The COVID-19 pandemic added yet another dark footnote to our lives: the average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by a full year – from 78.8 to 77.8 years – in the first six months of 2020, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
At the same time, the life expectancy gap between the sexes widened. Women now outlive men by an average of 5.4 years, compared to a gap of 5.1 years in 2019, the NCHS reported.
For a variety of reasons, females historically outlive males. Research shows men take more risks and face more work hazards. But men also have shorter lifespans because they often fail to tend to their own health.
Statistics show men skip routine health screenings and doctor visits more often than women. That means warning signs for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, respiratory illness, and other problems can go undetected and untreated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Men’s Health Month, observed each June, is a good time to remind male friends, relatives, coworkers, and employees that it is possible to lower health risks, and that early screenings can prevent little health problems from becoming big, expensive, and deadly ones.
Consider this list of healthy behaviors:
- Don’t smoke. Smoking cessation programs and medications used together are highly effective.
- Eat healthy: Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and lean sources of protein. Eliminate or reduce intake of sugar and saturated fats.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Watch your weight: Excess pounds can increase risk for heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
- Exercise: Moving helps control weight, and can reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Manage stress: Take steps to reduce stress or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
- Wear your seat belt: Men are 10% less likely to wear seat belts than women are, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Mental health is another area of concern for men. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. They also are less likely than women to discuss or seek treatment for mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.
Patients experiencing depression, sadness, feelings of worthlessness, or suicidal thoughts should reach out to mental health providers. The growth of telehealth services during the pandemic, including virtual mental wellness visits, has shown promise in relieving some of the worries expressed by those in need of mental wellness counseling, experts say.
Ultimately, the best offense is a good defense in the healthcare game. Health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels are vital, especially as we age.
Colorectal cancer screening, which is both simple and inexpensive, could cut colorectal cancer deaths by 60%, according to the American Cancer Society. Over 50,000 people die from the disease each year.
Prostate cancer strikes about 1 in 8 men in the U.S. Older men, Black males, and men with a family history of the disease face the highest risk. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that most men discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctors at age 50. That organization recommends that men at high risk, especially those with relatives who developed prostate cancer at an early age, begin those discussions at age 40.