Why men are the (medically) weaker sex, from Harvard Men's Health Watch

Men rule on the playing field: they can generally run faster, lift more, and throw things farther than women can. In medical terms, though, men are the weaker sex, reports the January 2010 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. Why? It depends on a complex mix of biological, social, and behavioral factors.

Biological factors include the fact that, compared with men, women have substantially higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. In addition, excess weight—although common in both sexes—is more of a problem for males. Women tend to carry excess weight on their hips and thighs, while men add it to their waistlines. This abdominal obesity is more damaging to health than lower-body obesity, sharply increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Among the important social factors are a set of traits that tend to be more common in men than in women. Type A behavior, stress, hostility, and anger have all been implicated as heart disease risk factors. Conversely, women generally have larger and more reliable social networks than men. Strong interpersonal relationships and support networks reduce the risk of many maladies.

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