One of the keys to a long and healthy life is taking preventative steps against potential medical problems. “Statistically, women outpace men in terms of life expectancy, and there are some specific health issues men should address,” says Dr. Charles Castellano of Summit Health. "There are many overlapping factors with each of these diseases, so some overarching lifestyle changes can help prevent most of them."
"As the leading cause of death for men in the United States, heart disease should be on every man's radar," says Dr. Castellano. "The signs can be subtle, which makes it harder to diagnose." Those in high-risk categories are men who are:
- Obese or overweight
- Excessive alcohol users
- Tobacco users
- Suffering from hypertension
- Eating an unhealthy diet
"There are certain cancers that highly impact men," says Dr. Castellano, "and there are both similar and varying risk factors for each." These include:
- Lung cancer: “Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer," says Dr. Castellano, adding that other high-risk factors include exposure to chemicals such as radon, asbestos, exhaust, and arsenic; second-hand smoke; and a family history of lung cancer.
- Colorectal cancer: Similar to the contributors to heart disease, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol use put men at higher risk for colorectal cancer, as does a family history, and possibly race (it is more common in Black men).
- Prostate cancer: Doctors are unsure of what causes prostate cancer, but certain factors seem to put some people at higher risk: older age (over 50), race (once again in Black men), family history, and obesity.
- Skin cancer: "Some people don't take skin cancer as seriously as other cancers," says Dr. Castellano. "But it is a contributor to illness and death in white men over 50, especially if there's a family history."
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (better known as COPD) is a limited airflow in and out of the lungs. "Smoking is definitely the main cause of COPD," says Dr. Castellano, explaining there are two types of it:
- Emphysema, a type of COPD in which there are damaged air sacs in the lungs.
- Chronic bronchitis, which is the result of red and swollen airway linings.
When blood flow to the brain stops, or a blood vessel in the brain bursts, it deprives the brain of oxygen and causes a stroke. The contributing factors are often similar to heart disease, including obesity, smoking, hypertension, and heavy alcohol use. "It's extremely important to get anyone showing signs of a stroke—such as sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, sudden drooping of the face or difficulty speaking—to the emergency room before death or permanent brain damage occurs," says Dr. Castellano.
"Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for men age 45 and under," Dr. Castellano says. It's a wide-ranging category that includes:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Drug overdoses
While these medical problems are all quite scary, fortunately they are often preventable. Here are Dr. Castellano's tips for being proactive about your health:
- Quit smoking. Smoking puts one at higher risk for every disease mentioned. Quitting smoking has huge health benefits.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol can be enjoyed, but in moderation, and no more than two glasses per day for men. It prevents both disease and accidental deaths through such things as falls and motor vehicle accidents.
- Eat your veggies. A diet based around plants, whole grains, and lean proteins while avoiding trans and saturated fats helps keep heart disease and cancer at bay. It also prevents obesity, a major contributor to many of the top causes of death.
- Get moving. The more you exercise the better. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week is ideal. But any exercise is helpful. Even taking a walk around the block after dinner is good.
- Take care of your mental health. Don't ignore stress, anxiety, and depression. Everything from heart attacks to unintentional injuries can result from poor mental health.
- Pay attention and take precautions. Wear bike helmets and seatbelts. Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. To avoid falls, make sure there's good lighting and no loose rugs.
- Protect your skin. Wear sunscreen and protective clothing. And avoid being out in the sun for extended periods of time. Just one bad sunburn increases your chances of skin cancer.
- Preventative care. You're not going to know you have medical problems unless you see your doctor regularly. You and your doctor can discuss your lifestyle, screen for diseases you're at risk for, and make sure you are up to date on recommended preventive care such as vaccinations.