Some interesting studies have come out confirming that we are less male than our predecessors. The studies show that we have less testosterone than we did in the 1980s. A 20-, 40-, or 70-year-old person today has less testosterone than a person of the same age a generation ago.
What happened and why should it matter to us as men?
Testosterone drives maleness in both the physical and mental sense. It creates the more muscular physique of men as compared to women, and also fuels competitiveness and athleticism. The health consequences of low testosterone will come as no surprise, then. Low testosterone causes fatigue and depression, decreased bone mass over time (read: risk of getting osteoporosis when you are old), slower healing, slower muscle building, trouble sleeping, increased body fat, erectile dysfunction, and disinterest in sex. I hope it needs no explanation as to why it these are bad things.
The interesting part is the link with aggression. Stereotypically we think that someone with high testosterone would be more physically and emotionally aggressive. In men at least, studies actually show the opposite. Men with high testosterone are generally more fair and pleasant in tense social situations – such as a confrontation or negotiation – up until they perceive something unfair to be happening, in which case they will be angry quickly. But men with low testosterone will be aggressive and angry in a more generalized and uncontrolled way, and they are more likely to cheat or insult people. This is likely related to the status aspect I mentioned – a high-status person needs to project calm and confidence, but also maintain order. A lower-status person feels angrier and a greater need to ‘prove themselves’ or ‘get theirs.’ See here, here, and here.
Of course, we’ve all seen this in our lives if we’ve spent enough time around powerful and secure men – contrary to stereotypes, we see that it is as least as common to find professional fighters, soldiers, the quarterback, etc., as unusually calm, polite, and helpful.
Isn’t that strong, confident, and kind man the person you want to be?
So what is affecting this? The study I mentioned in the beginning of the article said that smoking and obesity are factors, but can’t explain the sudden decline. What else do we know affects the level?
- Eating a diet with a variety of healthy, natural foods. Having enough vitamins, protein, and cholesterol in your diet is important for testosterone production.
- Exercise. More exercise increases testosterone, less exercise decreases it. This especially is true of strength-training.
- Stress. A little stress – even a lot of stress – can be indicative of a healthy challenge or stretch goal that helps us grow. But extreme, chronic stress becomes physically and mentally debilitating. This manifests as low testosterone among other things. This can be from physical or mental overstress. A horrible job day after day or extreme overtraining without enough rest will both do it.
- Sleep. Not getting enough sleep lowers your testosterone along with all its other negative effects.
- Chemicals. Plastics and related chemicals – ubiquitous now in our world – contain feminizing chemicals that mimic estrogen and other hormones and leach into food and drink.
- Sex. Having more sex raises testosterone.
- Victory. More generally, social recognition, accomplishment, feeling useful. Doesn’t have to be winning a boxing match. If your job gives you no opportunity for satisfaction, take up a hobby that has measurable progress you can feel good about.
You’ll notice some of these causes of low testosterone are also consequences of low testosterone. That’s because biology contains in feedback loops – lack of sleep lowers testosterone, lowered testosterone affects sleep. It’s a powerful tool for helping us respond to changes. While feedback loops can put you in a vicious circle, they are also equally useful for creating a virtuous one. Testosterone is connected to sleep, exercise, and body fat? Eat better, sleep better, and exercise better, and you can change the momentum of the feedback loop.
What modern men should do
What we should never do is take testosterone supplements unless we have a genuine medical issue affecting our testosterone aside from lifestyle effects such as diet, exercise, stress, or sleep.
Why? Because those supplements are meant for raising testosterone in an otherwise healthy person. That is someone who needs it because their body can’t produce enough. If your lowered testosterone is due to the negative effects of your own lifestyle raising the level won’t make much difference. You won’t feel the benefits of healthy testosterone levels while you are still obese, stressed, and exhausted. You will have to address the root cause
Which means this is just one more reason – if we really needed one – that we have to be better about managing our lives and our health.
We need to eat well, exercise vigorously, sleep enough, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Not doing so is literally making us lesser men.