Keys to Living Longer

For years it has been a commonly known fact that men live shorter lives than women. And even though today the life-expectancy gap between men and women has shrunk to 5.2 years, the narrowest since 1946, men still aren’t paying enough attention to their health.

The five most common medical reasons for male mortality are heart disease, cancer, injuries, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Most of these are linked to poor lifestyle habits. The good news is that they are all preventable.

By Barbara Bowen

You Are What You Eat

Men of working age are less likely than women to have a regular doctor. They are more likely to have high cholesterol, a leading indicator for cardiovascular disease or clogged pipes, and less likely to be doing anything about it. Cardiovascular disease includes both heart disease and stroke, which are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.

“Many times the diagnosis comes with the chest pain,” explains Dr. Gordon Graham, a cardiologist and nuclear specialist with The Chattanooga Heart Institute. “Unfortunately, chest pain is the end result of clogged pipes, not the beginning.”

Women tend to develop cardiovascular disease problems after menopause, while men are more apt to begin as early as 35 or 40, particularly if they smoke, eat red meat, are overweight and have a family history.

“During the Vietnam War, the autopsies of 19-year-old soldiers showed the beginnings of cardiovascular disease,” says Graham. “Men develop the disease earlier, which means their pipes are getting clogged much sooner.”

Everyone should have a full lipid profile around age 30. Men, specifically, should get serious about lifestyle changes early because the tendency to be diagnosed at an earlier age means they must successfully manage the disease for a longer period of time.

Clear the Air

“According to the American Cancer Society, men are diagnosed with cancer at a slightly higher rate than women,” says Dr. J.C. Abdou, a radiation oncologist at the Fuller Cancer Center at Hutcheson. “Besides prostate cancer, other cancers that affect men more often than women are head and neck malignancies, lung cancer, bladder cancer and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach and colon).”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men – mainly due to smoking, according to the American Cancer Society. Exposure to potential cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), such as radon, asbestos, radiation and air pollution, can also be contributing factors.

Dr. John Fortney, a radiation oncologist with Hutcheson, offers this sound advice: “Stop smoking – this will reduce the risk of developing several types of cancers. Avoid high fat/sugar diets, moderate meat intake and increase daily helpings of fruits and vegetables to prevent obesity. Seek regular health evaluations by your doctor and follow cancer screening guidelines.”

Lifestyle changes will help with prevention, and early diagnosis may mean more treatment options with greater chances for success.

Play It Safe

The leading cause of fatal accidents among men is motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At any age, men are more likely to drive drunk, drive fast and drive aggressively, and they are less likely to wear seatbelts. Overall, men are more likely to die from injuries, whether unintentional (such as car accidents or falls) or intentional (suicide, violence, war).

“Men of working age have a higher potential for significant injuries due to dangerous environments at home and at work,” says Dr. Jason Robertson, a sports medicine and family medicine physician with the Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics. “Men are more likely to be up on ladders or working at great heights; the longer the fall, the greater the potential for head injuries.”

“Follow safety guidelines on the job and at home,” Robertson advises. “Be more cautious about the potential for injury. Ladders, roofs and stairs are the danger zones.”

Lengthen your lifespan by making safety a number one concern at work, at home and on the road.

Breathe Easier

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it increasingly difficult to breathe. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two main conditions that make up COPD, one of the leading causes of death and illness worldwide. In 2006, total lung disease mortality was one-third higher in males than females in the United States.

Dr. Naseer Humayun, a pulmonologist at Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine PC in Dalton, Ga., believes the two contributing factors for COPD in men are smoking and occupational exposure.

“Although women are catching up to men in smoking habits, men still smoke more than women,” says Humayun. “Men are also more likely to be employed in environments such as coal mines and factories where they are exposed to pollutants, dust and chemicals, which can lead to COPD.”

COPD becomes fatal with a progressive loss of lung function, making oxygen saturation difficult, causing shortness of breath and eventually asphyxiation. A highly preventable disease, COPD risk can be cut in half by not smoking. Additionally, it is important to use safety precautions at work, such as wearing a respirator mask, as recommended by your employer and in compliance with federal work safety guidelines.

Adopting preventive measures will significantly increase a man’s odds of living a long, healthy life. These are words for men to live by: stop smoking, drink moderately, eat right, exercise more, go for health screenings and make safety first at home and at work.