth, but they can take steps to avoid risky behaviors.
A constant need for adrenaline-inducing activities, for instance, may indicate the need for mental health therapy to work out extra aggression. If you’re drawn to high-risk activities, like extreme sports, then make sure to follow all safety guidelines. You won’t win any bonus points for dying from a preventable accident.
#5 – Strokes
When blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted, brain cells can die, a condition commonly known as a stroke. Ischemic strokes are caused when the blood vessels to the brain narrow, when debris breaks off from the carotid artery or when blood clots travel from the heart.
Men are also prone to transient ischemic attack (TIA, or mini-stroke). They may feel weak on one side of the body, lose vision, have difficulty speaking or become confused. The symptoms resolve themselves in a few minutes or a few hours but may be a warning sign that a larger stroke is pending.
Although women can also suffer from strokes, men tend to have them at younger ages. Factors that increase the risk of stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, excess weight, diabetes and lack of physical activity. Strokes can be prevented by keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, both of which can be monitored during annual wellness exams.
#6 – Diabetes
One of the biggest jumps in Type 2 diabetes has been in men over the past few years. Risk factors include being overweight, lack of physical activity, a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, and a history of diabetes in the family.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when tissues in the body gradually become resistant to insulin so the pancreas creates more than the body needs until eventually it can’t keep up and blood sugar rises. When there’s too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood, nerves and blood vessels can be damaged. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, gum infections, blindness and limb amputation.
The main cause of Type 2 diabetes in men is obesity. Extra weight makes muscles, the liver and fat tissue less responsive to insulin. Inactivity is another cause of the rise in Type 2 diabetes. Research has found that people who become more active reduce their glucose levels even if they don’t lose weight.
It is possible to have diabetes and have no symptoms, but there are signs to look out for. Symptoms that may indicate higher than normal blood glucose include excess thirst, increased hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision and sores that don’t heal. Studies show that 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes could be prevented through healthier diet and exercise.
#7 – Depression
Depression isn’t limited to men, but symptoms may present differently. When women are depressed, they often appear sad or withdrawn. Men, on the other hand, may seem angry all the time or act with aggression. Men are also less likely to talk about depression with family or friends, which means they may not seek the treatment they need.
Depression affects the ability to handle daily activities as well as to feel and think. Some symptoms of depression in men include difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in hobbies and work, headaches, chest tightness, digestive issues or heart racing. Others may include an inability to concentrate, overeating, feeling sad or empty and engaging in high-risk activities.
Often, men turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with emotional symptoms. Although women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they choose methods that are more lethal.
Diagnosing and treating depression can be difficult, especially in men, as they are often reluctant to talk about their feelings with a doctor or even a family member.
The important thing is to get help from a professional if you experience these symptoms. Depression might wane and wax based on what’s going on in your life, but it won’t go away entirely on its own. Behavioral therapy, counseling, lifestyle changes and more time with loved ones could alleviate symptoms. Medication can also help in conjunction with these therapies.
#8 – Kidney Disease
Although women are more likely to be diagnosed with kidney disease, men are more likely to progress to kidney failure. Men are also more likely to get kidney stones than women and are also at a higher risk for kidney cancer.
It’s not clear why men have higher kidney risks than women, and it’s difficult to diagnose because many types of kidney disease have no symptoms. Although frequent urination is a common symptom in women, it could also mean an enlarged prostate in men.
There is some research that men with low birthweight may have a higher risk of kidney disease along with men who have been diagnosed with low testosterone. Men who have diabetes, high blood pressure or excess weight have a higher risk of kidney disease as well. Regular screenings with a primary care doctor could help catch signs of disease early enough to treat it.
#9 – Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease affects more women than men, but a recent study found that men are moving into facilities that focus on memory care at a rate that is 14 percent higher than women. This may be because the male average lifespan is increasing faster than that of women.
Reasons for this expanded life expectancy in men included fewer wars, less risky behavior, reduced obesity and better treatment of diseases felt to be gender-specific. This higher life expectancy could be the reason for more men admitted to memory care facilities with Alzheimer’s as the illness and other dementia-related diseases are age-related.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are also different in men, who are 8 percent more likely to exhibit wandering behavior and 30 percent more likely to be combative. There is no known preventive approach to avoiding Alzheimer’s disease in men or women because the cause isn’t clearly understood, but it’s more common in families with a history of the illness.