March 4, 2012 -- Think your youth and chiseled six-pack guarantee you perfect health for life? Think again. Levels of health disparities have increased significantly in Americans born after 1980, reports a recent study from the American Sociological Review.
Researchers from three universities compiled data from the National Health Interview Survey and tracked the changes in respondents' health over a span of 23 years. Survey results revealed that people born after 1980 had the most diverse answers when rating their own health compared to older generations.
Although researchers can't pinpoint the exact reason for the increase in the health gap, their findings suggest that the "digital divide" may have a lot to do with it—some people are better educated about their health due to their access to medical information on the Internet, while others lack the necessary technology to routinely keep their health in check. (Check out The 10 Best Health Tips of the Year for ways you can stay in shape for free.)
But even if you find yourself flush with the most up-to-date medical resources, that won't necessarily stop Mother Nature from running her course on your body. Use this list of the most common problems for men to assess your health and beat aging at its own game.
Men in their 20s lack a sufficient amount of vitamin D in their diets, says Dr. Allen Peters, Medical Director of Nourishing Wellness Medical Center in California. And the gym might be partially to blame for that deficiency: Many young guys who are physically fit from concentrating on their appearance tend to forget about the importance of daily nutrition, Peters says.
A daily dose can improve your immune function and decrease your risk for developing multiple cancers (like prostate and gastrointestinal cancers). Plus, vitamin D can also help you burn fat faster. The vitamin isn't hard to come by, considering most fish and dairy products are packed with it.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, men transitioning into their 30s hold a greater risk for developing herniated discs, which begin to deteriorate and grow thinner with age. In fact, nearly one-third of adults over the age of 20 show signs of herniated discs, according to a report from A.D.A.M Inc.
Studies show several factors may contribute to the weakening of the discs, including weight gain and strain from improperly lifting a heavy object. There's no one quick fix for a herniated disc, but there are ways you can try and prevent it, like avoiding extreme sports, stretching, staying hydrated, and taking fish oils, Peters suggests. (Check out The Best "Stretch" You're Not Doing to learn how to injury-proof your workout.)
It's common for men in their 40s to start experiencing 'slow-down symptoms'—meaning gradual decreases in energy, sexual drive, brain functioning, and the ability to sleep, says Peters.
Men experience such symptoms because their bodies are creating sub-optimal levels of testosterone, which tends to be more prevalent with aging. (To find out if you have low testosterone, and what you can do about it, check out the all-new Men's Health Testosterone Center.) "And having low testosterone levels can really take a toll on the body—it's like trying to run a car without gasoline and oil. But luckily, slow-down symptoms can easily be determined and treated through hormonal testing," Peters says. That may sound extreme, but it's a simple test that can be done by your doctor through taking blood or saliva samples.
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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, reports the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, it was the leading cause of death for more than 390,000 men. And men in their 50s carry the highest risk for developing heart disease and having a stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
So what can you do to protect your pump? Clearly it's never too late to start improving your odds against the risk factors (high blood pressure and cholesterol, physical inactivity, and the rest of the usual suspects), but Peters' biggest advice is simple: Start caring for your body at a younger age.
"The best mindset for men to have is, 'How am I going to take care of my body for the rest of my life,'" says Peters. "That way you're eliminating problems from an early age."
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