It's Men's Health Month, and to keep yourself or the men in your life around as long as possible, it's important to take preventative measures against the top two diseases that are fatal to men: heart disease and cancer.
When you combine the two, heart disease and cancer are responsible for half of all men's deaths in the United States, making it well worth your while to combat their development.
There are certain health screenings that men should have done at different stages of life. Younger men don't need to go to quite as many regular screenings as older men, but it's never too early to start working toward a healthier future by taking steps to prevent the two leading causes of death in men.
Heart disease is becoming more and more of an issue in American health. There are actually many conditions that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, and heart arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat).
An interesting element of heart disease is that many of the factors that contribute to its development are preventable. We’ve outlined risk factors and what you can do to prevent this disease below.
Heart disease risk factors you can’t change
- Age: Unfortunately, as you age, your risk of developing heart disease increases. Over time, your heart can become damaged or weakened.
- Sex: Men have a higher risk of developing heart disease than women. This is because estrogen levels provide women some additional protection compared to men.
- Family History: Men have a greater risk of developing heart disease if a close family relative has it, especially if it was developed at a young age (before 55).
Things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease
- Manage high cholesterol: High cholesterol and triglycerides increase the likelihood of clogged arteries caused by plaque and atherosclerosis and therefore, the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack.
- Control blood pressure: If you don't actively work to keep high blood pressure in check, it can contribute greatly toward the hardening and narrowing of your blood vessels. This forces your heart and blood vessels to work harder, causing damage and complications that can lead to a heart attack.
- Stop smoking: It's no secret that smoking is harmful to your health. Smoking can raise your blood pressure, damage your blood vessels, and increase your risk of a heart attack. It's never too late to stop smoking to help decrease your risk of heart disease.
- Manage stress: Experiencing great amounts of stress may make you more likely to smoke, make poor food choices, exercise less, and increase blood pressure. Learning to effectively manage your stress in healthy ways can help you avoid harmful stress-reducing habits and lower your risk factors.
- Physical activity: You don't have to spend hours at the gym to be physically active, but you should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to an increased chance of blood clots, high blood pressure, and decreased HDL or "good" cholesterol.
- Eat well: Eating foods that are low in salt and saturated fat can help with blood pressure and atherosclerotic processes and prevent build up in your arteries.
- Lose weight: Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is the best thing you can do for your heart health. Being obese weighs in on other risk factors that contribute to heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Cancer resulting in death is higher in men than it is in women, with roughly one-third of American men developing cancer in their lifetime.
As cancer survival rates have been increasing over time, through effective treatments and early screening, prevention is still the best method.
The most common cancers in men include:
Cancer risk factors you can’t change
- Age: As you age, your likelihood of receiving a cancer diagnosis increases.
- Sex: Certain cancers are more likely to appear in different genders. For example, by age 65, men are two times more likely to develop skin cancer than women.
- Family history: Your chances of developing the disease are increased if a close relative has had or currently has cancer.
- Race/ethnicity: Depending on your ethnicity, you may have a higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. For example, African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer for reasons that have yet to be determined, these cases are also much more commonly life-threatening.
- Genes: Certain genes and syndromes can raise the risk of cancer. However, only a small number of cancer cases are attributed to this.
- Skin pigmentation: While anyone who doesn’t properly protect themselves from the sun can get skin cancer, individuals with fair skin or less pigment (melanin) have less of a defense against the sun's harmful rays.
Things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer
- Maintain a healthy weight: Studies have shown that individuals who are a healthy weight are less likely to develop cancer and have a better chance of beating it. Because of obesity's likely association with other diseases, like diabetes that contributes to the development of prostate, colon, and kidney cancer, it is considered a risk factor for getting cancer.
- Limit sun exposure: While most people enjoy spending time outside on a sunny day, it’s essential to apply sunscreen, wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun, and limit your time in the direct sunlight. When you are spending time outside, cloud cover or not, make sure you have sunscreen on all year as well as wearing protective clothing.
- Stop smoking: In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to approximately 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking and secondhand smoke increase your chances of developing lung cancer and can also affect your likelihood of getting different kinds of cancer.
- Consume a low-fat, high fiber diet: "Eating a nutrient-dense, high-fiber diet not only keeps the walls of your colon strong, but it can also prevent hemorrhoids or pouches in your colon," says Kate Zeratsky, a Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist. "It also may prevent colon polyps and, potentially, cancer."
- Exercise: Not only does exercise increase your overall health, but it has also been shown to lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.
- Perform a self exam: To detect cancer, it's important to be aware of your body and any potential changes. While early stages don't always present symptoms, noticing a change in your body and addressing it with your provider can help identify symptoms early.
- Visit your provider regularly: Staying consistent with your annual exams over time is extremely important for detecting cancer, especially to catch it at an early stage.
Wondering what other preventative measures you can take? Consult a provider
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. Talk to your provider about additional steps you can take to help prevent heart disease and cancer.