Did you know that women are expected to live 4.9 years longer than men on average? Why is there an almost 5-year difference in life expectancy between the sexes? For years, researchers have attributed this to lifestyle differences. However, new theories are surfacing, connecting these differences on a genetic level.
What are the explanations for differences in gender life expectancy?
- Genetic Theory. There is a tiny component of the DNA called a telomere that just might explain the difference in life expectancy for men and women. Telomeres are the endcaps of DNA strands that protect chromosomes. When these endcaps wear away, DNA becomes damaged, which can impact the longevity of life. Women typically have longer telomeres compared to men.
- Hormonal Explanation. Estrogen, also known as the female sex hormone, helps rid the body of bad cholesterol, protecting it against cardiovascular disease and other cholesterol-related diseases.
- Social Factors. Women are known to have larger and more reliable social groups compared to men. Strong interpersonal relationships help reduce the risks of common illnesses and serious diseases, like heart attacks.
- Behavioral Trends. Healthcare professionals are unsure whether risky and aggressive behavior associated with males is caused by nature or nurture elements. However, these behaviors are another reason why men don’t live as long as women. For example, it’s more common for men to smoke and work riskier jobs than women.
Are there ways to improve telomeric health to help men overcome gender disparities?
Damage to DNA does not have to be permanent. There are ways to add protection back to your DNA strands, which can slow, prevent, and possibly reverse the telomere shortening that has already occurred. There is a treatment using telomerase to rebuild or lengthen telomeres. However, this treatment has been connected to how cancer cells use telomerase to grow and could cause cancer growth in the body.
What are some lifestyle changes men can make to close the gender health gap?
While the 5-year difference in life expectancy can seem like a daunting number to tackle, males can make some lifestyle changes to help close the gender health gap. Maintaining an exercise routine and a heart-healthy diet are the first steps anyone can take toward leading a healthy lifestyle. Keep a diet filled with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and non- or low-fat dairy products, and lower your consumption of red meat and highly processed foods. Other things to avoid include tobacco products and negative stressors in your life. These lifestyle changes can also help to improve the length of telomeres on the ends of your DNA.
Men should also find opportunities to bring joy into their lives and share it with others. Having a strong support network can help prevent numerous illnesses, ranging from common colds to heart disease. Lastly, men should begin taking preventive healthcare measures as soon as possible. Men and women should not put off routine screenings and visits to a primary care physician. Dr. Brian Goerig, a primary care physician, emphasizes the need for annual screenings.
“While most men might think they're too busy or aren't sick enough to visit a doctor, annual trips to a primary care physician are essential. It is better to be proactive when it comes to your health versus reactive and catch problems early.”
-Dr. Brian Goerig, primary care physician for the St. Joseph Health and Texas A&M Health Network
Schedule a televisit or in-person wellness exam with your St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Network primary care physician.
Healthline | Why Women Really Outlive Men
Harvard Health | Mars vs. Venus: The gender gap in health