Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for males in the United States, accounting for 25 percent of all male deaths.1 Heart disease kills men of all races and ethnic groups, and many men who die from heart disease do so unexpectedly, not having shown any symptoms before the event that takes their life.
What makes this statistic particularly pressing is that a lot of cardiac issues can be prevented simply by understanding the associated risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle.
Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease?
There are some health markers that can significantly increase your risk of heart disease, including having high blood pressure and having high LDL cholesterol. Those who smoke are also at increased risk of heart disease.2 In addition, being overweight or obese, drinking heavily, being physically inactive, or having a poor diet can all increase your risk of heart disease.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Heart Health
Most changes that aim to reduce the risk of a heart attack center around avoiding a build-up of blood clots and atherosclerosis. Plaques in your arteries tend to build up gradually. Most people have quite healthy arteries when they are young, but a steady series of lifestyle decisions will contribute to the build-up of plaque. The process accelerates after the age of 50.3 Looking after yourself when you are young will help minimize the damage and give you a longer window of a happy, healthy life. The changes are simple—they’re all habits that you probably already know that you should be doing, such as getting regular exercise, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and reducing stress.
Stress and Heart Disease
The impact of psychological stress on heart health is well-documented. The medical community struggles to agree exactly how stress and heart health are linked, however. Short-term episodes of stress can cause your heart rate to spike, and it is thought that those who already have cardiac issues may be at risk of having an event triggered because of that stressful episode.
Long-term, chronic stressors can also be dangerous, however. Those who report that they are suffering from permanent stress because of their home or work conditions face more than two times the risk of suffering from a cardiac episode.4
Stress is a serious issue for men, especially those who work dangerous or high-pressure jobs. Home life can also have an impact on a man’s mental well-being. While women are more likely to report feeling stressed, men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues.5 Simply being proactive and seeking help early on could have a significant impact on a person’s long-term well-being.
Exercise and Heart Health
Exercise is something that can benefit not just the heart but also the brain. It improves cognition and mental clarity and can help reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.6 These benefits alone means that it may be reducing one of the greatest risk factors that men face when it comes to heart health.
Men who exercise regularly tend to have better mental health and a lower risk of cardiac issues. Even exercising for a few minutes at a time on a regular basis to achieve a moderate level of fitness is beneficial.7
Exercise can help strengthen the heart, allowing it to pump blood more efficiently. There are many studies that show that exercise can help improve heart health, however, those studies show that there is one major flaw in “exercise as a prescription.”
Most people do not stick to exercise routines. One recent study found that at the start of their study, just 84 percent of the patients were compliant. Over time, that decreased further, down to 62 percent at the end of the first year and to just 40 percent by the end of the third year.8
Researchers and individuals know that exercise works, but it’s clear that most people won’t stick to an exercise routine unless they enjoy it.
Weight Loss and Heart Health
Being obese or overweight according to body mass index (BMI) can increase your risk of heart disease. Studies show that continued and considerable weight gain in middle age can increase your risk of heart disease.9 Keeping a stable weight helps stop the risk from increasing
All too often, men give up on their health because they believe that if they can’t do everything right, it is not worth trying. However, living a healthy lifestyle is about making small changes that become habits. Everyone slips up from time to time, and there will always be conflicting evidence about what is and is not good for you. The important thing is that you find the balance and look after yourself when you can.
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