New study suggests that men’s help-seeking behavior makes them live shorter lives than women
Advances in medical technology and practice theory have led to a notable increase in the average life expectancy for individuals around the world, now at 76 for men and 81 for women in the United States. While the updated averages are promising, the five-year gap between men and women continues to bewilder. Some chock the difference up to a tendency for men to take on more risk throughout a lifetime, while others point to the male population having a greater likelihood of contracting a life threatening disease. It has been questioned, however, if there are other contributing factors in the longevity gap.
Diana Sanchez, associate professor of psychology and Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral student, both of Rutgers University, sought an answer to the question surrounding why men live shorter lives than women. In March of 2016, Rutgers University published research for both Preventive Medicine and The Journal of Health Psychology conducted by Sanchez and Himmelstein that unveiled a potential reason behind the pressing inquiry. The research revealed the following consistent data:
Men are less likely to go to the doctor compared to women
Men are more likely to select a male doctor when they do go
Men are less likely to fully disclose their medical symptoms with a male doctor
Parameters of the Research
The study for Preventive Medicine surveyed 250 male participants in an online questionnaire aimed at gathering responses to questions about manhood, generally accepted attributes of men and women, and doctor preference. The results showed that the higher respondents scored on the masculinity scale, the more likely they were to have a preference for a male doctor over a female. Researchers also asked 250 undergraduate men to complete a questionnaire with a similar focus. Each respondent was then interviewed by male and female pre-med and nursing students about current medical conditions. The results tell a similar story: the higher the respondents scored on the masculinity scale, the less likely they were to share their medical symptoms openly with male interviewers.
Similar data was gathered from the student published in The Journal for Health Psychology, with survey responses and interviews elicited from undergraduate students as well as the public at large. Men who believed in more traditional gender norms associated with masculinity were less likely to seek the help of a medical professional, and less likely to share opening regarding symptoms. Not surprisingly, the women respondents who identified the need to be brave and self-reliant were also less likely to seek out medical treatment and more likely to withhold information relevant to current symptoms.
Consequences of Traditional Masculine Views
Sanchez and Himmelstein believe that a long-lived cultural script plays a significant role in why men downplay medical issues or illness. Instead of feeling comfortable speaking with medical professionals and potentially beginning a course of treatment, men are more likely to be less forthcoming and thus, less healthy. More so, both the men and women who followed a path more closely linked to traditional masculinity ideals noted suffering health outcomes not plaguing respondents without those views.
Representatives from a medical solicitors firm explain that the lack of communication from male patients to their healthcare providers presents another potential pitfall in receiving appropriate care. The chance of medical mistakes taking place during treatment of illnesses increases substantially when patients do not feel comfortable sharing the actual symptoms or issues they are experiencing. Miscommunication in these situations runs deep, affecting information passed from staff to staff, staff to patient, or patient to staff. As medical mistakes are left unrecognized or untreated, patients feel increasing discomfort in sharing new or changing symptoms for fear of sounding disrespectful or less than educated. Under these circumstances, the cycle of poor health – and ultimately a shorter life span – continues.
The studies conducted by Sanchez and Himmelstein point to a clear correlation between a reduced longevity in men and the overarching male psyche. Believing that, as a man, one should be able to tough out sickness or medical conditions that surface over time is detrimental to one’s health and ultimately the length and quality of life. Despite the average life expectancy steadily increasing over the years, traditional opinions surrounding masculinity and femininity play a role in maintaining the five-year longevity gap between men and women.
Walking for just 2.5 hours a week could add more than seven years to your life, researchers believe.
The study found even half of that is beneficial, with 75 minutes of brisk walking a week enough to extend life by almost two years.
The analysis of the lives of more than 600,000 men and women aged 40 and over also added weight to the idea that it is possible to be fat and fit.
The experts from the US government’s medical research agency and Harvard University crunched the results of six previous long-term studies into health and lifestyle.
The analysis focused on moderate exercise – defined as walking fast enough to break into a sweat but slow enough to hold a conversation.
The benefits were clear, with two and a half hours of brisk walking a week adding 3.4 years to life on average.
Doing twice this added 4.2 years, while walking for seven and a half hours weekly added 4.5 years to life.
The biggest gains were seen in people of a healthy weight, where two and a half hours of moderate exercise a week extended life by more than seven years, the journal PLoS Medicine reported.
However, people of a healthy weight who didn’t exercise could expect to die 3.1 years earlier than obese people who did stay active – a finding that underlines the importance of exercising whatever your weight.
The study also revealed the association between physical activity and life expectancy was similar between men and women, and that black people gained more years of life expectancy than white people.
The relationship between life expectancy and exercise was stronger among those with a history of cancer or heart disease than those with no history of either disease.
Dr. I-Min Lee, the study’s senior author, said: “We must not underestimate how important physical activity is for health – even modest amounts can add years to your life.”
Scientists found that limiting the time we spend sitting to just three hours a day could add an extra two years to our life expectancy.
Similarly, if we cut daily TV viewing down to two hours we could add on 1.4 years, they say in a report for the online journal BMJ Open.
But experts say the US estimates, which are based on five separate population studies, are too unreliable to predict personal risk.
Plus the targets are unfeasible.
