Did you know that, on average, men are less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than women? Part of the reason for this health gap is that we don't take care of ourselves as well as women do. Men are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior, and less likely than women to adopt preventive health measures. We're also less likely to have health insurance, more likely to work in dangerous occupations, and often put off going to the doctor even when we really should go. As a result of these issues, men die younger-and in greater numbers-of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases.

More than half of premature deaths among men are preventable. But you can't prevent a problem if you don't know it exists. By educating yourself about male health problems and passing that information on to other men you know, you may be able to save a life, including your own.

When a warning light flashes on the car dashboard, men usually take the car to the shop. But when warning lights flash on our body, most of us don't (or won't) notice. Here are a few flashing lights you should look out for:

• Changes in bowel or bladder habits. This can be an indication of prostate or bladder problems. Blood in the urine is a common indicator of kidney problems.

• Impotence or erectile dysfunction. Most of the time, erectile problems are caused by an underlying health problem, such as diabetes, clogged arteries, or high blood pressure. So pay attention: it might be something far more serious.

• Persistent backaches, changes in the color of urine or stool, obvious changes in warts or moles, unusual lumps, recurrent chest pains or headaches, bleeding that won't stop, nagging cough, unexplained weight loss, and extreme fatigue can all be symptoms of other serious health problems.

• Depression. Although women may be more likely to attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to succeed. Because men are reluctant to ask for help and may try to hide their depression, you or your spouse may recognize the symptoms sooner than you do. These may include acting overly anxious, having trouble sleeping, complaining of feeling sad or "empty" or helpless, engaging in unusually risky or reckless behavior, or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable activities (including sex).

Among men, more than one-half of premature deaths are preventable, along with about 60 percent of chronic diseases, and most injuries and accidents. By taking charge of your own preventative care, you can protect your health.

Below is a summary of important steps you can take to improve the quality-and length-of your life.

• Eat a varied diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat foods.

• Be especially careful to limit cholesterol intake and avoid saturated fats.

• Moderate exercise for 30 minutes five times a week, or vigorous exercise for 20 minutes three times a week.

• Protect yourself from the sun.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Drink plenty of water and avoid high calorie liquids such as soda pop or high energy drinks.

• Limit alcohol to two drinks per day.

• Don't smoke, and minimize your exposure to second-hand smoke.

• See your doctor regularly.

• Know your family history and discuss it with your doctor.

• If you are over 40, get a baseline PSA (prostate specific antigen) test and monitor this periodically with your doctor.

• Practice safe sex.

• Wear a seatbelt whenever you're in the car, and a helmet when on a motorcycle or bicycle.

• Manage your stress.

• Get help if you need it.

It is important for you to take charge of your own health and wellness. Schedule regular checkups and age-appropriate screenings as necessary. Check-ups and screenings are proven ways to improve your health and reduce your chances of premature death and disability.

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