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A middle-aged man looking at himself in the mirror
January 7, 2020

The Wellness Gender Divide: The issue might just be the man in the mirror

While men may suddenly have more access to wellness tools and opportunities, to effectively protect themselves against the burden of disease, they may first need to take a hard look in the mirror.

By: Meg Adelman, RN, BSN, MPH

Over the last decade, the wellness sector has grown into a 4.2 billion-dollar industry. Based on historical marketing trends, it would be logical to assume this growth is being driven disproportionately by women. This isn’t because men don’t enjoy a good workout or taking care of themselves as much as women. In today’s world, most people are generally motivated to look and feel good, especially considering the increasingly competitive environment we all operate in where the fear of ageism and discrimination in the workplace exists across the board. Yet, women appear to embrace a healthy lifestyle more fervently than men and they are not at all apologetic in doing so! Thus, men’s wellness has been largely overlooked by the industry—possibly because gender biases are so ingrained that they underestimate the level of engagement for health promotion in the male population. Finally, it seems that trend may be changing as the industry is moving towards product and service innovation designed to meet men’s unique health needs. But, while men may suddenly have more access to wellness tools and opportunities, to effectively protect themselves against the burden of disease, they may first need to take a hard look in the mirror.

The Data Doesn’t Lie

The World Health Organization reports that health outcomes are generally worse for men than womenlargely in part of the fact that men don’t go to the doctor until it’s past the point of helping, and if they do, they generally don’t accurately report symptoms or disclose their own behavioral contributions to poor health during those doctor visits. Without routine healthcare, wellness is a misnomer because the key to disease prevention includes early detection and awareness of physiological changes that could indicate a problem, even in the absence of obvious symptoms. Environmental factors influence epigenetics in a way we still don’t completely understand, and therefore, careful and consistent health monitoring is not just a good idea, but a critical component of longevity. In fact, no effort to improve men’s health will be more valuable than addressing this largely unacknowledged gap in disease prevention.

To paint a better picture here, let’s turn to the data. The American Heart Association reports that heart disease develops many years earlier in men than in women and that men are more likely to die of a cardiovascular incident in the prime of life. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one quarter of all heart disease-related deaths occur in men between the of ages 35 to 65. High blood pressure is a huge contributing factor to heart disease and is a direct result of being overweight, consuming excessive saturated fat (animal protein), smoking, stress and daily alcohol consumption. Blood pressure readings that used to be considered “within normal range” (135/85) are now related to poor cardiovascular outcomes and as such, the healthcare community wants to lower the threshold for a hypertension diagnosis making these lower levels treatable through pharmaceutical interventions. While that is one approach to risk reduction, both having high blood pressure and the medications to treat the condition carry unwanted side effects including, but not limited to, erectile dysfunction. A better approach to getting on medication would be to ensure that you avoid it at all costs and take matters into your own hands with the adoption of lifestyle changes that have a proven success rate over the long term. It should also be noted that elevated blood pressure often produces no detectable symptoms and would go unnoticed unless discovered through regular screenings.

Old Stereotypes Die Hard

Another thing to consider is that life expectancy tends to be consistently shorter for men than women by an average of 10 years. The primary cause of death for both genders is cardiovascular disease, but coming in as a close second is cancer. Despite the fact that this holds true for both men and women, the major difference is that women prioritize healthcare visits and early detection of these diseases is crucial to both maintaining a higher quality of life with the diagnosis and then ultimately surviving it. Self-regulation and the ability to communicate with others about health struggles may also contribute to better health outcomes for women, specifically as it relates to diet and greater awareness over mindless indulgence in maladaptive behaviors like smoking and drinking. On average, male smokers tend to smoke more cigarettes per day than women smokers and the same goes for alcohol intake. Smoking is still the biggest predictor of early death, and despite recent declines of smoking in the general population, it is still a significant issue for men. Other theories related to the difference in life expectancy have to do with increased risk-taking behaviors and social emotional characteristics of machismo that interfere with men taking care of themselves. Ultimately, the threat of early morbidity and mortality would be significantly less if men simply had a trusted relationship with their doctor or healthcare practitioner.

It’s Never Too Late For Positive Changes

While cultural norms have persisted, such as the perception that asking for help is a sign of weakness or a strict adherence to “stoic masculinity,” these old stereotypes are undermining the very promise of holistic male wellness, despite the upward trends in the industry to be more inclusive of male health needs. Current recommendations for annual screenings for men 40 and older include the following:

  • Regular obesity screenings
  • Routine blood pressure assessment
  • Diabetes screening, especially if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80
  • After the age of 35, a cholesterol test—if high risk, begin earlier*
  • Colorectal cancer screening, begin testing sooner if high risk*

*High risk is considered when abdominal obesity and smoking is a factor or there is a family history

As always, there is huge power in dietary interventions and letting food be thy medicine. Aside from regular doctor visits, the plant-based diet remains the number one most effective way to reverse all of the above contributors to early death and disease, especially as it relates to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I recommend digging into the research from a credible source, which is virtually right at your fingertips! The science on this subject is abundant and easy to find.

If you are searching for ways to eat more plant-based foods and make better decisions when you are pressed for time or on the go, Navitas Organics offers a wide variety of nutrient-dense snack foods to help you get through your day and stick to your health routine. The Chocolate Brownie Power Snacks are delicious and will help kill cravings that might have you otherwise reaching for a candy bar in a moment of need. The Superfood Latte Mixes are keto and paleo friendly with just a couple grams of sugar and no dairy! They mix up into a creamy, warm beverage treat with only 8oz of hot water or milk of choice, so they couldn't be easier. Available in three options: Matcha and Turmeric Latte mixes.

So, as men look to the wellness industry for the answers to their health needs, the best way to practice self-care starts and ends by having a strong relationship with their doctor or healthcare professional. That, in addition to all the wonderful products on the market, will truly help men live longer and thrive!

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