Photo: Vince Garcia
Why men being men could just save our behinds.
The cover article in the Monitor on Psychology this month is about the genetic and cultural differences that combine to cut men’s average life expectancy. In “Why Do Men Die Earlier?” author Bridget Murray-Law explains that there is some limited genetic basis to the 50-percent higher frequency of heart disease in men than women, but the vast majority of the difference in life expectancy comes down to the “double whammy of poorer health care behaviors and lower use of health care.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men die, on average, five years earlier than women. “We say one year is biological and the rest is cultural,” Murray-Law quotes a prominent researcher as saying.
What’s intriguing about the newest research, however, is that the way to extend male life isn’t to feminize us but build upon traditionally male attributes that turn out to promote healthier choices. “Men high in traits that are often considered masculine ideals—self-reliance, responsibility, emotional maturity and an even-keeled approach—are more prone to visit their physicians and avoid risky behaviors, findings suggest.”
Even more intriguing is that the research is showing that African-American men, who die even younger than men as a whole, actually strongly display some of these traits because they have had a hard time getting proper health care. A history of societal discrimination means that these men, researchers found, tend to view self-reliance not only as a personal matter that makes them shy away from care, but there’s also the idea of “I can’t depend on others in society to take care of me, so I need to rely on myself. And because others—my family—are depending on me, I really need to take care of myself.”
Using Will Coutrenay’s Dying to Be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys, here are six ways to take advantage of your masculinity to get healthy:
1. Humanize. Men commonly think that their health concerns are wimpy and unmanly, says Courtenay. “And they think other men aren’t concerned about their health,” he says. “We need to tell them, ‘Your buddies are worried about their health, too, and that’s OK. Everyone is. It’s human.”