Men rule on the playing field: they can generally run faster, lift more, and throw things farther than women can. In medical terms, though, men are the weaker sex, reports the January 2010 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, according to a recent press release. Why? It depends on a complex mix of biological, social and behavioral factors.

Biological factors include the fact that, compared with men, women have substantially higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. In addition, excess weight — although common in both sexes — is more of a problem for males. Women tend to carry excess weight on their hips and thighs, while men add it to their waistlines. This abdominal obesity is more damaging to health than lower-body obesity, sharply increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Among the important social factors are a set of traits that tend to be more common in men than in women. Type A behavior, stress, hostility and anger have all been implicated as heart disease risk factors. Conversely, women generally have larger and more reliable social networks than men. Strong interpersonal relationships and support networks reduce the risk of many maladies.

As for behavioral factors, smoking, drinking and drug abuse are traditionally male problems. Although the gap has narrowed to some degree, males still dominate in these self-destructive habits. Women also reap the health benefits of better diets. Meat-and-potatoes guys don’t eat veggies — but they should.

Harvard Men’s Health Watch offers 10 ways for men to achieve long and healthy lives. Among them are these:
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less red meat, whole-milk dairy products, high-sodium processed foods, sweets and trans fats.
  • Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day, including strength and balance work.
  • Reduce stress, get enough sleep and build social ties and community support.
  • Seek joy and share it with others.
Read the full-length article: “Mars vs. Venus: The gender gap in health”