Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Men Should Behave More Like Women

     This is the follow-up to my previous post about the problems of men in America today ... which I got to thinking about after my recent flu shot.

     But just so you know, my wife and I often go against type. I'm the one who stops and asks for directions, not her. I'm the one who goes to the doctor and gets my checkups, not her. And I'm the one taking a book discussion course at the senior center, with two other men and 18 women. Meanwhile, B is doing a technology course with mostly men and only a few women.

     So what's my point? I can't speak for B. But as for myself, I'm trying to behave more like a woman, simply because I believe it will help me live longer -- which at this stage of life is of more urgent concern than it was 20 or 30 years ago when ... you know, I was going to live forever.

     We all know that in general women live longer than men. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy for a male born in the United States today is about 76 years. For a female it's 81. Even before they're born, males are at risk. About 115 males are conceived for every 100 females. But on average only 104 of those males make it into the world, as 11 of them fail to survive until birth.

     A 2012 study from Australia suggested that mutations in DNA account for at least some of the difference between life expectancies. And it's not just in humans. The life expectancy of a male chimpanzee is 45 years, compared to 59 for the female. The average male mosquito lives a week, the female a month.

     The study supports what scientists have long known -- that at least some of the difference in longevity between men and women is in the genes. Natural selection favors reproduction over longevity, in essence using the body simply as a vehicle for passing on genes. Males have shorter lifespans because once they pass on their genes, they are disposable. Females are built to stick around to raise their young -- especially in species like humans who take many years to mature.

     A related theory suggests that males compete with one another for the attention of females. The male who proves his mettle by engaging in risky behaviors like hunting and fighting is more likely to attract the female and therefore pass on his genes -- at least, evolutionarily speaking. But unfortunately for males, the more risky the behavior, the shorter the lifespan.

     But scientists estimate than only about 30% of the variation in longevity can be attributed to genetics. The rest depends on environmental and societal factors -- your exposures and your behaviors. So what can we men do to increase their life expectancy?

     Take fewer risks. Men in their late teens and 20s go through a testosterone surge that tends to produce aggressive and risky behaviors. Young men drive too fast, don't wear their seatbelts; they fight and experiment with deadly weapons, and engage in risky sexual behavior (but I don't really want to go there -- that's a topic for another blog post, and one not written be me). Even today, this all leads to a higher death rate among young men, as more men than women die in accidents and homicides. And we all know that risky behavior doesn't always end when a man turns 30.

     Get a safer job. Traditionally, men took on dangerous jobs, from the military to mining, while women filled safer jobs such as teaching, nursing and child care. In modern times, dangerous jobs have become safer, and the gender gap is closing. Nevertheless, men still work most of the dangerous jobs in America, from fishermen to farmer, roofer to truck driver.

     Don't smoke or drink or take drugs. Men tend to party more than women, and it takes its toll on their health. Fortunately, this gender gap is shrinking, as over the last two decades men have smoked less and less. Unfortunately, the results are different for drugs.

     Eat a healthier diet. Men eat more meat, more high-fat snacks, more high-fructose corn syrup -- all leading to higher levels of cholesterol. A diet with more fruits and vegetables (which can reduce colon cancer) and less red meat (which reduces the risk of both cancer and heart disease) will help men improve their health and extend their life expectancy.

     Deal with your stress. Researchers once thought that men suffered more stress because of their demanding jobs. That may no longer be true, as women are working more, earning more and shouldering more financial responsibility for themselves and their families. But one thing is certain. Men internalize their stress, or deal with it in harmful ways, such as drinking or fighting. Men also have higher suicide rates than women. And stress plays an important role in heart disease. So it's crucial for men to find healthful outlets for stress through sports, counseling, meditating or support groups.

     Go to the doctor. A lot of men (but not me!) won't go to the doctor, no matter how much it hurts, out of a false sense of bravado. While it may not be necessary for young males to undergo an annual physical, older men should see a doctor regularly and make sure to keep up with preventive care, from monitoring cholesterol to screening for prostate and colon cancer.

     One last note. Women shouldn't take their longer life expectancy for granted. The gender gap has been closing. According to a report from the University of Washington, between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy increased by 4.6 years for men, but only 2.7 years for women. Let's hope that any further narrowing of the gap is not due to women acting more like men, but men behaving more like women.

10 comments:

DJan said...

This is a very interesting and enlightening post, Tom. My husband has already gotten his flu shot and I'm still procrastinating. I do see the doctor annually, and he doesn't, but all the other things you point out about gender differences are true for us. He was reckless as a young man, but no longer. I have always been a risk taker, but in my golden years I seem to have mellowed. :-)

Anonymous said...

Years ago I was told that there are 2 things that will help me live to a ripe old age= don’t smoke, wear your seatbelt.

Pat S. said...

Very thoughtful comments! As the roles of women in society and their social habits have changed over the last few decades so has their susceptibility to various health problems. It will be interesting to see what happens to gender longevity as we move into the future.

Diane Dahli said...

I'd choose 'dealing with stress' as the most critical of the strategies to assure long life. I may be speaking for myself, but I suspect that stress is a killer. Meditating, or controlling thoughts, or just generally distracting myself are some ways I deal with the stress in my life. That's not to say I'm always successful!

Tom Sightings said...

I wouldn't argue with Anon about smoking and seatbelts. But, Diane, I agree with you about stress. I remember the last few years I was working, in a very stressful situation. I had terrible back pains. I went to physical therapy, wore a neck collar, did lots of other things. As soon as I retired, and the stress went away, so did the back pain. I've been fine ever since. I think I'd be dead by now if I was still working in my old company.

retirementreflections said...

This is a very timely post, Tom. I just finished reading an article (on CNN) that stated "Nearly half of women (compared to one-third of men) over the age of 45 will develop Parkinson's, dementia or stroke during their lifetime." Although longevity is still slightly higher for women, quality of life is a concern as these numbers are alarmingly high.

Barbara said...

My comment to the other post was that my last flu shot did not work. I've recently seen an article or two saying that last year's shot was not great but you really need it for this year's and it will work. So I guess I will bite the bullet after all and go get my shot

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Just got my flu shot yesterday! I really enjoyed this post, Tom. All of the non-genetic life-shortening factors that apply more to men than to women are so true. But, as you noted, that may be changing as women's lives and priorities change. Just a personal example: I've noticed, in the past few years, that many more of my bright, hard-working, highly motivated female college classmates from Northwestern have died than my male classmates by quite a margin. Just counting my good and close college friends, I've lost 16 female friends and only one male friend. All of these women were as ambitious and career focused as men and many were loving, involved parents as well. Maybe the stress of multiple roles... who knows? But I think your tips on living longer resonate for all of us!

Anonymous said...

My aunt lived to 100 she was pretty miserable..Relatives sucked up to her for money..Well I never believed she left them a damn dime..she was not a happy person..Maybe the key to being a 100 as a woman is being mean as crap and brutally honest..she married and divorced at least 2 times, I thought because the men could not stand to be with a police person..she outlived my mom by 52 years no kids ever and treated her mother my grammie like crap..after my grammie died she took to a religion and never smoked again and some say acted nicely, I never believed that either..I say don't be mean when you are younger and when you are older either....

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