Monday, June 17, 2013

Feel Great: Viva La Resistance! Men's Health Week Followup

Y Men? Is it our very genetics that
make us live shorter lives than women?
For Men's Health Month and Week, we highlighted the top 7 health risks for men. I hope it helped to read about them and learn how to avoid them. But in the end, our very maleness could be the single biggest factor for health risks and premature death in men. That is both genetically and characteristically. Robert Krulwich just wrote an article on NPR's website about Why Men Die Younger Than Women and in it he describes various reasons from a paper called "Why Men Die Younger," by Seattle actuary Barbara Blatt Kalben. Anything from size (note that small dogs usually live far longer than big dogs) to testosterone are possible but the last item to me is the most intriguing - that data from the Mayo Clinic mined by an essayist in 1934 showed that "mere maleness" is a predictor of greater mortality, that something about being male "influences unfavorably the resistance ... to disease at all ages."

Well, I say - Viva La Resistance! With what we learned during Men's Health Week, I believe we can change that.

The question is what do they mean by maleness? A male human, a man, is usually defined as having a y chromosome and generally for all animals means producing spermatazoa. That really is it, though among us humans again we usually include the secondary sex characteristic such as more pubic and facial hair, and a more prominent Adam's apple and deeper voice.

In many ways we ask that very question that we ask here at Well-Met with every post. Are we defined by how we were born or what we do? Above I think they are talking mostly about genetically, that right form birth no matter how we turn out we are at a disadvantage if we are 'male'. But to me that only speaks to one piece of the puzzle. I subscribe to the behavioral differences as much or more than the genetic. I think the expectations of acting as a boy then a man direct us to do things or not do things that separate us from women in health as much as any other aspect of living. Eating lots of meat, drinking a lot, having competitions on drinking or eating, attempting a stunt on a bike or skateboard or whatever, buying faster cars and motorcycles, I could go on...

It is in what we do, not who we are, that gives us that maleness, which can be good or bad. Unfortunately in this case it means bad. The real question then is can we be men and still be well? I say resoundingly yes. I think many of the things that 'real men' consider manly is not and if we avoid or change those things we can be healthy, long-living men.

So what are those things that we consider maleness that factor in on our longevity, or lack thereof? I don't think I probably even need to spell them out, but here goes.

  1. Taking less care.

Short list, huh? Well, that is because nearly everything we do and don't do I think can be ascribed to that description. If we take more risks we are taking less care. If we don't pay attention to what we eat, we take less care. If we seek less care (like going to the doctor less) we take less care. If we buy something for power or speed versus reliability or safety we take less care. And so on. I could make an exhaustive list of specifics like the amount and type of food and alcohol we consume and so on, but it could go on forever and what's the point? We all know what the issues are, and we cover it here so often all you have to do is read how to BeWell.

Look, we know our pitfalls and shortcomings, we just need to act on them, and if we take steps to live safer, healthier, more meaningful lives, our lives can be longer. We can increase our resistance to disease and health issues, even if there is something about that darn y chromosome (like having only one chance to have a good x chromosome versus two chances like women do).

Viva La Resistance!