Father’s Day is rapidly approaching and as usual we are flummoxed by the thought of buying something that might make dad happy (good luck with that).
Of course, the best gift on Father’s Day is the gift of good health. A little extra life to enjoy surely beats a tie or even one of those amazing nitrous oxide, canister-driven, automatic corkscrews. Well, maybe not the corkscrew – fathers are still boys at heart, and boys love their toys!
Men, including fathers, are not the most health-conscious group in society. Blame it on testosterone or on conditioning (high school sports), because men are trained from an early age to tough it out and suck it up. That seems almost ridiculous in our new and enlightened world, but enlightenment is not evenly distributed across the sexes.
Men have “enjoyed” a shorter average lifespan as long as we have been keeping track. The difference is almost five years (women live to 80.4 and men to 75.3 on average).
As the life spans of both sexes have steadily lengthened, the gap has stubbornly persisted. It is not just average length of life that is different. Men also spend more of their short life sick.
Most of the leading diseases — cancer, heart disease, emphysema – are significantly more lethal in men, by 30 to 50 percent on average.
When it comes to trauma, accidents, suicide and homicides, men are in a league of their own. Men have close to a 400 percent “advantage” over the fairer sex. Even humble influenza has a higher death rate in men.
Breast cancer is one of a very few exceptions, but for the unfortunate 300 men in this country who come down with male breast cancer each year, it is far deadlier than its female counterpart.
It might be surprising that the source of the gender gap has remained elusive. When talking about violent ends, testosterone is the usual suspect. Strangely enough, studies have shown in low-testosterone males that replacement testosterone decreases heart disease rather than increasing it.
Lifestyle certainly has something to do with it. Young males in their pre-dad years have been known to hang out in unsavory places with unsavory people. More men still smoke than women, but the women are catching up, and getting similar smoking-related diseases.
Women in general eat a better diet than men. A better diet is one that includes more vegetables and whole grains, and less red meat. Obesity is affecting both sexes, but the fat distribution on men is abdominal, which has a higher association with heart disease than women’s hip distribution.
Type A personality was invented to describe the aggressive, tightly-wound male personality. There is a well-known cardiovascular risk to this personality. As women have made their way into the business world, some of them have channeled the female god of war, and tried on a B-plus personality for size.
That leaves genetics; the lonely Y chromosome, still unique to men. This is an unopposed chromosome that right away makes it suspect (because all genes are expressed). Many scientists believe we will find some genes on this abbreviated chromosome that help explain the shorter life of men.
But you can’t just put baby greens on a plate and say, “Happy Father’s Day, look at the nice meal I made you!”
If you seriously want to help dad evolve into a longer-living creature, a good start would be putting the discussion into terms he can relate to.
Many dads take better care of their cars than they do themselves. The principles of good car care are readily transferred to dad care. No self-respecting dad would drive around while never going faster than 25 mph. Dads know that the engine will load up; all it needs is a few RPMs to burn the deposits out.
Some vigorous movement is good for bodies as well as cars, because it keeps things like heart vessels from loading up (with cholesterol). Dad probably doesn’t buy the cheapest gasoline he can find, and skip oil changes for his favorite car. He understands maintenance counts. Consider a doctor check-up a tune-up for your body.
Whole grains, fresh vegetables, nuts and berries are all pretty good if you put enough Tabasco on them.
And if that doesn’t fly, buy dad a really sweet card, a good bottle of red wine, and plenty of canisters for that nitrous-driven, top-fuel corkscrew!
Happy Dad’s Day.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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