June 23, 2022

Why Men Have Shorter Lifespans Than Women

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Dr. Raymond Hobbs, senior medical director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they discuss how men’s health impacts their longevity and things they can do throughout their lives to potentially improve their lifespans.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

    • Why men typically live shorter lives than women.
    • Genetics and how it plays a factor in one’s life.
    • What men can do on a regular basis to positively impact their longevity.
    • How loved ones, friends, family can encourage healthy habits.

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast episode 108. Coming up, we discuss why men have shorter life expectancies than women. And are there things that men can do to increase their longevity?

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. This is a podcast dedicating to navigating how we can improve our health and wellbeing through small, healthy habits we can start right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica, and every other week, we sit down with a certified expert to discuss topics, covering nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, and today, longevity. So if you’re a guy, especially, or a woman concerned about your guy, this is an episode for you. We’re diving deep into how men’s health impacts their longevity and things we can maybe do throughout our lives to potentially improve our lifespans. With us today is Senior Medical Director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Dr. Raymond Hobbs. He’s back and it’s good, I’m going to be nice to him because outside of the fact that he’s an expert in internal medicine and geriatric medicine, he’s also a black belt in jujitsu, kung fu, plays the piano. All around nice guy. Doctor, good to have you back.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Hi Chuck. Nice to be here.

Chuck Gaidica:
So we’re talking about a topic that it kind of spans across the world, in multiple countries. I’ve seen statistics that show across country lines, international datelines, women live four to seven years longer. The average male life expectancy is less than females. Why is this the case?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
That’s an interesting question. And something to talk about because when we talk about lifespan, we’re talking about average lifespan and there’s two things that tie into this. One is of course genetics, which I know we’ll be talking about and also behavior. But if you look at a group of men, of males, you’ll find that there’s some things that happen that are both related to genetics and behavior that prevent many of them from reaching their maximum lifespan. The first thing is we know that because of genetic and biological behavior, there’s an increased mortality for male children, more so than females.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
The other thing is young males have an increased mortality because of some really unfortunate things, including war. That’s something that if you factor in all those figures, that decreases longevity. If you look at large populations, criminality, there’s a lot of men that lose their lives because of unfortunate decisions, daredevil behavior. And even when you look at things such as homicide and suicide, males are more likely to have a successful suicide attempt over females, which is not very good. And of course, homicide, males tend to be more victims as well as more perpetrators. And these are all things that prevent a significant cohort of people from reaching their maximum lifespan.

Chuck Gaidica:
So what’s interesting about that, you’re talking about a mix of environmental factors and sociological factors. I guess I think about this, we even have a son, we call him MacGyver. It’s kind of a nickname, honest to goodness doc. One time he was repelling off the side of our house, right past the deck. We have three daughters, two sons. None of the daughters ever decided they were going to climb on the roof and come down on a rope. So to your point, there is a daredevil aspect to this that I don’t think is just an anecdotal thing that some boys do like to climb trees. I know girls do so don’t beat me up. But I’m just saying that I’ve noticed even in my own family, a little bit more of that MacGyver thing, riding motorcycle, stuff like that.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
It’s interesting you say that because I can share an experience of myself. I have two daughters and a son, and when my daughters were little, they might stand on top of the staircase and say, “Hey dad, look at me.” My son might look at me and say, “Hey dad, catch me” and then jump. So this risk behavior starts early on and maybe it’s related to testosterone.

Chuck Gaidica:
With all these things you mentioned though, if you were to take those out. And I know there’s some statistics that show that even boys have more trouble at birth, that there’s a mortality issue there. But if you were to take out all those other things, would the longevity of a male and female become equal or are there still other things in the male DNA that leads to this problem with lifespan?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
I think that you would still find that men live less than women, but I’m not quite certain if it would be quite … I don’t think it would be quite so drastic as it is when you factor in all these risky behaviors of young men. We do know that there are some genetic things, some differences such as, we know that there are certain genetic diseases that are more prevalent in men. And it’s got nothing to do with having testicles or ovaries. We know for instance, that men, because of the difference in the X and the Y chromosomes are more likely to have say colorblindness, they’re more prone to some things such as hemophilia, and they’re more prone to certain types of muscular dystrophy. So those are some things that are inherited.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Now, women get some of the same things as well, but a little bit differently. Like for instance, I can tell you that osteoporosis is four times greater in women, autoimmune diseases are greater in women. And so there’s some differences right there. And in terms of more common things, we know that men have a greater risk of heart disease. So if you factor all these things in, there’s likely some differences between men and women. And of course we want to address this to see what we can do in the long run to help both sexes.

