Better Health: You Can Do This

It has long been known that women tend to outlive men. Here in the USA, men tend to live about five years less than women, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

Men and women are obviously built differently, and some diseases and work situations may simply be more dangerous for male bodies. However, experts know that it’s mostly because men and women have different approaches to their health and healthcare. A woman who sees a suspicious dark spot on her skin will more likely schedule an appointment with her doctor or dermatologist. A man will typically ignore it and hope that it will go away.

To be certain, both men and women could take better care of their health. Most notably, people of both genders often fail to follow advice from their doctors. As reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, only about half of adults take their medicine as prescribed, and women don't seem to do so any more reliably than men.

But when it comes to overall attitudes about health, women are much more practical and sensible. As reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), women often talk to their friends and family about health issues, and actively seek out answers to their health concerns. Men, in contrast, tend to give their health the silent treatment. Even worse, not only are they reluctant to discuss health with friends, they're reluctant to discuss it with a doctor. When asked what they would do if they started feeling sick, one quarter of men in surveyed said they would "wait as long as possible" to see a doctor.

Although they may be deeply concerned about their health, men often don't get the advice, information, or treatments that they need. A recent report in the BMJ summed up the situation: "Men worry about health but feel unable to talk about their concerns or seek help until it is often too late."

When men do seek help, they may not get the attention they need. According to the BMJ, doctors spend less time with male patients than female patients. Doctors also give men fewer and shorter explanations about their treatments. Men are less likely than women to get valuable advice about their lifestyles or behaviors -- including tips that can save their lives. They also found that doctors are almost three times more likely to recommend breast self-exams to women than testicular self-exams to men. That may be because breast cancer affects about 25 times more women compared to men with testicular cancer.

If doctors act like they expect less from male patients, many men end up living down to those expectations. As reported by the American Journal of Public Health, men are more likely than women to smoke or use drugs and drink heavily to cope with their problems. In fact, studies have found at least 30 different risky or unhealthy behaviors that are more common among men than women. However, men are slightly more likely than women to be physically active. Their doctors may not be urging them to exercise, but nearly two-thirds of men do it anyway.

Women and Medication

It's not as if women are ideal patients. Just like men, they are fully capable of skipping appointments and forgetting to take medicine. In some situations, women may be even less likely than men to take their medications. For instance, a study by University of Michigan researchers found that women were slightly less likely than men to take an aspirin as prescribed to prevent heart disease, even if they were at high risk for heart trouble. The gap can be partly explained by the fact that women are more likely than men to have stomach distress after taking an aspirin.

Women may also be faster to abandon medical treatments in hard times. A study of HIV patients in New York City found that only 46% of women took their medicines as prescribed, compared with 73% of men. But the researchers concluded that gender wasn't really the issue: Women in this study were having trouble taking medicine because of homelessness, poverty, and addiction to drugs and alcohol -- not because they were women.

Take Control of Your Health

When it comes to staying healthy, clearly both men and women have room for improvement. For starters, they could take steps to make it easier to stick to medical treatments. The most important step may be improving their communication with their doctors, a task that's especially tricky for men. Men may have to push harder and ask more questions just to get the same attention that doctors naturally give to women.

Men may not always catch up to women when it comes to health. But caring for your own health is not a competition between men and women -- it's an opportunity to live a better life.

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