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Why Men's Lives Are Shorter Than Women's

A new book called "Why Men Die First" explains how men can close the longevity gap.
By Don Fernandez
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Listen up, guys. It may be time to drop the bravado and consider these sobering statistics:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) is three times higher among men who are clinically depressed.
  • Male suicides outnumber female suicides in every age group.
  • Homicide and suicide are among the top three causes for death among males between the ages of 15 and 34.
  • By the age of 85, women outnumber men in the U.S. 2.2 to 1; this rises to 3 to 1 if they reach their 90s.

These are just a few of the realities examined in Why Men Die First: How to Lengthen Your Lifespan, a new book by Marianne J. Legato, MD, that focuses on the biological, cultural, and personal reasons that men's life span in the U.S. lasts an average of six years less than women's.

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Male mortality is shorter in part, Legato says, because males are more fragile and inherently vulnerable than females from birth. And unlike women, who have fought hard to have their specific health needs validated and addressed, men haven't demanded equal treatment.

"It is a need that has never been addressed," Legato says. "Men have been tremendously neglected and it doesn't have to be that way."

Men's medical challenges owe a great deal to cultural conditioning. The rules are set shortly after birth, Legato says: Suck up the pain, don't be a wimp, show no weakness, and "man up." Many men only seek medical counsel when under duress from a spouse or when their condition has deteriorated to a severe state.

"Women are able to logically ask for help," says Legato, who has long promoted the concept of gender-specific medicine. "They're hardwired in the brain and very motivated."

"The cultural reasons for not going to the doctor are killing men," she says.

How Men Can Live Longer

In her book, Legato examines and champions an end to the lack of awareness among men -- and even the medical community -- regarding the specific health needs of a male that could help prevent male deaths. Men, she says, deserve better and should insist on higher standards.

"Don't tolerate the current situation where men die six years before women," Legato says. "If we can conquer breast cancer and AIDS to the extent we have, we can certainly save our men."

Legato highlights the following leading factors of death in men in which men can begin to make a significant difference in their health and improve male life expectancy:

1.Speak frankly with a doctor: Leave embarrassment in the waiting room. Women are taught at an early age to be candid and open with their doctors. Symptoms that can be uncomfortable to talk about -- such as erectile dysfunction -- can be tied to more serious ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Men, despite cultural tradition, should also request breast checks.

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