Optimum Guide to Men’s Health Myths
Authored by Ryden Anderson
In days of yore, if anyone was talking about men’s health at all, the conversation was pretty simple: “Just rub some dirt on it.” “It happens to lots of guys.” “Turn your head and cough.” Today, though, Men’s Health is the world’s largest and best-selling men’s magazine brand, and plenty of folks have taken notice. Now we’re inundated from all sides—on YouTube, in our Facebook feeds, whenever we open a browser—with hot takes, weird tricks, and cutting-edge “science” about our bodies. The secret Hollywood regimen that transformed Chris Pratt from lovable lump Andy Dwyer into lustable hunk Star-Lord, the true cause of male pattern baldness (Watch till the end! It’s not what you think!), the hidden health benefits of almonds, ten reasons you should never eat almonds again, and on and on. The code of silence our fathers maintained about their health issues seems to have been permanently broken—and that’s probably for the best. But amid a bewildering array of fad diets, clickbait headlines, and pill-pushing podcasters, it’s hard to know what to believe.
Why are there so many Mens Health Myths?
This is the first in a planned series of posts that will sift through the myths, misinformation, and marketing mumbo jumbo to get at the truth about our health. Future installments will focus on more specific myths, claims, and controversies. But first, let’s lay a foundation by figuring out why there are so many of those out there in the first place. Broadly speaking, there are three overarching myths that contribute to the amount of misunderstanding and misinformation about men’s health. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Myth #1: Men shouldn’t talk about their health problems.
First on the chopping block:
that old-school outlook. More talk about men’s health may mean more of the schlock described above—but that doesn’t mean the growing discussion around men’s medical issues is a bad thing overall. The cone of silence that has historically been maintained around men’s health has left a sizeable vacuum for both well-intentioned but ill-informed know-it-alls and cynical, cash-hungry opportunists to fill, adding a lot of noise to the conversation. But as Cleveland Clinic reports the signal of empirical, scientific truth is there too—and it’s getting stronger. So why, you might ask, was the subject ever taboo in the first place?
Combatting Self Worth
For generations, men have endured the stigma that speaking out about our health problems is a sign of weakness. For many of us, our sense of self-worth as men is tied to traditional ideas of masculinity, perhaps best embodied in the “strong, silent type”—think John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. “Boys don’t cry.” “Shut up and take it like a man.” “Hold my beer.” Sound familiar? As a kid, I remember my dad telling me that men didn’t complain: if something hurt, they just sucked it up and did what needed doing. Sure, there’s undeniably something admirable in that kind of pragmatism and grit. But on the other hand, suffering silently is a pretty sure way to keep on suffering.
Then there’s the fact that many aspects of specifically men’s health are closely tied to those age-old ideals of manliness: virility, vitality, and vigor. Can’t keep up with your rugrat’s limitless energy or bench as much as you used to? You must be slipping, bro. Can’t get it up? Sure, it “happens to lots of guys”—but not to me, never to me, and you sure as hell can’t prove that it did. No self-respecting man would ever cop to that, right? Even hair loss—which affects a full third of all men over 30—manages for many of us to feel like some kind of bodily betrayal of our masculine essence.
So it’s no wonder that embarrassment and shame about our health issues run rampant among men over 30—not that we’d admit it, of course. And no wonder, either, that many of us opt to keep our health complaints to ourselves. But the fact is that evidence in the scientific literature suggests that men’s health outcomes improve when there is more open discussion, creating a safe and supportive community of guys willing to talk openly about their health issues. With the right support system in place, we can dismantle this pernicious ideology and get men talking about their health for improved well-being.
Myth #2: Men don’t need to visit the doctor until they’re older or sick.
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that men averse to discussing their health tend to avoid the doctor too. After all, it seems like every time you go, it’s all the doc wants to talk about. And the one thing we all probably heard even more than “Take it like a man” growing up was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So many young and seemingly healthy men think it’s safe to skip annual physicals and well visits. In fact, men tend to avoid going to the doctor even when they experience warning signs of more serious health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. This mindset is so widespread that only 51% of men report having visited the doctor within the past year, compared to 63% of women. But this is a dangerous belief that can result in serious health consequences. Regular check-ups can not only prevent conditions like diabetes and hypertension from becoming more serious, they can also detect diseases like cancer in their early stages, giving guys a better chance of recovery.
And it’s not just the young guns, either: I see you, guys over 45. Personally, I’d be the last to judge or kink-shame, but I’m pretty sure that prostate exam is nobody’s idea of a good time. That said, this is one time you really should just take it like a man. The risks associated with prostate cancer and the benefits of early detection far outweigh the momentary discomfort of an annual digital rectal exam (DRE). So get your checkups, guys. Every year. .
Myth #3: Mental health isn’t a men’s issue.
With all we’ve unpacked already about the reasons men typically avoid dealing with their health concerns, it should come as no surprise that many men also characteristically neglect their mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women in the United States are almost twice as likely to receive treatment for depression than men. That’s despite the fact that a 2020 study in JAMA Network Open showed only a 1% greater incidence of depression among women as compared to men. Another study found that men are less likely to seek help for mental-health issues even when they’re thinking of suicide.
So why is this? You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see that when you take all the stigma we’ve already discussed surrounding vulnerability and masculinity, then compound that with the broad stigma around mental health that society tends to direct towards people of all genders, many men are particularly unwilling to admit or address problems with their mental health.
Poor Mental Health Harms You Physically
But even if we pretend that anxiety or depression are just two more things we should “take like a man,” research has consistently shown that untreated mental health problems can harm a person’s physical health. People with mental disorders (including anxiety or depression) tend to have weaker immune systems, higher levels of inflammation, and a greater risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. For example, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that men with depression were twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease compared to those without depression. Plus, people (including men) with untreated mental illness are more likely to die by suicide or engage in unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse, poor diet, and lack of exercise, which, especially over time, can do irreparable harm to the whole system—body and mind alike.
The bottom line is that mental health can’t be separated from physical health, and addressing both is crucial to achieving overall wellbeing. As men, we need to learn to see getting help with our health concerns not as a sign of weakness but as a proactive step we take in defense of our ability to be providers, protectors—whatever it is we men are at our best. Just as the flight attendant tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping the kids, we’ve got to look out for our own needs (both physical and mental) if we’re going to take care of those who depend on us. .