Prof. David Spiegelhalter, an expert in risk calculations at the University of Cambridge, said: “This is a study of populations, and does not tell you personally what the effect of getting off the sofa might be.
“It seems plausible that if future generations moved around a bit more, then they might live longer on average.
“But very few of us currently spend less than three hours sitting each day, and so this seems a very optimistic target.”
Limiting the time we spend sitting to just three hours a day could add an extra two years to our life expectancy
Adults are advised to do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, as well as a couple of sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises like lifting weights or digging in the garden.
But even if you do this recommended amount, you may still be sedentary – for example, if you work in an office you may spend most of your working day sitting.
A growing body of evidence suggests the more time we spend sitting, the less healthy we may be.
Several studies have linked sitting and television viewing to conditions like diabetes and heart disease as well as an increased overall risk of death from any cause.
But finding a link is not the same as proving one thing actually causes the other.
And although this latest piece of research does not claim to be proof, the researchers themselves acknowledge there are flaws that make its findings less than reliable.
The work looked at a large sample of people – almost 167,000 in total – but did not scrutinize the different lifestyles these individuals led.
It is not clear how many of these people were less healthy to begin with and who, therefore, might spend more time sitting down as a result.
And the studies relied on the participants accurately recalling and reporting how much time they spent lounging around.
Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk and Prof. I-Min Lee who carried out the review stress that their estimates are theoretical.
But given that the adults in their research spent, on average, half of their days sitting “engaged in sedentary pursuits”, the findings could provide an important public health warning.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that a diet high in red meat can shorten life expectancy.
The study of more than 120,000 people suggested red meat increased the risk of death from cancer and heart problems.
Substituting red meat with fish, chicken or nuts lowered the risks, the authors said.
According to The British Heart Foundation, red meat could still be eaten as part of a balanced diet.
The researchers analyzed data from 37,698 men between 1986 and 2008 and 83,644 women between 1980 and 2008.
The researchers said adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to someone’s daily diet would increase the risk of death by 13%, of fatal cardiovascular disease by 18% and of cancer mortality by 10%.
The figures for processed meat were higher, 20% for overall mortality, 21% for death from heart problems and 16% for cancer mortality.
The study of more than 120,000 people suggested red meat increased the risk of death from cancer and heart problems
The study said: “We found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality.
“This association was observed for unprocessed and processed red meat with a relatively greater risk for processed red meat.”
The researchers suggested that saturated fat from red meat may be behind the increased heart risk and the sodium used in processed meats may “increase cardiovascular disease risk through its effect on blood pressure”.
Victoria Taylor, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Red meat can still be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but go for the leaner cuts and use healthier cooking methods such as grilling.
“If you eat processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages or burgers several times a week, add variation to your diet by substituting these for other protein sources such as fish, poultry, beans or lentils.”
Scientists say life expectancy is written into our DNA and could be seen from the day we are born.
They have found a way to predict how long someone will live – by measuring their genes as a baby
It all depends on the length of the telomeres, which are described as “acting like the plastic ends on shoelaces” to protect chromosomes from wear and tear.
Telomeres are being studied extensively – and are thought to hold the key to ageing.
The longer your telomeres, the longer you will live – dependent, of course, on not dying accidentally, from disease or from lifestyle factors.
It was known they could be shortened by life choices, including smoking and stress. But this is the first indication that our lifespan might be predetermined from birth.
In the future, tests may allow people to know their expected lifespan from a very early age – if they want to.
Professor Pat Monaghan, who led the Glasgow University study, said: “The results of this research show that what happens in our bodies in early life is very important.
“It is not understood why there are variations of telomere length but if you had a choice, you would want to be born with longer telomeres.
“If you were to test this, I don’t think anyone would want to know – it would just make you miserable. But it must be remembered that how you live has a big effect. This isn’t quite a case of nature overtaking nurture.”
Telomeres are important because they stop DNA from unraveling, but they begin shortening from the moment we are conceived
The study – which used zebra finches, one of Australia’s most common bird species – is the first to measure telomere lengths at regular intervals through an entire life. With people, it is usually only the elderly who are studied because of the timescales involved.
Blood cell samples were taken from 99 finches, starting when they were 25 days old.
The results exceeded even the researchers’ expectations. The birds with the shortest telomeres did tend to die first – from as early as seven months after the start of the trial.
But one bird in the group with the longest telomeres survived to almost nine years old.
Professor Monaghan said: “These birds were dying of natural causes. There were no predators, no diseases and no accidental deaths. This was showing their capacity for long life.”
The results hold huge implications for humans, whose telomeres work in the same way.
Telomeres are important because they stop DNA from unraveling, but they begin shortening from the moment we are conceived.
The longer they are, the better for an individual because when they get too short, they stop working.
DNA is then no longer protected and errors begin to creep in when cells divide. When this happens – usually in middle age – the skin begins to sag and the immune system becomes less efficient. Faulty cells also lead to a growing risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
The university’s institute of biodiversity, animal health and comparative medicine has published its groundbreaking research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
In the next stage of their research, the Glasgow scientists will look at what causes telomeres to shorten – including inherited and environmental factors – to make it possible to predict life expectancy more accurately.