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Men’s Health Month

Suppose I told you that at every stage of life, you have a higher than average chance of dying from most diseases and to die 5-10 years earlier than most people. Would you resolve to take better care of yourself? Perhaps see your doctor regularly, especially if something seems wrong? How about take recommended medication and get recommended tests? Seems like that’s what a rational person would do. You, however, are a man, so you probably won’t. You see where I’m going with this? June is National Men’s Health Month: Let’s talk about it.

There are many explanations offered for why we don’t live as long as women do, including higher-risk occupations, higher metabolic rate, higher rates of criminality, and weaker social connections. All have some merit, but the most consistent thread seems to be cardio-vascular disease. Even when studies controlled for smoking, cardio-vascular disease accounts for most of the difference in mortality rates between men and women. In fact, we may be at a built-in disadvantage because estrogen appears to slow the development of (let’s just call it) heart disease. Still, we are not helpless. We could at least see our doctors regularly, but studies show that we are only about half as likely to do so compared to women. Why? I did some reading on-line and came up with a few things.

A few months ago, I was coughing a lot. Not unusual for me, I get one or two sinus infections per year. Finally, my wife insisted I see my doctor. After much thought, I made an appointment. That day, the nurse asked me why I was there. “I have wife flu,” I said between coughs. “Huh?” I explained, “It’s when a guy doesn’t think he’s sick enough to go to the doctor, but his wife makes him go.” Most men don’t want to admit we’re sick. We like to think we’re strong and resilient, that we can overcome this without help. The line that summed it up best was “vulnerability sucks!” Worse, we fear a serious diagnosis. Maybe it isn’t just a sinus infection this time. What if this the day they find something? Let me jump back to vulnerability. That’s what men hear when doctors say “tests”. Even when we are prescribed pills, relatively innocuous and non-invasive, we are less likely to take them. Is this because we see taking them as admitting weakness and vulnerability? I think that’s part of it, but I also think we have a control issue here. “Nobody’s going tell ME what to do! That doctor only saw me for ten minutes. I know what’s right for me.” Well, brother, doing it your way got you here.

By now, you’re probably saying, “OK, Mack. Men don’t see their doctors as often as they should. I think we kind of already knew that. What can we do?” Well, guys, can I just ask you to look after your heart health, especially if you are forty or older? Get your blood pressure and your cholesterol checked. Get an EKG. These things take a few minutes and don’t require that you do anything worse than take off your shirt.

In addition, make an appointment with a therapist or counselor if you’re stressed, feeling down or just need to talk to someone. Men are less likely than women to seek counseling or treatment for a mental illness due to hesitation or fear in showing their true emotions or state of vulnerability. Make an appointment this month for National Men’s Health Month. You can tell them your wife made you do it.