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Bet You Can’t Guess the Biggest Health Risk for Men...

07 Jun

Men are neither as healthy nor as long-lived as women. What makes them so much more vulnerable? It’s Men’s Health Week, after all, and a good time to ask.

A lot of studies point to one critical variable, and it’s not obesity, smoking or even stress.

The big mid-life bugaboo for guys is loneliness.

For all kinds of reasons, most men just aren’t wired for cultivating friendship for its own sake, the way women are. (Anthropologists opine they were out quietly and sneakily hunting beasts while the womenfolk hung out by the fire, stitching mammoth skin outfits and schmoozing.)

So, without some kind of structure, men’s relationships tend to suffer attrition over the years, and as the job changes or guys retire, or the wife leaves or dies, or old friends move away, men become more and more isolated and lonely.

And loneliness is a killer.

Research shows that the impact of social isolation on well-being, health and mortality is profound. A lonely person is likely to die a lot earlier than a relationally connected one (of heart disease, stroke or even Alzheimer’s). Researchers from Brigham Young University conclude that loneliness is likely to increase risk of death by anywhere from 30% to an astonishing 60%.

What’s a guy to do? Here are some simple ideas for intentionally using structures that will de-isolate and replace lost friendships with new ways to connect. Listen up, guys. We want you to stick around.

  • Join a men’s or mixed book club. Who cares if you read or not? You need an excuse to meet other people. This is a good one.
  • Sign up for a church-sponsored social or activities group in your community. A series is better than a one-off event. But anything is better than nothing. Again, who cares if you like the church or the pastor – it’s nice if you do, but just go anyway.
  • Remember Adult Ed? Sign up at your local community center or university. History, sports, pottery, gardening, cooking, computer enlightenment… there’s something for everyone in those catalogs.
  • Volunteer to do something helpful for others, alongside others. That’s actually a two-fer: you establish social connections and you feel you’re making a meaningful difference in the lives of others – a double whammy life-extender.
  • Ditto for getting involved in local politics. Join others in improving something you see needs fixing.

Simple fixes – none of this is exactly brain surgery, guys. So, please, go forth and use local, accessible structures to make your mind, body and spirit happier, and to help you live longer. 

All best,

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Belleruth 

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award