Adult male sits down with a primary care physician to discuss lifestyle changes to improve health.

How To Close the Gender Health Gap


Did you know that women are expected to live 4.9 years longer than men on average? Why is there an almost 5-year difference in life expectancy between the sexes? For years, researchers have attributed this to lifestyle differences. However, new theories are surfacing, connecting these differences on a genetic level. 

What are the explanations for differences in gender life expectancy?

  1. Genetic Theory. There is a tiny component of the DNA called a telomere that just might explain the difference in life expectancy for men and women. Telomeres are the endcaps of DNA strands that protect chromosomes. When these endcaps wear away, DNA becomes damaged, which can impact the longevity of life. Women typically have longer telomeres compared to men.
  2. Hormonal Explanation. Estrogen, also known as the female sex hormone, helps rid the body of bad cholesterol, protecting it against cardiovascular disease and other cholesterol-related diseases. 
  3. Social Factors. Women are known to have larger and more reliable social groups compared to men. Strong interpersonal relationships help reduce the risks of both common illnesses and serious diseases, like heart attacks
  4. Behavioral Trends. Healthcare professionals are unsure whether risky and aggressive behavior associated with males is caused by nature or nurture elements. However, these behaviors are another reason why men don’t live as long as women. For example, it’s more common for men to smoke and work riskier jobs than women.  

Are there ways to improve telomeric health to help men overcome gender disparities?

Damage to DNA does not have to be permanent. There are ways to add protection back to your DNA strands, which can slow, prevent, and possibly reverse the telomere shortening that has already occurred. There is a treatment using telomerase to rebuild or lengthen telomeres. However, this treatment has been connected to how cancer cells use telomerase to grow and could cause cancer growth in the body. 

What are some lifestyle changes men can make to close the gender health gap?

While the 5-year difference in life expectancy can seem like a daunting number to tackle, males can make some lifestyle changes to help close the gender health gap. Maintaining an exercise routine and a heart-healthy diet are the first steps anyone can take toward leading a healthy lifestyle. Keep a diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and non- or low-fat dairy products, and lower your consumption of red meat and highly processed foods. Other things to avoid include tobacco products and negative life stressors. These lifestyle changes can also help improve the length of telomeres on the ends of your DNA. 

Men should also find opportunities to bring joy into their lives and share it with others. Having a strong support network can help prevent numerous illnesses, ranging from common colds to heart disease. Lastly, men should begin taking preventive healthcare measures as soon as possible. 

Men and women should not put off routine screenings and visits to a primary care physician. Dr. Syed Raza, vice president of medical operations at St. Luke’s Health–The Woodlands Hospital, states in the Smart Health Podcast that most men under the age of 65 have a fear of going to the doctor and being told something is wrong. He tries to reassure his male patients that a visit to a primary care physician isn’t the end of the world:

“Just about everything is reversible, everything is treatable, and wouldn’t you feel foolish if you decided to put off going to the doctor because you were scared you were going to get something that wasn’t preventable or treatable? What you actually had was something that could’ve been easily taken care of at an early stage.” 

-Dr. Syed Raza, VP of Medical Operations at St. Luke’s Health–The Woodlands Hospital

Schedule a virtual visit or in-person wellness exam with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician today.

Sources:

Healthline | Why Women Really Outlive Men

Harvard Health | Mars vs. Venus: The gender gap in health

Advisory | Why do women live longer than men? It's more complicated than you think.

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