For all the talk these days about staying fit, men still lag behind women in healthy lifestyle habits.

Some joke that marriage is a man’s best bet for good health. And countless studies do show that married men are in better physical and mental health than single men — if they’re in a happy marriage. Most studies show that men in unhappy unions are not healthier.
These health benefits are true for happily wedded men of all ages, races, incomes and occupations. Why?

Studies have found that the reasons are related to less stress, healthier lifestyle habits and less isolation.

That’s good news for happily married men, but what can all men do to get and stay healthy? First we have to know men’s biggest health challenges.

What Puts Men at Risk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the five top causes of death in men are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, lung disease and stroke.

In its latest 2013 data, heart disease and cancer each cause about 25 percent of deaths. The other three causes rank between 4 and 6 percent.

So just in time for National Men’s Health Week, June 15-21, the CDC offers tips for men to help them put good health first. We’ll focus on heart problems and cancer, the two biggest killers.

Heart-Healthy Habits

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American men. So it’s important to know what you can do to lower your risk for heart disease.

There are lifestyle choices men can make to improve their heart health and lower their risk for cancer.

  • Don’t smoke, and don’t breathe second-hand smoke. It can be as bad as smoking itself.
  • Get enough sleep, which is seven to nine hours a night for adults.
  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Lose any extra pounds you’re carrying.
  • Manage blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to keep them within a healthy range.
  • See your doctor regularly (at least once a year) and get recommended screenings to find and treat problems early. This is especially important for problems with no obvious symptoms.
  • Manage your stress. For example, take breaks from high-pressure tasks. And don’t let stress trigger unhealthy behaviors: use alcohol moderately, socialize and stay active.
  • If you’re short of breath, have trouble urinating, have chest pains or are often very thirsty, get to a doctor at once. Don’t try to ride out these symptoms. They can signal a serious problem.

You’ve probably heard all these tips before. But there’s a huge difference between knowing what you should do and doing it. If you do all these things, your odds of having better health greatly improve.

Chipping Away at Cancer

The most common cancers for men are prostate, lung, skin and colorectal. It is important to get regular cancer screenings. Talk to your doctor to find out what kinds of screening you need and how often.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in American men. It mostly turns up late in life and has a wide range of treatments. It’s vital that men get tested for prostate cancer regularly.

The two most common prostate cancer screenings are digital rectal exams and the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test. In a digital exam, the prostate is checked via the rectum for lumps or other abnormalities. The PSA blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is made by the prostate.

PSA test results can be tricky. High levels might mean prostate cancer. But you should know that PSA blood levels can differ from person to person. And high levels don’t always mean cancer. They may be high due to aging. Levels can also be affected by medical procedures, some drugs, and an enlarged or infected prostate. 

If it is prostate cancer, there are several types of treatment. 

  • Prostatectomy is a surgery to remove the prostate.
  • Radical prostatectomy is a surgery to remove the prostate and surrounding tissue.
  • A machine outside the body can be used to aim radiation at cancer cells.
  • Radioactive pellets can be put in or near the prostate to kill cancer cells.
  • Hormone therapy can be used to block hormones that cancer cells need to grow.

“Watchful waiting” to see if the cancer grows is also an option because prostate cancers often grow very little if at all. Many men opt for waiting and keeping an eye on it because prostate operations and other treatments sometimes affect sexual, bowel and bladder functions.

If you have it, make sure you fully understand what your options are. It’s often as much a personal choice as a medical one. Talk to your doctor about the options and risks so you can decide what’s best for you.