Compared to women, Chinese men's health fares worse. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Li Zhi, 32, who works at a media agency in Beijing, has been noticing that his health has been deteriorating in recent years. His blood pressure is regularly high, and he sweats profusely just climbing six storeys of stairs to reach his front door.
He is one of a growing number of Chinese men, whose health is on the decline, and it has experts worried.
The Beijing Youth Daily earlier this month cited statistics from the National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases that between 2004 and 2014, 5,800,000 people died from heart attacks in China every year, an increase of 28.5 percent compared to before 1990. The number of men who suffered from heart attacks increased 53.84 percent while for women, the increase was only 4.98 percent.
Between 2007 and 2009, the heart attack rate of men in Beijing increased by 11.1 percentage points, compared to only 2.5 percentage points in women. The morbidity rate increased by 30 percentage points in men between the ages of 35 and 44.
The report concluded that men's health was declining faster than that of women.
Dr Gilbert Shia, a general practitioner at the Beijing-based international health clinic MedicGo, said that he has noticed Chinese men's health conditions are getting worse than women's, due to their lifestyle and genetic traits.
"Actually men around the world fare worse than women in health conditions."
According to a BBC report in June this year, in England and Wales, fatal diseases such as heart attacks and strokes kill 300 in every 100,000 men compared to 190 in every 100,000 women. Cancers that affect both sexes kill 70 percent more men than women, and liver diseases and dementia also affect more men than women.
"The trend is even more obvious in China, since most Chinese men's health consciousness is not as strong as Westerners," Shia said.
Li recalled that his symptoms began about two years ago when he turned 30.
He said that after he and his friends got married and had kids, they began to spend their free time at home, rather than going out.
"In the past, we used to play basketball or football every weekend."
It also has something to do with his promotion last year. Since Li was promoted to project manager, his workload has increased dramatically.
"On average, I'm working at least 10 hours a day. Even after work, I still have to talk to my boss or clients about work. It's very stressful and tiring. I also have to attend many business dinners, which usually involve drinking and smoking."
Li said most of his male friends find themselves in a similar position - leading the same lifestyle and not in good health.
Men's bad habits like drinking, smoking and staying up late at night, contribute to their poor health, according to Shia.
During summer, many men go out late at night to have barbecue and beers on the street, which Shia said, would not only lead to high blood pressure and blood sugar but would also increase the chance of getting cancer.
An unhealthy lifestyle affects the height and weight of Chinese men. Photo: Li Hao/GT
The increasing pressures of modern life also contribute to men's deteriorating health. However, men tend to bottle up their feelings and don't like to talk about them, adding even more pressure.
Li said although the competition in the workplace is fierce, he does not share his worries with friends. It is because he believes that as a man, one should learn to shoulder pressure, and he'd rather keep silent than complain to friends [like most women will do].
Another factor that has led to men's bad health, said Shia, is that men are slower to deal with their medical conditions than women.
"Men usually think a slight discomfort doesn't matter; it makes them appear less manly if they go to the hospital," Shia said. According to his observations, about 60 percent of patients he sees every day, are women.
Weaker biological traits
Men's own biological make-up also contributes to their poor health conditions.
According to a Scientific American report in February last year, men's XY chromosome combination makes them more vulnerable.
The report said that the two Xs in females offer some protection. In disorders where one X chromosome has a genetic defect, the female's healthy backup chromosome can take over. But with a single X chromosome, males lack a healthy gene to fall back on. As a result, men are more likely to get sick, and vulnerable to outside influences, like environmental pollutants.
Shia said that the male hormone testosterone makes men more likely to smoke, drink, take illegal drugs and take risks that could result in accidents, while the female hormone oestrogen tends to protect a woman's heart from rapid aging, and so helps prolong her life.
The Life Times reported in July 2011 that the drinking rate among men and women is 85 percent and 30 percent respectively. A Xinhua report in June 2013 showed that among 3,295 smokers (18 to 30 years old ) they surveyed in Beijing, only 11.3 percent of them were women. For drug use, a Nandu Daily report last month said the proportion of male to female participants in Heshan Drug Rehabilitation Center in Guangdong Province, was 9 to 1.
The Xinhua News Agency last month released the latest statistics of the average height of Chinese people. For men, it's only 1.67 meters, lower than in other Asian countries. In South Korea, the average height of men is 1.74 meters while in Japan, it is about 1.71 meters.
For women, the Chinese average is 155.8 centimeters, lower than South Korea's 160.4 centimeters, but higher than Japan's 154.2 centimeters.
Zhang Fu, a strength conditioning and rehabilitation expert at the Peking University Gymnasium Training Center, said that the height of Chinese men is caused by their unhealthy diet and sedentary life.
"A healthy diet could boost people's height and reduce their weight," he said.
According to a China News Service report in March last year, among adults aged between 20 and 35, only 28 percent of men will choose to exercise during their free time, compared to 74 percent of women.
In Zhang's fitness camp, only 20 percent of the students are men.
"I think the reason men exercise less is their body shape doesn't change so easily after gaining a little weight like women's do. Also men think that material goods speak more about their success than their physique."
Exercise would not only boost the growth of teenagers but also have the same effect for adults, said Zhang.
"With many men slumped over their desks all day working or playing video games, they are more likely to develop humpback. If they do enough exercise, the spine and chest can be elongated, so those stay-in-door guys could grow two to three centimeters."
Preventing an early grave
Experts suggest men should do something to prevent an early grave.
Shia said that for starters, men can take better care of their bodies by going for annual check-ups, and to see a doctor when they are feeling unwell. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, like going to bed early and reducing their drinking and smoking habits, also go a long way.
Zhang recommends men eat food that is high in protein and vegetable fiber, and exercise regularly.
"During breaks at work, men can do some push-ups and squats, or go to a park during off days to just walk or run," said Zhang.
Last year, Chinese men's appearance was widely criticized for not matching up to Chinese women's, due to their poor body shape and awkward dressing style. Now Zhang has warned that it might get worse.
"If Chinese men continue to lead such an unhealthy lifestyle and their health problems continue to increase, Chinese men will appear even less attractive to Chinese women, both inside and out."