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What Lifestyle Choices Most Affect Men’s Longevity?

How long we live partly depends on decisions we make about diet, fitness, sleep, relationships, and more.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2021
A young man wearing a long-sleeved shirt with dark horizontal stripes looks into a mirror on the wall, holding his hands to his face, while his reflection shows an older, balding man with white hair and a wrinkled face looking back.

Life expectancy has increased over the past century. Between 1900 and 2000, the average life expectancy for males rose from 48 to 74. Improved medical care, vaccinations, and treatment discoveries helped people live longer. Awareness of healthy lifestyle choices also played a role.

Worldwide, women tend to live longer than men. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported global average life expectancies of 74.2 years for women and 69.8 years for men.

Why the difference in lifespans? In many cases, men and women deal with unique health factors and lifestyle choices.

Indeed, some of the biggest causes of mortality in males are affected by lifestyle choices. Poor diet, lack of fitness, and substance abuse issues can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and strokes, which are three of the biggest causes of death in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the Harvard Gazette, men and women who maintain a healthy lifestyle can increase their lifespans by 12 and 14 years, respectively. The steps to attain this longevity include physical activity, a healthy diet, and avoiding excessive alcohol or drug use.

Though they have a lower life expectancy overall, males can take steps to live longer. These include basic healthy lifestyle choices, but there are other factors to consider, as well.

Avoiding Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can have immediate consequences as well as long-term and indirect effects. People with substance abuse problems may suffer direct health problems, such as an irregular heart rate. Long-term problems like heart and respiratory diseases are also common among those with substance use disorders.

Meanwhile, overdose deaths have more than tripled in the U.S. since 1999, with a disproportionate number of men contributing to the increase. Opioids, cocaine, and synthetic drugs were the primary substances involved in these fatalities.

Furthermore, substance abuse can indirectly affect health and longevity because it can lead to poor judgment and risky behaviors.

The obvious step for anyone looking to increase their lifespan is to avoid drugs and also abstain from excessive alcohol use. Addiction affects more than 19 million adults in the U.S., and there are treatment options available for people who have substance use disorder. These programs typically seek to address the root causes (or triggers) that lead people to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Getting Plenty of Sleep

According to Mayo Clinic, adults need seven hours of quality sleep each night. A full night’s rest is important because sleep gives the body’s immune system time to restore and repair cells. The digestive and endocrine systems also use sleep to restore their full functions.

These systems need to be functioning correctly to fight off diseases and provide natural energy during the day. Sleep can also affect cognitive abilities and mental health. As they get older, men often sacrifice sleep because of work and family duties. Occasional restless nights are normal, but chronic sleep issues (getting less than seven hours of sleep every night) can lead to chronic problems and poorly functioning body systems, decreasing overall longevity.

The solution to sleep deprivation is to create a routine that allows for seven straight hours of uninterrupted slumber. A physician can help you deal with insomnia or other issues that could be interfering with a full night’s rest.

Living an Active Lifestyle

Regular exercise or other physical activities help men reduce disease risk factors. An exercise routine can lower your weight and improve your heart and respiratory health. These benefits may lead to a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

A study from BYU found that men who jogged 40 minutes per day, five days per week, were biologically nine years younger than those who did not exercise. The moderately intense, regular physical activity brought changes on a cellular level that impacted the health of organs, the immune system, tissues, and muscles.

Practicing Healthy Eating Habits

Poor diet is a primary cause of non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Even men already diagnosed with one of these conditions can limit their impact by adopting a healthier diet.

What exactly is a healthy diet? There are different diet plans for weight loss, diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions. Though details may differ, most of these diets focus on avoiding processed or cured foods and maximizing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based or lean protein sources.

Diet can not only affect your quality of life, but it can also increase longevity. A study by Harvard University found that participants with a healthy, low-fat, high-plant-intake diet were 74% less likely to die during the study period than those who did not follow those diet guidelines.

Prioritizing Mental Health

Mental health is as significant in enhancing male life longevity as physical health. Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and men are 3.63 times more likely to take their own life than women.

Poor mental health can also affect other longevity factors. It can lead to substance abuse, poor sleeping and eating habits, and issues with employment and relationships.

Men are less likely to seek help for depression and anxiety. However, they can address mental health issues conveniently and privately via an online therapist. One popular platform, BetterHelp, even offers discount codes that allow new patients to start their care journey at a lower cost. Those seeking care and support can also find resources online and locate a treatment option that best fits their needs.

Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Relationships affect mental and physical health. While stable, fulfilling relationships can lead to happiness and physical and psychological well-being, loneliness and isolation can lead to unhealthy eating and substance use habits. Studies have even shown a connection between stable relationships, immune system health, and disease treatment outcomes.

Working to build solid relationships is a great way for men to affect their overall health and wellness. It is also possible to remedy issues that are causing strife in a relationship.

In a romantic partnership, for example, erectile dysfunction could be causing issues between partners. The solution could be as simple as finding a treatment for this common problem, which affects up to 30 million men in the U.S. There are even chewable ED prescription medications for men who dislike pills and need a convenient, discrete way to manage their symptoms.

Refraining From Engaging in Reckless Behavior

According to the CDC, accidents are the leading cause of death in males under age 45. These fatalities lower the overall life expectancy average because they are more common in young people.

Reckless behavior – such as driving too fast, not wearing a seatbelt, experimenting with drugs, or engaging in dangerous sex practices – can lead directly or indirectly to premature death. Seeking conflicts and carrying deadly weapons can also lead to homicide, the second leading cause of death for younger men.

Evading unintentional injuries, avoidable diseases, and refraining from violence requires men to follow basic safety practices and bypass dangerous situations.

Quitting Smoking

According to the CDC, 34.1 million people currently smoke cigarettes; 15.3% of men smoke, while only 12.7% of women do.

Smoking is a major health problem in the U.S. Currently, 16 million people live with a smoking-related illness, and tobacco use directly or indirectly contributes to one of every five deaths in the U.S.

For men who want to avoid fatal cancer, heart conditions, and respiratory diseases caused by smoking, the best course of action is to never start or to find a smoking cessation program. These programs, much like substance abuse classes, help smokers overcome the mental and physical symptoms associated with quitting tobacco.

Uncontrollable Factors

Some longevity factors are beyond a man’s control. For example, some people are predisposed to certain diseases because of their genetics. They can also face health risks because of their socioeconomic status, place of birth, childhood conditions, and level of education.

While men cannot avoid these factors, they can take steps – such as eating a healthy diet, fostering stable relationships, and adopting good sleep and exercise habits – to limit the negative impact of these uncontrollable health challenges.