CBS News - June 14, 2024 5:47 am

June is Men’s Health Month, a time to maybe remind that guy in your life to take better care of himself. That’s especially important since the numbers show that men do not live as long as women.

Why do men have a lower life expectancy? How can they increase that number? Good Question.

It’s a well-known fact that men, on average, don’t live as long as women.

“They don’t like going to the doctor or dentist,” joked Nicole Hundertmark, saying that she needs to nag her husband to make those appointments.

While that might be a contributing factor, a couple of points stand out to Dr. David Hilden, Chair of the Department of Medicine for Hennepin Healthcare.

“For over 100 years, for pretty much the entirety of the 20th century, men have not lived as long as women primarily because of heart disease and cancer,” he said, adding that men get heart disease on average earlier than women, as well as die from it earlier. “The second (leading cause) would be lung cancer, and it’s almost exclusively because men smoked more for most of the last century.”

According to the Centers for Disease and Control, the life expectancy for men in the US is 74.8 years. For women, it’s 80.2 years — a difference of 5.4 years. But back in 2010, the gap was smaller at just 4.8 years. That means, despite modern medicine, men have struggled to reduce that difference.

What has changed in recent years to keep the life expectancy for men lower?

“Since about the turn of the century, especially since about 2010, men are dying at higher rates than our women do due to substance use, overdoses, and unintentional accidents,” said Hilden.

Accidents include car crashes, falls, and other risky behaviors like drugs and alcohol. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused a quick and steep drop in life expectancy in 2020 and 2021.

“That’s probably because men were just ill to begin with, just as they were the last 100 years. They had more heart disease, more lung disease, then COVID hit them harder,” said Hilden.

Life expectancy is back on the rise the further we get from the pandemic, a number that can keep growing with some simple lifestyle changes. Hilden shared four ideas:

  1. Get your body moving. Whether that’s rigorous exercise or gentle gardening, the key is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
  2. Create a healthy diet.
  3. “If people ate less processed foods, that alone would probably help our life expectancy,” he said.
  4. Plant-based whole foods are the most important. If eating meat, choose lean meats. And as mentioned, avoid processed foods.
  5. Focus on mental health/limiting stress. Some people turn to substances to relieve stress, but those will actually make a person unhealthy.
  6. “Stressors, anxieties, social isolation, all those things about your mental health are probably contributing to your lifespan,” said Hilden.
  7. Regularly see a doctor. This last point especially rings true when men turn 40 and 50 years old, said Hilden. The years are key benchmarks to check for overall health and the potential for chronic illnesses and conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  8. “Get a primary care doctor or an advanced practice provider. (Build) a relationship with someone who knows you,” he said. “They can help you with your diet, they can help you with your blood pressure, they can help you to stay healthy.

Raising men’s life expectancy doesn’t have to start in adulthood. Hilden thinks it should be taught at an early age.

“We need better programs for kids in school to prevent violence. We need better anti-poverty programs, we need nutritional programs,” he said.


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