According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the top two causes of death for men in the U.S. include heart disease and cancer (with prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer being in the lead). But leading up to those chronic, potentially fatal issues might be a few seemingly more minor—yet still insidious—health concerns.
While there are plenty of variables at play, like genetics, some of the below issues may result from an unhealthy lifestyle. The good news: You can take back some control over your health by getting a grip on your diet, quitting smoking, ramping up your exercise habits, and more.
Here, the five main health issues that American men should not only be aware of—but deal with head-on.
1. Weight gain caused by not exercising or eating properly
Although this is an issue that affects the whole nation—including women and children—it’s one that experts say is particularly hitting home for men (especially minority men). And that’s because weight-loss programs have traditionally targeted women.
“A poor diet and physical inactivity are the two main factors that lead to weight gain,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, NYC-based dietician, bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. “[Men should] implement a high-fiber, high-protein, and low-net carbohydrate diet” to help them lose weight in a quick and healthy manner, Zuckerbrot says.
In addition to eating healthy foods, the CDC recommends getting 60-90 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. This might look like swimming, jogging, or weight training at about 50-60 percent of your max capacity about five-six days per week.
2. Inflammation caused by poor diet
Men may be putting themselves at risk for not only obesity but disease by eating what is called ‘inflammatory foods,’ like refined carbohydrates, fried foods, red meat, salts, margarine, shortening, lard, and soda, along with other beverages loaded with added sugars. And inflammation, if you didn’t know already, is the body’s response to injury—which, when chronic (i.e. not fighting a disease or illness), can cause a whole slew of health issues.
Barry Sears, PhD, author of the Zone Diet book series, blames this style of eating when it comes to “disturbances in hormone levels, constant fatigue, and increased accumulation of body fat” in men. Inflammatory foods have also been linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
To support your health, go for an anti-inflammatory diet, which Sears describes as “calorie-restricted, with adequate protein, moderate carbs—but rich in non-starchy vegetables—and low in fat, especially saturated and omega-6 fats.”
Following the parameters of the Mediterranean diet (healthy oils, fish like salmon and tuna, and loads of greens) can also prevent inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, according to the Proceedings of Nutrition Society, several epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, improving lipids (fats in the blood), and decreasing insulin resistance.
3. Kidney stones caused by lifestyle or genetic factors
One in 11 people in the U.S. are affected by kidney stones (pain-causing hard mineral and salt deposits within your kidneys), with men suffering more frequently than women. (The prevalence of kidney stones for men is 10.6 percent, while for women it’s 7.1 percent.) Though research published in JAMA concluded that obesity and weight gain increase the risk of kidney stones, other factors—from genetics to dehydration—may also spark their formation.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that diets high in sodium can increase the risk—all the more reason to cut back on salt.
4. Poor semen quality caused by an unhealthy lifestyle
A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found a link between a man’s waist circumference, BMI, and semen quality, with researchers drawing the conclusion that being overweight can negatively influence sperm production. Maintaining a healthy weight via exercise and diet can also play a role in the quality of sperm.
According to the Mayo Clinic, normal sperm densities are somewhere around 15 million to greater than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Poor sperm quality is somewhere around 15 million sperm per million sperm per milliliter.
5. Low testosterone caused by an Overall unhealthy lifestyle
Though we tend to think of low-T as an issue that mainly effects older men, younger men are contending with it as well, and obesity is often to blame.
A study in the journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism tested 1,667 men ages 40 and older and found that each one-point increase in body mass index (BMI) was associated with a two percent decrease in testosterone. Additional research done by Harvard University found waist circumference was an even stronger predictor of low testosterone levels. In fact, a four-inch increase in waist size increased a man’s odds of having a low testosterone level by 75 percent.
Low-T is at the root of various downstream health challenges for men, such as reduced sex drive, increased breast size, erectile dysfunction or impotence, lowered sperm count, hot flashes, depression/irritability, shrunken or softened testes, loss of muscle mass or hair, and bones becoming more prone to fracture, according to Mayo Clinic.