We know that men die sooner and live sicker than women. Statistics from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that men have a higher death rate for the following 10 leading causes of death (numbers are deaths per 100,000 population):
Heart disease kills more men and women than any other disease, but men are more likely to die than women. These statistics show that for about every 100 women who die of heart disease, 150 men die. Why is that?
When we think of risk factors for heart disease, we focus our attention on such things as smoking, high blood pressure, diet, and cholesterol levels. Len Syme and Ruell Stallones, two professors of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at U.C. Berkeley, did an extensive study. They studied three groups -- one group remained in Japan, one group moved to Hawaii, and a third group immigrated to California.
Stallones was interested in whether the Japanese had low rates of heart disease in their home country because of their low-fat diet, and whether the rate went up when they adopted a typical burger-and-fries American diet. Syme was fascinated by the social factor: whether moving to a new country and culture might increase stress and cause men to suffer increased risk for heart disease.
As expected the rate of heart disease among Japanese men immigrating to California was five times greater than the rate among those who stayed in Japan, and the rate among those who immigrated to Hawaii was midway between the two.
Both researchers were surprised by what caused the difference. The study showed that immigration didn't automatically cause heart disease. Yet the results appeared to be completely independent of any of the usual supposed risk factors of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diet, cholesterol count, or smoking; in fact, the Japanese population studied contained the highest number of smokers and the lowest levels of heart disease.
According to Lynne McTaggart who reported the results of the study in her book, The Bond, "Amazingly their results also appeared independent of any dietary changes. Whatever the Japanese ate -- whether tofu and sushi or a Big Mac and fries -- had no bearing on their propensity to heart disease."
The study found that:
Although changes in the dietary habits made no difference in terms of heart disease, the kind of society the transplants created for themselves did. The most traditional group of Japanese Americans, who maintained strong social ties, had a heart attack rate as low as their fellow Japanese back home, while those who had adopted the Western, more isolated, go-ahead lifestyle increased their heart-attack incidence by three to five times.
The Hidden Cause of Heart Attacks Is Social Isolation
In working with men, and the women who love them, for more than 40 years, I have found that the real killer of men is our social isolation, particularly as we get older. When I talk with groups of men and women, I'll often ask, "How many of you have three or more people you are close to and who you can share your deepest concerns about your life?" Almost all the women raise their hands. Almost none of the men do.
When I probe more deeply, most men have only one person, if they're lucky. That person is their spouse. And when things aren't going well at home or if he and his spouse become estranged, men are in real trouble.
My wife and I recently saw the film, The Lone Ranger, a modern adaptation of the classic western. Most guys grew up with the image of the "masked man" who keeps himself separate from others, keeps his feelings hidden, and doesn't need anyone else. The every-man-for-himself attitude fostered in the West, especially in American society, can prove deadly to us, particularly to our hearts.
If guys want to prevent heart disease, by all means, stop smoking, eat less fat, and exercise more. But the best thing you can do is to make a new friend, connect with friends who may have lost touch with, or even join a men's group. I've been meeting with six other guys for more than 33 years now. I suspect it's one of the main things keeping my heart healthy and why I expect to live a long and healthy life.