Everybody knows that men love sports, hate asking for directions and basically couldn't care less about seeing the doctor.
The first two truths are harmless enough, but the third can put their lives at risk.
A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that women see their physicians significantly more often than men. The results echoed earlier findings by the CDC that women were as much as 100 percent more likely to have a doctor visit in a given year.
Ask a man why he refuses to see the doctor, and you are likely to hear any of three reasons, says Brandon Leonard, vice president of strategic initiatives at Men's Health Network, a nonprofit that focuses on providing men with health education and resources.
- They don't have time. Work schedules and other obligations – including time for family and friends, and volunteer commitments – get in the way.
- They fear illness. "They don't want to get bad news from the doctor, so they’d rather just keep going and not worry about it," Leonard says.
- They don't trust doctors. Many men are also uncomfortable talking to an MD.
Leonard says many men – especially young ones – also tend to feel invincible. Recent studies have found that "macho" men are especially less likely to seek medical care than women.
"Men are socialized to be tough, avoid asking for help and (to) 'walk it off," he says. "Going to the doctor doesn't seem 'manly' to a lot of men."
The dangers for men who ignore their health
By not seeking regular medical care, too many men are dying of preventable causes, or dealing with unnecessary pain and loss of mobility, Leonard says.
"There is a cumulative effect of neglecting your health over time, and a lot of men pay for it," he says.
When diseases such as cancer or heart disease are discovered in later stages, they are much more deadly, expensive and complicated to treat, Leonard says. Routine screenings and conversations with a health care provider can lead to an early diagnosis, and an improved prognosis.
"Many diseases can be treated before they become a bigger burden on a man and his family," Leonard says.
Tips for improving men's health
Adopting a healthful lifestyle is among the most important steps toward health for men. Leonard says these changes can be implemented in small steps that include:
- Starting a regular exercise routine
- Finding a sport or hobby that you enjoy
- Eating more healthful foods – such as fresh fruits and vegetables – every day.
"It can help a lot to find a buddy or a partner who has similar goals so that you can encourage each other along the way," Leonard says.
The Mayo Clinic urges men to make other changes, such as:
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol consumption to two drinks a day, and one drink after age 65
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce stress
However, no matter how many positive changes a man makes, he still needs to see his doctor. And he should do so soon if he has not scheduled a doctor visit in a long time, Leonard says.
"If it helps, have someone you trust go with you," he says, adding that it is helpful to bring a list of questions or issues of concern to the appointment.
"Make sure you go over those in addition to getting your regular check-up," he says.
All of these changes can help men take better care of themselves, and their families, Leonard says.
"The message that we share is that taking control of your health – for yourself and for those who care about and rely on you – is very much in line with being a strong man," he says.