June is Men’s Health Month! And while it may seem that every cause or issue has a month or day dedicated to it —and you’re not wrong – it’s for good reason. Our understanding of how certain conditions impact certain population groups has come a long way. We know that as we age, our health priorities can shift, and we also understand how men and women face different health challenges throughout their lives.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both women and men? That’s one reason why it’s important for men to know that our risk of heart disease increases, starting at about age 40, with each new decade. And speaking of age, if your father either developed heart disease or died from heart disease before the age of 55, or your mother before the age of 65, you have a “positive family history” for heart disease. That’s important because it means you are at higher risk for heart disease than your peers, and you should discuss with your doctor when you should be screened for heart disease. It’s important to understand your other risk factors as well.
According to recent data, fewer than 30% of adults are meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity, which means most of us are not as active as we should be. Being physically active is a powerful way to improve your overall health and lower your risk for heart disease. But perhaps the real importance of taking a month to focus on men’s health is that as men, we are at greater risk for death in every single age group compared to women. We suffer from suicide more often than women and we account for over 90% of fatal workplace injuries. In fact, we lead women in the top ten causes of death nationally, which range from heart disease to cancer to unintentional injuries. These statistics can be sobering, but let’s focus on what we can do.
First, understand how your age affects your health risk. As mentioned above, once we hit our 40s our risk of heart disease goes up with each decade of life. Have your blood lipids and blood pressure checked so you can work on these two modifiable risk factors and keep them in check.
Second, and speaking of blood pressure, make sure you know yours even if you do not have other risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, or “hypertension,” is often called the silent killer because it doesn’t have symptoms. You can experience high blood pressure for many years without knowing. The longer your blood pressure is elevated, the more stress it puts on your heart. It is also a leading cause of stroke, which is, by the way, the second leading cause of death for men (and women).
Finally, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer all affect men and are leading causes of death for us. If you are a smoker, it’s never too late to quit to reduce your risk for lung cancer. And did you know that the guidelines recommend that all men and women be screened for colorectal cancer beginning at the age of 45? If caught early the outcomes can be excellent. Regarding prostate cancer, the guidelines suggest that you and your doctor should explore whether you would benefit from being screened.
Guys, let’s take matters into our own hands. Focus on prevention, know your numbers and discuss with your doctor when you should be screened for specific conditions so you can stay healthier longer.
With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active. With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.