Sperling Prostate Center

Are You Kidding Yourself about Your Health?

The desert habitats of Africa are home to ostriches, which are said to bury their heads in the ground when frightened. Well, that’s a lot of hooey (though they use their beaks to dig nests in the sand, and to turn the eggs once laid—giving the illusion from a distance of buried heads). This illusion gave rise to a common metaphor for denial: “You’ve got your head in the sand.”

A new national survey conducted June 1-13, 2023 by the Cleveland Clinic polled 1,000 U.S. men reveals that a majority of American men may perceive themselves as healthier than they actually are. According to their findings, 81% reported they believe they lead healthy lifestyles. This certainly doesn’t add up given the facts. Take just one example: obesity. For the year 2017-18, the CDC states, “Among men, the prevalence of obesity was 40.3% among those aged 20–39, 46.4% among those aged 40–59, and 42.2% among those aged 60 and over.” This is all the more shocking because they’re not simply talking about being overweight (body mass index or BMI 25-29.9) but all-out obesity (BMI 30 or over).

The Cleveland Clinic poll suggests that when it comes to taking care of their personal wellness, a lot of the men in that 81% have their heads in the sand! Let’s take a closer look at the data:

  • Almost half of men (44%) do not get a yearly physical
  • 44% do not take care of their mental health
  • Only half of men said they keep a healthy diet (51%)
  • 83% have experienced stress in the last six months
  • About a quarter of U.S. men (27%) watch TV for more than five hours per day on average.

But wait, there’s more! Coincidentally with the Cleveland Clinic poll, a separate study from the Harris Poll, commissioned by Bayer explored factors affecting diagnosis and preventative care for disease, especially cancer. Results showed that 27% of U.S. adults would rather not know they have cancer, and 31% avoid doctor visits due to fear of what they might learn. Also, among both sexes 49% were not knowledgeable about prostate cancer, and an equal number didn’t know that a man’s race impacts his risk for prostate cancer. The news story quoted Bayer President (U.S. and North America) Sebastian Guth as stating, “The increase of fear and anxiety, heightened by a lack of education and in some cases trust barriers, creates an environment where people may not access basic preventative care to ensure early diagnosis.”

Thus, a combination of causes may influence whether or not men honestly and accurately assess their level of health, and proactively commit to achieving and maintaining optimum wellness: disbelief about their true health, avoiding annual wellness visits due to fear of what might be found, and lack of solid health education and knowledge. Did you know that erectile dysfunction may be a sign of heart disease or diabetes? Do you get an annual physical and PSA test? Are you eating foods that keep you at a
healthy weight and are anti-inflammatory? Do you do vigorous aerobic exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes? Or do you not think you need these things?

Perhaps the lack of congruence between what men believe vs. their health practices is due to how many men interpret “healthy lifestyle.” If an individual man is generally free from problems like pain, shortness of breath when climbing stairs, or sexual dysfunction—all symptoms of potential cardiovascular or other disease—he may think he’s the picture of health.

But feeling healthy because you don’t have problems is not the same as creating and preserving robust health. In commenting on the study, urologist Dr. Raevti Bole (Center for Men’s Health, Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute, Cleveland Clinic) points out while the majority of men think they’ve got a very healthy lifestyle, “… when you ask some of those more specific questions and got them to think about it, they found that some of those behaviors weren’t in alignment with what they had initially thought about how healthy their lifestyles were.”[i]

Ah, there’s the catch! It’s all about honestly assessing your lifestyle, identifying what supports overall health and what doesn’t, researching choices that help prevent disease, and aligning oneself with behaviors shown to improve longevity while enhancing quality of life.

When it comes to how healthy you think you are, which percent of the male population do you fall into? Hopefully, the fact that you’re reading this blog means you’re not one of the “ostriches” with your head in the sand about your own health. However, if your self-knowledge has been buried in darkness, it’s time to stop kidding yourself. Take a good look in the mirror, do a mental inventory of your diet/exercise/stress management regimen, and embrace enlightenment. Then, take action. Start now to make the changes you need to be your best self.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Thompson, Dennis. “Survey shows American men are less healthy than they believe.” Medical Express, Sep. 7, 2023. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-09-survey-american-men-healthy.html#google_vignette


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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