Hey, you're a masculine specimen, right? You're generally taller, more muscular and, well, less prone to crying jags than the weaker, feminine gender.
But when a long-legged, longhaired female slinks across your TV screen, does your heart skip a beat? Let that image of your sputtering heart serve as a life-and-death reminder. The differences between the sexes go a lot deeper than what you see on the outside. To put it bluntly, men are engineered from birth to be much more susceptible–at any given age–to fatal disorders like heart attacks and, ultimately, to death at a younger age than their more shapely counterparts. So which is the real weaker sex, macho man?
Nature's Loaded Dice
Human males just tend to die off in greater numbers than females do. Mother Nature helps to even out the numbers by giving boys a head start at conception. In fact, 106 boys are born for every 100 girls. As time passes, however, male deaths increasingly outnumber women's. By the time these babies have reached their thirties, the sexes are approximately equal in number. From that point on, the continuing higher male death rate leaves more women at any given age than men.
Face it, men: the deck is stacked against you. So, to give you half a chance of beating the odds and living to a ripe old age, we've done all the research for you. We've discovered what strategy will make the biggest difference. Because this is a matter of life and death. This is war. And if living a longer life doesn't motivate you, consider this: If you live to see 95, there will be four women for every man your age.
Beating the Odds
The single biggest step men can take to live a lot longer is to adopt a vegetarian diet. Statistics are quite clear on this point. Vegetarians, male and female, outlive everyone else. They automatically eat more of what promotes longevity–vegetables, fruits, and whole grains–to make up for the hole in their diet caused by avoiding all that fat-laden meat that all too soon brings the male pump to a dead stop. The problem is that men constitute only a third of the adults who identify themselves as vegetarian.
Can't imagine a meatless diet and you in the same picture? Think of vegetarianism as a goal and take steps toward it over time. Give up red meat for a start. After a period of adjustment, you could drop the poultry. But ultimately, the key to a longer life is to minimize animal products and maximize your intake of vegetables and whole grains. The further and sooner you travel down that meatless road, the greater your chances of living as long as you would if you were, say, a woman.
Aiding the Arteries
The closer a man stays to a vegetarian diet, the cleaner his arteries. By age 23, many men are already developing a blockage in their arteries. The biggest reason could be all that chicken salad and roast beef they've been eating. Both have plenty of cholesterol and a lot more fat than you might guess. On the other hand, those who follow a strict vegetarian lifestyle have lower blood pressure levels than semi-vegetarians who consume meat less than once a week.
The good news? Your arteries begin to clean themselves out when you top your pasta with marinara instead of meat sauce. Research by Dean Ornish, MD, director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, showed that a vegetarian diet with a very low 10 percent of calories from fat reversed artery blockages in more than 80 percent of patients. Vegetarian foods also lower blood viscosity, or resistance to flow, requiring less pumping pressure. Moreover, blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine drop about 13 percent after just one week on a strict vegan diet. Homocysteine is linked to increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Lean From the Greens
Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease. The average man who starts a vegetarian diet becomes 10 percent leaner, and leaner individuals get fewer cancers. Vegetables and most plant foods are low in calories because they're low in fat and sugar and high in fibre. These foods also readjust your body chemistry: The natural starches activate two hormones in the body - noradrenaline and thyroid hormone - that boost metabolism. So don't toss away that hockey jersey you've outgrown. A meatless diet could get you back into it.
Eating less meat cuts your cancer risk. Cooking creates carcinogens on meat, especially chicken. Vegetarians–even french-fry-eating, soda-guzzling, couldn't-care-less-about-health vegetarians–are 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters. Vegetables, fruits, and legumes furnish phytonutrients and anticancer properties. Vegetarians' white blood cells are twice as vigilant against cancer cells, compared to those of omnivores.
If you're planning on living longer, you might want to keep your hair. Baldness depends on genetics. But the more meat and fat a man eats, the higher his testosterone and the more it converts within the hair follicle to dihydrotestosterone, which is basically follicle poison.
Are you worried about your tough guy image? Ever heard the phrase "strong as an ox"? Oxen are vegetarians. Human vegetarians include such examples of masculinity as Hank Aaron, Carl Lewis, Peter Falk, and Tony Robbins.
And hey, you don't actually have to tell people you're afraid of the premature death of the average male. Tell them you don't think it's right that billions of animals and fowl worldwide are confined in pens too small to allow movement, force-fed, cruelly treated, and sentenced to an early death just so we can wolf down burgers and chicken fingers.
Not to mention, steering clear of meat might also mean less stress. You won't have to worry about all those antibiotics ranchers inject into farm animals. Or mad cow disease.
Vegetarianism may even make you a nicer person. A study conducted by Boston University's School of Medicine from 1987 to 1989 found that the more fibre in a man's diet, the less likely he is to be overly aggressive and domineering. The reason? Fibre prevents testosterone excess. But animal foods don't contain fibre–only plant foods do.
A Caveat With Those Carrots
If you go completely vegetarian, keep in mind the need for "insurance" supplements. Plant foods can be low in vitamin B12, B3, and the mineral zinc. Zinc can normalize testosterone production in zinc-deficient males. Found in insulin, zinc is essential for the healthy functioning of the pancreas. Magnesium can prevent heart attacks, and help men survive them. Potassium lowers blood pressure. Both magnesium and potassium also regulate heartbeat. Niacin and chromium cut cholesterol. And vitamin E keeps those omega-3-rich oils from turning rancid inside the body and protects cells and tissues from the damage of environmental pollutants.
Of course, there are other major strategies for avoiding the key killers of men–heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Avoid tobacco smoke, including second hand. Keep your weight down. And get a moderate amount of regular aerobic exercise. Each of these could add several years to your life.
No matter your age, men, it's never too late. Follow these guidelines and beat the odds. A healthy 70-year-old man has more in common with a 30-year-old male than he does with an ill man his own age. And remember: The longer you live, the more you'll find yourself outnumbered by women.
Longevity Strategies for the Weaker Sex
After vegetarianism, the important lifestyle strategies are the well-known ones: maintain a healthy weight; avoid exposure to smoke, even second hand; and get regular, moderate exercise. Opinions vary; but men may have to adopt two or three of these strategies to equal the potential positive impact of a vegetarian diet. If you're going to go with only one major strategy, opt for vegetarianism; best bet, adopt all five.
A more radical option is a caloric restriction (CR) diet, which severely limits daily calories. This could have the greatest effect on lifespan by allowing you to live 10 to 25 percent beyond your natural "maximum lifespan," which is estimated to be about 110-120. But CR won't help a man much if he doesn't make it to age 90 first. And about four out of five North American men don't.