Checklist for boosting a man’s heart health

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Cardiovascular health in men becomes ever more vital as they age.  Men need to do what it takes to take good care of their heart as it is the only one they have.  But, men need help – especially when it comes to their heart health.  Men are not always the best at taking good care of themselves and one area they may neglect is paying attention to keeping their heart in tip top shape.  This vital organ needs tender loving care throughout a man’s life as heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in men (and women) as every year just under half a million men will die of cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, thanks to the American Heart Association getting the message out on heart health, fewer Americans are dying of heart disease than ever.  But there is still a long ways to go and every little bit of information, awareness and encouragement makes a huge difference in reducing a man’s risk of this killer disease.

Here is a checklist of things that can boost a man’s heart health helping him live a longer, healthier life:

·      Encourage him to get an annual checkup

When is the last time a man you love in your life got an annual physical?  The American Academy of Family Physicians survey found that more than half of all men don’t get regular checkups.  If they are not going to the doctor annually, they will not know what their risk factors are. 

Every man should know what his blood pressure number, his heart rate, total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, andtriglyceride level.  Men should know that once he hits the age of 45 (or younger age for black men), blood pressure begins to climb increasing his risk of a heart attack or stroke.  An annual checkup gives a man the opportunity to talk with his doctor about any concerns he has such as erectile dysfunction that can actually be an indicator of heart disease.

·      Encourage him to eat a healthy diet

This can be a hard one for men to follow.  They know in the back of their mind they should eat better but they often choose not to.  Many men may skip meals, snack throughout the day, or eat a very large evening meal loaded with fat and calories.  Eating in this pattern can, surprise, result in excessive weight gain. 

Help him to plan regular, consistent meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so that his body is being fed at regular intervals throughout the day which can keep his blood sugar levels in better control. 

Making frequent heart healthy food choices each day will pay off in good heart health in the long run.  Add heart friendly foods of avocados, nuts, beans, ground flaxseed, berries, oatmeal, dark chocolate with at least a 70% cacao content, leafy greens, and salmon.

·      Encourage him to exercise

Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease – about 50% of all men do not exercise regularly.   Men often find reasons to not work out – they are too tired, too busy, too little stamina and they no longer are the athlete they once were back in high school. 

All men (and women) need to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week.  This should include not only cardiovascular physical activity of brisk walking, jogging, or biking but also weight training and flexibility movements. 

·      Encourage him to reach and maintain a healthy body weight

When a man is at a healthy body weight, it most likely means he is probably eating a healthy diet. This often means that he is making wise food choices that help keep “bad” LDL cholesterol in check.  Approximately 35% of American men are obese.  An obese person requires a heart that is able to pump greater amounts of blood, so the heart enlarges and the muscle gets thicker as well.  But over time, the heart may not be able to compensate and can begin to lose some of its ability to relax or its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, both of which can lead to heart failure.  Carrying excess weight also puts men at risk of developing hypertension which is a major risk factor for heart attack or stroke. 

·      Encourage him to reduce stress

Men tend to handle stress much differently than women.  Men tend to sulk or bottle up their emotions while women like to talk and get their feelings out.  If a man continually ignores stress letting it build up this can lead to chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease. 

Make sure he is practicing stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, meditation, or enjoying a hobby he loves to do.

·      Encourage him to quit smoking if he does

One of the worst, if not the worst thing anyone can do is to choose to smoke cigarettes.  Smoking is a major cause of heart disease and even though tobacco use among men in the United States is declining, the number of men taking up the habit is still too high.  Currently, nearly 19 out of 100 adult men (18.8%) smoke.  Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material which narrows the arteries.  This can lead to angina, a heart attack, or a stroke.

Quitting smoking is hard.  The key to his success at kicking the habit will be a strong support system encouraging him all the way.  He can start by talking to his doctor about smoking cessation aids, such as medication or nicotine substitutes in the form of patches or gum, or he can try going cold turkey.