We 26-year-old dudes do not like to hear about how all the crazy stuff we do will kill us, mostly because we’re too busy getting swole and fueling our invincibility complexes to care.
But here’s the deal, fellow gym rats: Compared with American women, men are 1.3 times more likely to have cancer, twice as likely to have liver disease, and almost three times as likely to contract HIV. Yet, American men—especially young American men—often ignore common health issues that disproportionately affect them.
And even while young American men don’t normally have to worry about pneumonia or osteoporosis like older men do, we do face problems like testicular cancer, drug problems, and suicide. In fact, so many more young Americans (particularly white Americans) are dying of drug overdoses nowadays that the U.S. death rate actually rose in 2015 for the first time in a decade.
So for #MensHealthWeek, we here at Men’s Fitness took a hard look at the five biggest causes of death that disproportionately affect young American men—in the age groups of 15–19, 20–24, and 25–34—and tried to figure out some surprisingly simple but valuable suggestions on how guys can take some steps to live longer and healthier. We consulted data from the Centers for Disease Control, and asked two experts:
- Dr. David Asp, Ed.D., a practicing psychologist at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing, Minnesota, who has extensive experience helping young men deal with anger issues
- Dr. David B. Samadi, M.D., a prostate cancer surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital and North Shore-LIJ Hospital in New York City, an expert on men’s health issues, and frequent medical contributor for FOX News.
Here, the five leading causes of death among young men in America, and how to keep them at bay:
5. Heart Disease (2.8%-7%)
Heart disease is the fifth most common killer in men 15–24, and the fourth most common killer of men 25–34. But it’s the biggest killer of American men overall, and that means young guys need to start laying the groundwork with—duh—a healthy diet, workout routine, and a tobacco-free life. (Smoking is a major factor for heart disease, Samadi says.)
A good way to prevent heart disease is simply to get tested. “I’d tell the young men out there to get baseline testing for cholesterol and blood pressure,” Samadi says.
Oh, and in case you needed some more incentives to fight off heart disease: “The first sign of heart disease and heart attack in a young man is sexual dysfunction,” Samadi says. “When you have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, that restricts the blood flow to your penis. The penis is almost like the thermometer of health.”
4. Cancer (5.4%–5.9%)
Cancer is the fourth most common killer in men 15–24, and the fifth most common killer in men 25–34.
According to the CDC, the most common kinds of cancer among American men are skin cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer—“especially among young African-Americans, in whom prostate cancer is especially aggressive,” Samadi says. Testicular cancer is also a particular problem among young men.
The good news? Those forms of cancer are largely preventable and, with early detection, treatable. Make sure you get testicular exams at least once a year, and self-examine for testicular lumps or unusual moles at least once a month, Samadi says. (Yes, a testicular self-examination is exactly what it sounds like.)
“Screening can save guys from cancer,” Samadi says. “Guys typically think they’re okay as long as they have a beer in hand and a game on TV. But that’s ignorance, and ignorance causes death from cancer.”
3. Homicide (11.3%–18.3%)
Surprised? Don’t be. While assault among young men is a multifaceted social problem, it’s often a product of anger, and that anger is a result of two chief psychological problems: depression and anxiety.
“American men often think they have to be a ‘tough guy,’ and there’s this notion that ‘tough guys’ don’t get depressed and don’t get anxious, so they don’t talk to anybody about their feelings,” Asp says. “They see it as weakness. Or they think they should ‘just get over it.’ So the one emotion they think they’re ‘allowed’ to exhibit is anger, even if there are a lot of underlying emotions of fear, insecurity, anxiety, and depression that manifest themselves as anger”—especially when amplified by Facebook or Twitter interactions that can make young guys feel like they’re living in a bubble.
That’s why it’s so important for guys who feel depressed or anxious to find someone to talk it out. Tell a close friend, or ask your doctor about it. They can make a referral to a therapist or a support group.
“Don’t ignore it, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be embarrassed, and don’t hesitate,” Samadi says.
2. Suicide (16.1%–20.0%)
Like assault, suicide has its root causes in anxiety and depression that go unchecked. The best solution is to seek help before problems seem too big to contend with.
“It’s important to accept that depression and anxiety aren’t weakness, and that you’re not the only one experiencing it,” Asp says. “In our society today, it’s relatively normal to experience some degree of anxiety and depression because of all the things that are going on.” Men also struggle with performance anxiety and stress, which can fuel feelings of anxiety and depression.
Some of the warning signs, according to Asp: Little interest or pleasure in doing things, avoiding issues, feeling more agitated or irritable, more catastrophic thinking, greater degree of worry, feelings of fatigue, sleep disruption, and trouble concentrating.
If those sound familiar, and you’ve been experiencing them for at least two weeks, then make the commitment to tell your doctor or a friend you trust. Tell your personal trainer, if that’s what you need to do. Remember: It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and talking to someone will help.
If you suspect you’re having suicidal thoughts, or you suspect that someone you know may be struggling with them, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or use the Crisis Text Line.
1. Unintentional Injuries (37.8%–42.5%)
This broad category—which includes sudden accidents like car crashes, violent accidents, and unintentional drug overdoses—points to one baseline factor: “Men are risk-takers,” Samadi says. “We are a species of instinct, and when we react without thinking, that puts us in jeopardy in terms of things like road rage and risky behavior.”
Asp points out that accidents may be correlated with drug and alcohol abuse, too. “One thing that people do—probably men more than women—is to deal with stress, depression, or anxiety by overusing alcohol or drugs,” he says. “Men under pressure also often struggle with performance anxiety issues and stress, which may affect their ability to concentrate and focus. That might translate to a higher risk when driving or doing something that needs their attention.”