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Psychologists Say Macho Behavior May Help Explain Men’s Shorter Lifespans

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Why are American men’s lives shorter than American women’s? Is it the bar fights? The motorcycle stunts? Well, no; but the answer might be related. Two psychology researchers say that ideas about “manliness” keep men from complaining, even when they’re sick or injured, and that the resulting health problems may be shortening their lives. The researchers published their findings in the journals Preventive Medicine and The Journal of Health Psychology

It’s called toxic masculinity, and it kills. Researchers have known for years that cultural pressure to be stoic, self-reliant, and aggressive is incredibly destructive. From birth, many boys are taught not to cry, to suppress their feelings and keep quiet about their problems. They're taught that men are more capable than women, and that they have to dominate other men—and women—in order to succeed. They're taught that stereotypically feminine traits and actions are inferior, and that it's weak to be "un-manly." These messages are everywhere, and they’re doing real damage.

Study authors Diana Sanchez and Mary Himmelstein wanted to know if these toxic messages could help explain men’s shorter lifespans. "Men can expect to die five years earlier than women, and physiological differences don't explain that difference," Sanchez said in a press statement.

But rather than looking at obvious issues like violence or addiction, Sanchez and Himmelstein looked at something both more common and less considered: doctor appointments. They wondered if macho behavior in the exam room (or in avoiding the exam room) could hurt men in the long run. 

The researchers conducted two separate studies using online questionnaires. In the first study, 250 men answered questions that revealed their ideas about masculinity and gender, as well as their preferences for male or female doctors. The researchers then sent a similar survey to an additional 250 men, but afterward, these men were asked to come into the clinic for appointments. Each man sat down with both male and female medical students and nurses to talk about his medical issues and concerns. 

For the second study, 236 men and 255 women answered survey questions about gender and masculinity, as well as the way they related to their own medical issues. 

The results of these surveys were not surprising, but they were definitely troubling. The first study showed that men who identified strongly with stereotypically masculine traits were more likely to choose male doctors—but once they’d chosen those doctors, they were less likely to discuss symptoms with them than they were with female practitioners. They felt that male doctors were more competent than female doctors, but they still didn't want to talk to them. "That's because they don't want to show weakness or dependence to another man, including a male doctor," Sanchez says. She says men felt more comfortable sharing concerns with female doctors, who were perceived as more understanding and nonthreatening. 

The results of the second study really drive the point home: Men who strove to fulfill so-called masculine ideals were less likely than other men to see a doctor when they were sick or hurt. They were more likely to minimize their symptoms and pain, and, understandably, they were more likely to have more serious health problems down the road. 

The researchers noted that stereotypically masculine traits can also be harmful for women; they found that women who strove to be stoic and self-reliant were less likely than other women to get medical help. 

Still, in this situation, at least, men were worse off. “Men have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant and tough,” Sanchez says. “Women don't have that script, so there isn't any cultural message telling them that, to be real women, they should not make too much of illnesses and symptoms."

The cultural pressure is real, and it's intense, but that doesn't mean we all have to give in to it. Men, the next time you decide to “man up” and ignore your pain, skip a doctor’s appointment, or cover up your symptoms, ask yourself: Are these harmful stereotypes really worth dying for?

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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