Chuck Gaidica:
All that you’re discussing, I guess I would wonder, and I don’t know if you know the answer to this, but do we see this in other animals and other species? I look outside, I see birds, there are two love birds out there. Will one live longer than the other or is this really a human being phenomena?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Chuck, I really don’t know the answer to that one. If you look at most animals in the wild, none of them really live to their maximum potential because they tend to die from being eaten by another animal, exposure to the elements and things like this. If you just look at things like mice and rabbits, for instance, if you put them in a heated box, give them a wheel to run on, and give them food, they live much longer than if they’re living in your backyard.

Chuck Gaidica:
So you’re talking about some of these other environmental factors that I think are interesting. And I don’t know if it’s still the case that more men smoke or more men are heavier and have a higher BMI. So I don’t want to make a blanket statement about that, but now that there’s a movement, even within that setting of war that you mentioned. More women are going into combat, we’re seeing it even in other countries right now. I wonder if we’re seeing a leveling of the playing field in terms of longevity. What are your thoughts?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
We might be seeing that, but it’s probably going to take a long time before we would actually reach parity with it. In Israel, a lot of women join the military, but I think in terms of combat action worldwide, more of that’s going to be in males rather than females.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I know that in my case, in my family’s case, my wife is not the only spouse in the world who will say something like when I say to her, “I’m going to the doctor,” she’ll say, “Good. I’m glad you made the appointment.” There is that part of a man’s makeup that we’ve been joking about for eons, and maybe doing more than joking, that we’re not at as good as perhaps getting ahead of the curve on things that are pestering us, bothering us, or maladies that creep up. Does that show up in the statistics?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Yes. And I think it also shows up in behavior that we’re all aware of because when you think about it, if you compare a little boy and a little girl and what they’re playing, at least when I was growing up, boys are playing soldier, they’re playing cops and robbers. They’re doing things like that. And what are the little girls playing? They’re playing, getting dressed up, they’re playing mommy, they’re playing with their dolls, they’re playing taking care of their baby, they’re being caretakers and that starts very early on. And it’s a very practical thing. And I think that men rely on this quite a bit. They rely on the help of women. When you think about it, so for instance, if you look at the statistics about marriage and longevity. With women, it doesn’t seem to matter so much if they’re married or not. The longevity is the same. Married men, however, live longer than unmarried men.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
And many times getting back to the behavior, men are not that great at calling up the doctor, making an appointment. And many times what happens is it’s the wife, the sister, the daughter that says, “You really should go in for that checkup. You haven’t had your blood pressure taken in a while. You need to have that checked.” And many times, it’s at the impetus of the woman pushing a little bit that drives the male to the doctor.

Chuck Gaidica:
Do you think there are also some inputs here that are, I just think about the idea of comradery and friendship. And of course we do see it in various places. I mean, go to Florida, you’ll see an overwhelming number of women versus men because they’ve retired, they’ve aged and it’s just what we’re talking about. Women live longer on average. But I also see this connectedness among women that I don’t find in my own life as a guy, maybe that’s my fault. I don’t walk into a bathroom at the restaurant and come out with three new friends like my wife. I mean, it astounds me. So I’m actually bragging about the fact that women have this connectedness. You think that impacts men that oftentimes we don’t have, once we’ve lost our father or mentor figure even, that we don’t have the same kind of availability to friendships?

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Yes, that’s really important. And there’s a lot of work going on on longevity right now, biologic behavioral. And we know that one of the things that actually does increase longevity is social interaction, friendships, being able to have somebody that you can talk to about your innermost thoughts. Women are better at it than men are. And many times, even if you look at it culturally, if you think about the western heroes, the John Wayne type, the silent male who comes in, the loner who gets things done and leaves. That’s good in movies, but in terms of longevity, it’s better to have friends, to be involved, to be involved with the community, to be doing things like that. And women just seem to be doing that very, very well and very early on.

