National Men’s Health Month occurs every year in June. According to National Today, its purpose is to “heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of diseases including cancer, heart disease, and depression.” It’s great to dedicate an entire month to special events, symbolic pins, special websites, etc. because it brings men’s health issues into the public eye. And yet, it may act as unintended excuse to slack off for the rest of the year.
Men need to pay better year-round attention to their health. The average life expectancy for men is shorter than it is for women: in the U.S., men die 5 years earlier. They are 1.5 times more likely than women to die from heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries. Men age faster than women, and their death rates behave in a parallel way to women who are eight years older.[i] In scientific analysis of gender chromosomes, females’ XX is more robust genetic equipment than males’ XY. Also, the female hormone estrogen is a natural immune system enhancer.
Is it biology?
This all adds up to a hypothesis that boys are born biologically inferior to girls. A startling 2014 Scientific American article reports, “Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species.” For example, girls are less susceptible than boys to physical brain and biochemical hormonal harm from pollutants like insecticides and compounds in plastics.
Culture shapes male behavior
Biology is not the only reason we need a National Men’s Health Month. Men have three main cultural strikes against them, adding up to the justifiable stereotype that men never see doctors:
- “Stuffing” feelings – In Western societies, boys are often raised with messages that it’s not manly to have feelings, and to express them. When boys suppress pain, fear, sadness, and tenderness, their self-awareness of their own bodies, minds and hearts suffers. When boys “man up” and stop trusting and listening to their own bodies, a cumulative process begins that culminates in ignoring physician, mental and emotional warning signs as he matures.
- Aggression – Male hormones, particularly testosterone, have been men’s best friend in terms of surviving physical threats. These biochemicals naturally equip men for the evolutionary roles of protector, hunter, and warrior. In turn, our culture reinforces modern expression of these roles. Thus, men often become competitive providers for their families, aggressively pursuing jobs that subject them to stress and pressure as they advance in earning power and status.
- Risk-taking – On balance, men take more risks than women, and it may not be just biochemistry. The brain generates electrical activity that can be registered as five different electromagnetic wavelengths: alpha, beta, delta, gamma and theta. A 2021 study found an association between the strength of the theta rhythms in males and their apparently larger appetite for risks.[ii] Again, how boys are raised and socialized gives permission for daredevil and impulsive behavior, mirrored in entertainment, sports, and video games.
When taken together, men die earlier than women because they take less care of their wellness. On balance, their self-care is poorer and they participate less in healthcare services. They overlook early warning signs of the toll stress is taking; they avoid doctor visits and annual screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure and PSA; they put themselves under pressure to compete and succeed; and they stuff feelings of frustration, anger, loss, etc. which can lead to lower mental and emotional wellbeing.
Guys, don’t limit consciousness of your health to June There are 365 days in a year, and each one brings an opportunity start and end each day with a minute or two of mindfulness on body and spirit. The best disease is the one that never happens. Don’t wait until symptoms start telling you that something is wrong. Don’t wait until a loved one feels like he/she has to nag you to go get a checkup. And don’t wait for June to roll around to get your attention. If it’s been a year or more since you last saw a doctor, make it a top priority and schedule a visit today. It’s about quality of years as well as quantity of years. The man’s health you save and the life you extend may be your own.
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] Lenart, P., Kuruczova, D., Joshi, P.K. et al. Male mortality rates mirror mortality rates of older females. Sci Rep 9, 10589 (2019).
[ii] Melore, Chris. “Brain waves reveal why men take more risks than women.” StudyFinds. July 7, 2021. https://www.studyfinds.org/brain-waves-men-take-more-risks/