Narrowing the 'death gap'

6/15/2017  By HealthNews

June 15, 2017 

It's National Men's Health Week. 

Why do men die sooner than women? Because they don't take care of themselves. Simple.

Not so fast, says Rob Merkel.

According to Merkel, a physician assistant at KVH Family Medicine - Cle Elum, there's a belief that the female hormone estrogen protects against coronary artery disease, in part by managing cholesterol levels. This puts women at an advantage when it comes to heart disease. In addition, the Y chromosome (present in males) has been shown to be more easily damaged, making men more vulnerable to a number of diseases.

While medical science continues to study these differences, Merkel is quick to point out that the reasons behind a male/female "death gap" are diverse, and different for each person. Depression, substance abuse, money problems, high-risk jobs, and general stress affect the health decisions his patients make. "All of us have a limited amount of energy to devote to living, including the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle," says Merkel. Men in physically demanding roles often seem unconcerned about the health of the heart and lungs they use so vigorously in their work. "It's common for me," says Merkel, "to see patients who are very strong, yet have poor aerobic fitness, and abuse tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana."

These substances give us temporary pleasure while slowly killing us. - Rob Merkel, PA-C

So what's a man to do? You've heard it before, but Merkel's version is a little different: "Eat well, get regular exercise, do a good deed, engage in vices in moderation, and fill your life with pleasure."

He breaks his advice down for us:

On eating well: "Eating poorly is cheap and easy.  Eating well is often seen as expensive and time consuming.  I believe this is incorrect, but you can't deny it's easier to bake a frozen pizza than make a salad."

On regular exercise: "Exercise should be vigorous activity that results in an elevated heart rate for 45-60 minutes, five days a week.  Starting exercise or changing habits is the hardest, but once it becomes part of a daily pattern, continuing is easy." 

On good deeds: "Participating in a community may not directly impact your health, but charity has indirect benefits, and it's important to the health of all as a society." 

On vices: A cautionary note - "For those that engage in substance use, few are able to do it in moderation.  These substances are abused for a reason - they give us temporary pleasure while slowly killing us.  I spend the majority of my time in counseling on this topic and have very little impact on the problem." 

On pleasure: "We would all live longer if we took the time to enjoy music, the laughter of children, a good book, and the company of friends."

Like all advice, it does nothing until acted on. Yes, men tend to die earlier than women. Consider this a road map to help level out the differences, and take steps toward a long, healthy life.

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.