Chuck Gaidica:
So as we start to age and go through life, then it seems that while this is really complicated, you’ve thrown a lot of things into the bucket and stirred the pot of what causes this trouble with longevity for men, but there have to be things that rise to the top that you could point out to all of us of changes, little switches we can flip to make life better and extend our lives.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Absolutely. And I’m going to mention that in just a moment. But I want to make an analogy, which I think is really apropos and helpful. And that’s imagine that you’re playing a game of cards. We’ll say poker, for instance. You get your cards dealt to you, and that’s what you have to deal with. And that’s like the genetics that you get. Some people are more fortunate than others. Some are born with some kind of genetic defect or whatever. Whatever we have, whatever strengths, whatever weaknesses we have, you want to play that hand as well as you can. And that’s where behavior comes in because this is what you really have control over. And if you want to know what can be done to increase longevity, I think there’s a couple of things.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
The first thing is know what your family history is, because this is one of the best predictors of what your genetics are. So if your great grandfather died of heart disease, your father died of heart disease, and you have two uncles that have heart disease, there’s a really strong chance that you have it as well. So if you’re aware of those things, if you know what your genetic history is, you can hopefully do some things to minimize the risk and make yourself healthier. So knowing your family history is key.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
And then after you’ve got that, you want to avoid doing things that make your risk worse. So for instance, number one, don’t smoke. Number two, alcohol in moderation. Number three, drug addiction. Number four, no exercise. Number five, poor diet choice. These are all things that you have control over, and you can make a choice between doing something that’s more helpful and more healthy or doing something that’s worse. And if you think about that, that’s how well you’re going to be playing that hand that was dealt to you, that genetic hand that was dealt to you. You have to play it the best way you can.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Now, the other thing that you want to do is you want to have age appropriate screening for diseases. When you think about it, there’s certain things that occur at certain ages and not at others. So prostate disease, for instance, cancer, enlargement of the prostate and things like that, that occurs over the age of 50, more likely over the age of 60. That’s not really occurring in young men. So when you get to be in your fifties, you should be thinking about those things. Just like a woman getting a mammogram, they don’t get them when they’re 12, but they get them when the risk increases, which would be in their 30s and older. So you want to do age appropriate screening. You need to get a personal physician. If you have a physician, it’s easy to get in to see them. You also need someone to follow you if you have something that’s chronic. So if you’re a diabetic, you need a physician to see you to make recommendations about your insulin or your metformin or whatever medication you’re taking.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
And then the other thing is, when you talk to your physician, and I think this is really important for males, you want to be able to talk to them about anything because there’s certain things that are hot topics that men like to avoid that are actually very important. And one of them is sexual functioning. People don’t want to bring that up. They’re embarrassed. And yet it’s really important because for instance, I mean, I’ve been practicing medicine for a very, very long time. I graduated in 1979. I’ve seen so many patients, so many males that won’t take their medicine for high blood pressure because it decreases their sex life and makes it more difficult. And they won’t bring that up because they’re embarrassed by it. But the thing is, if they bring it up, we can change it to a different medicine. So communication is key.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
So one thing that I would really want people to know is to be honest with your physician about the things that are really bothering you, because we can take that information. That’s one of the things we’re trained in, but we’re not going to know about it unless you talk about it. So feel free to talk to your physician and let them know what the active issues are that you’re really concerned about.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s really interesting because you’re also talking about having trusted advisors in your circle, that could be your spouse, your doctor. It’s like that can be part of your kitchen cabinet. For some of us, it’s a buddy, it’s a doctor, but having those people around you that you’re willing to share to the extent you’re comfortable and with a doctor that you need to, seems to me to be a way to make some high impact in your longevity.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
It really can. And if you don’t want to have something done, like a lot of times a male says, “Well, I don’t want to go in there. I don’t want to have my prostate checked. I don’t want to have that colonoscopy done. I just had this thing done two years ago and I don’t need to get another one.” If you have a friend, an advisor, your wife, your daughter, your son. And they can say, “Listen, this is important. You know you need to have something done.” They can be that impetus that helps you forward to get the things done, to keep you around for a long time. And if you have friends, loved ones, people that love you and care for you, they want you to be there and they can be one of the most powerful sources to help you achieve that.

Chuck Gaidica:
And isn’t that a great idea to think that those people who you cherish as well can be influencers in your life because so many of the things that you’ve listed in this entire conversation kind of relate to that phrase we hear. We don’t use the word diet as much, because that’s very particular, but lifestyle changes. Cutting back on alcohol, losing weight, taking the proper meds, eating a proper diet, going for walks and exercising. A lot of that can be impacted with forgive the pun, very little heavy lifting. I mean, it’s not as hard as you would think.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Absolutely. A lot of the stuff that … Let me put it this way. When you look at medicine historically, and the things that have most greatly impacted our survival as a species, you’ll find that most of those things haven’t been super high tech. It’s not the kidney transplantation, the heart transplantation, it’s not the MRI and the CT scans and all those. And we need those things and those can be life saving and be really helpful. But what’s really helped us out the most have been the very simple things. Clean water, good food, good medications, exercise, exposure to sunlight. There’s so many things that have a beneficial effect on our lives. And that also includes avoiding some things. We know that smoking, overuse of alcohol, drug addiction, those things make things worse.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
So a lot of times, if you want to increase your longevity, work on some of the simple things. And because if we can do that, if we can get people not to smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, we may not have to do a heart transplant on them. We might not have to do a coronary artery bypass graft on them. We might not have to treat them for emphysema. So sometimes it’s the little things that if you can do it early, you can prevent bad things from happening. I sometimes say that old saying about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A lot of times when it comes to medicine, it’s more like an ounce of prevention is worth 10 times of cure. Because if you can prevent it, you don’t have to cure it.

Chuck Gaidica:
And it strikes me with what you’re saying that while starting early is great, even if you’ve gotten to 50. And let’s say, God’s going to give you another 30, 40 years to go. It’s never too late to be what you want it to be. It’s never too late to pick up a new pair of running shoes and get at it or to change your lifestyle diet. I mean it’s never too late to stop smoking.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Absolutely. And the body has a miraculous ability to heal itself if you give it a chance. It’s certainly clear that the earlier you start doing more healthy behaviors, the greater the benefit you’re going to have. But even if you’ve made a mistake and you’ve done something, you say, gee, I really have to stop doing that or I’m going to start doing these healthy things. You can get a lot of benefit from that. So there’s no better time to start than the present.

Chuck Gaidica:
So as we wrap things up here, doc, you’ve given us so many good takeaways. Give us the last thoughts here on extending our longevity. Because I’m going to 116, I think.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
Just to say something about that, Chuck, you might do that. There’s a lot of research that’s going on right now that we’re not talking about, but there are many, many things that are being done and there’s a prediction that we could be increasing our lifespan. And they’re not saying lifespan, but healthspan, drastically in ways that people never would’ve figured. And we’re going to be seeing that probably in the next 10 to 20 years. So making it to 116, that might not be science fiction, but we’ll have to talk about that another time.

Dr. Raymond Hobbs:
But in terms of this, go back to the analogy of poker that I mentioned, you’re dealt a hand, that’s the genetic hand. You have to play it as well as you can. So much of the stuff that we can do is simple and beneficial. Some of the things are fun. Going out with your friends, sharing a meal, talking. Sometimes people don’t even think of it or they don’t realize the importance of it, but it’s all very, very important. And right now, I guess the big takeaway is there’s things that you can do for yourself, whether you’re a man or a woman, some of them are very simple. Think about it, get to it, and enjoy your life, and enjoy a long, happy, healthy life.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I think that’s key, getting that lifespan and healthspan equal so you don’t have the last 10 years of life are not the best ones. You want to get those two things to get as close as we can. With us today, we’re so grateful, the Senior Medical Director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Dr. Raymond Hobbs. Good to have you back with us. We want to thank you for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you liked the show, you want to know more, you can check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast, or you can leave us a review or rating on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. To get new episodes on your smartphone tablet, any device, be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. I’m glad you were here today. Be well. I’m Chuck Gaidica.