Men’s Health Awareness Month: Early detection and lifestyle changes can extend life expectancy of men

Picture: Cottonbro studios/Pexels

Picture: Cottonbro studios/Pexels

Published Jun 7, 2024


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the difference in life expectancy between men and women is growing. Currently, women live on average over five years longer than men.

Men face unique health challenges and risks. However, one significant reason for this widening gap is that men often avoid seeking medical help until it’s too late.

Statistics show that men are more likely to suffer from serious and chronic illnesses, which contributes to their shorter life expectancy compared to women.

With June marking Men’s Health Awareness Month, Denelle Morais, marketing and communications manager at Bestmed Medical Scheme, brings forward the importance of raising awareness about preventable health problems.

Men face unique health challenges and risks. Picture: Cottonbro studios/Pexels

She says early detection and treatment of diseases among men and boys can make a significant difference. Increased awareness could help bridge the life expectancy gap by encouraging men to seek medical help sooner.

Why women live longer than men

In almost every country, women live about five years longer than men.


Oestrogen, a hormone found in higher levels in women, helps protect against heart disease by keeping blood vessels flexible and robust.

In contrast, men have more testosterone, which can increase risky behaviours and health issues like heart disease.

Lifestyle choices

Men are often more likely to engage in risky activities, such as smoking, heavy drinking, and dangerous driving. These behaviours can lead to accidents or long-term health problems, decreasing life expectancy.

Regular check-ups

Women are more likely to go for regular medical check-ups. These visits can catch diseases early when they are still treatable, leading to longer lives.

Men are also less likely to seek help for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This can lead to severe outcomes, including untreated mental illnesses and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Men often follow cultural norms and societal pressures that make them hesitant to appear weak or vulnerable, explained Morais. This hesitation leads them to avoid check-ups until their health has worsened, sometimes to a point where it might be too late.

She said many men neglect essential health screenings and they often overlook the importance of a healthy diet and discussing stress with medical professionals; this leads to detrimental health outcomes.

It’s crucial for men to be proactive about their health, she stressed.

“Scheduling regular check-ups and seeking early treatment for worrying symptoms can make a significant difference.”

Broadly speaking, the three biggest health challenges men face are the threats of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer, notably prostate and testicular cancer, said Morias.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major health hazard for men, significantly raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Preventive measures start with healthy lifestyle choices.

Additionally, men should begin diabetes screenings at age 45. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause severe issues like heart disease, strokes, and damage to kidneys, nerves, and eyes.

In South Africa, CVD is the leading cause of death after HIV/Aids, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It accounts for nearly 1 in 6 deaths (17.3%) – more than all cancers combined.

Prostate cancer is another prevalent concern. Statistics show that roughly 1 in 15 South African men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime.

“Regular prostate screenings for men over 40 can significantly improve treatment outcomes,” Morais said.

“Our data revealed that only 14% of men over 40 took advantage of preventive screening benefits like prostate-specific antigen tests each year over the last three years.

“This was a decrease from 16% in 2019 and 2020. However, early 2024 has seen a positive trend, with almost 19% of men undergoing screenings in just the first few months.”

The widening life expectancy gap has implications for society, she said.

“For example, it affects families, with women often living longer without their spouses. It also has economic impacts, such as on the insurance industry and pension systems.”

Addressing this gap involves encouraging healthier lifestyles for men.

This means:

  • Promoting regular medical check-ups and screenings. Encouraging healthier habits, like reducing smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Improving workplace safety.
  • Fostering strong social connections and reducing stress.

“We understand that many men find the dreaded ‘prostate check’ terrifying, so much so that this form of cancer, which is highly treatable in its early stages, often goes undetected until it is too late.

“We therefore are encouraged by the rising screening numbers, and further encourage monthly testicular self-examinations, as well as annual medical check-ups,” said Morais.

The bottom line is that proactive health measures, including regular screenings and healthy habits, are vital for men. Early detection and lifestyle changes can substantially reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases.