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Mars vs. Venus: The Gender Gap in Health

Mars vs. Venus: The Gender Gap in Health

  • Barb
  • Dec 19 2017

Mars vs. Venus: The Gender Gap in Health

Ask most anyone, and they will tell you that men are the stronger sex. The reasoning is obvious: in general, men are bigger and more muscular than women. They can (on average) run faster, lift more, and throw things farther. But in medical terms, it is a very different story. When it comes to health, men are the weaker sex.

The longevity gap: People of both sexes are living longer. However, decade after decade women continue to outpace men. In fact, the gap is wider now than it was a century ago.

The health gap: Men die at a faster rate than women; the overall mortality rate is 41% higher for men than for women, and it's also higher for men for eight of the 10 leading causes of death. In addition, American men are 2.1 times more likely to die from liver disease, 2.7 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS, 4.1 times more likely to commit suicide, and 3.8 times more likely to be murder victims than women.

Biological factors: Genes and chromosomes, hormones, reproductive anatomy, and Metabolism; males and females are different from the very moment of conception. Although genetics are often blamed, most premature deaths can often be linked to unwise health behaviors. And, although these factors may explain part of the health gap, particularly very early in life, social and behavioral factors play a larger role in adults.

Social factors: Work stress and hostility. It is a common explanation for excess male mortality, and there may be something to it. Indeed, the stereotype of the harried, hard-driving, overworked male executive has a basis in fact, and work stress can increase the risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. Type A behavior, stress, hostility, and anger have all been implicated as heart disease risk factors, and these traits tend to have a higher prevalence in men than women. But as more women enter the workplace and add financial obligations to their traditional roles at home, they may have the dubious honor of closing the gender gap by moving in the wrong direction.

Social networks and supports:  Strong interpersonal relationships and support networks reduce the risk of many problems. Women tend to have much larger and more reliable social networks than men.

Behavioral factors: Biological factors account for part of the gender gap, social factors for another portion. But from adolescence onward, male behaviors are the main reason that men fall ill sooner and die off faster than women.

Risky behavior: Is it nature or nurture, the Y chromosome and testosterone, or daredevil role models and cultural norms? Nobody knows, but the answer is not likely to be either/or but all of the above. Whatever the cause, from boyhood on, males take more risks than females, and they often pay the price in terms of trauma, injury, and death.

Aggression and violence: These are extreme forms of risky behavior, and they all have many of the same root causes. Violent behavior directly threatens the health and well-being of others, both male and female. A man is nearly four times more likely to die from homicide or suicide than a woman, but women are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Men need to learn self-control and anger management if they are to close this portion of the gender gap. Understanding that real men have feelings and that strong emotions are best expressed with words, not acts, is also important.

Smoking: It is the riskiest of all health habits, and secondhand smoke is dangerous to others. More men (24%) than women (18%) smoke cigarettes.

Alcohol and substance abuse: Like smoking, drinking and drug abuse are traditionally male problems that are increasingly threatening to women as well. Still, males dominate in these self-destructive habits.

Diet: Women generally eat healthier foods than men: The idea of meat and potatoes should give way to lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.

Exercise: When human survival depended on physical work, both men and women got plenty of exercise. As men moved behind desks, women who continued to haul groceries, climb stairs, scrub, and wash continued to get the many health benefits of physical activity. But as modern appliances replace muscles at home and women join men in sedentary jobs, American women have fallen slightly behind in exercise. It's small comfort to men, though, since most men don't come close to getting the exercise they need for health.

Medical care: Women think about health, and they do more about it. Women are more likely than men to have health insurance and a regular source of health care. Call it the ostrich mentality or the John Wayne Syndrome; by any name, men who skip tests and treatments minimize symptoms, and disregard medical advice are asking for trouble.

Closing the gap: Men who think they are too tough to get sick are risking a medical crash-landing. To stay healthy, we all need to follow the rules Drs. Ross and Amy have tips to help you wing your way to a long and healthy life.

Avoid tobacco in all its forms.

Eat well. That means eating foods that are more healthful and fewer harmful foods. Eat more: whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, fish, low- or non-fat dairy products, and nuts and seeds. Eat less: red meat, whole-milk dairy products, high-sodium (salty) processed foods, sweets, sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates, and trans fats.

Exercise regularly, including: 30 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day exercises for strength two to three times a week and exercises for flexibility and balance regularly.

Stay lean. It is equally hard for men and women, but even partial success will help.

If you choose to drink, limit yourself to a couple of drinks a week. Drink more water!

Reduce stress. Get enough sleep. Build social ties and community support.

Avoid risky behavior, including drug abuse, unsafe sex, dangerous driving, unsafe firearm use, and living in hazardous household conditions.

Reduce exposure to toxins including environmental, household and in the food you eat.

Get regular medical check-ups and chiropractic adjustments. Listen to your body and be a proactive advocate for yourself.

Seek joy and share it with others. Laughter is good medicine. Fun and optimism improve health as well as happiness.

And if you make changes slowly, steadily, and reasonably, you will actually come to enjoy your healthful lifestyle. As things now stand, men are from Mars, women from Venus. But gents who get their planets aligned correctly can enjoy the best of both worlds — and good health right here on Earth.

The full article can be read online at http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mars-vs-venus-the-gender-gap-in-health