A man’s guide to a healthy heart

The statistics are staggering. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men, causing nearly one in four deaths. Healthier lifestyle habits can help you avoid becoming part of that number.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • In 2013, heart disease caused 6 percent of deaths among American men.
  • Among men who die of heart disease, 50 percent experience no prior symptoms.
  • Up to 89 percent of all sudden cardiac events occur among men.
  • Nearly half of American men have at least one of the three biggest risk factors — high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and smoking.
  • In comparison, only 25 percent of American men get the recommended amount of weekly physical activity.

The main takeaway from those numbers? It’s especially important for men to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. Read on for a look at the essentials of a heart-healthy life.

Get your workout on

Do you have regular appointments with the gym, or are you a Weekend Warrior who only gets active every once in a while? One of the most important steps you can take for your heart is to get regular physical activity.

There are two ways to meet the weekly physical activity guidelines from the American Heart Association: 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity.

Examples of moderate intensity physical activity include walking, bicycling and tennis. If you want to amp it up, examples of vigorous intensity physical activity include jogging or running, swimming laps, hiking or jumping rope.

No matter what types of exercise you choose, be sure to schedule physical activity in regularly, and include strength training in your routine.

Tame your diet

We aren’t here to tell you that an occasional night of burgers and beers with the guys isn’t OK. Everything is OK in moderation.

The majority of the time, though, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins. Eat at least two servings a week of fatty fish such as salmon or tuna, which contain omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart.

Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats in your diet, along with sodium. And if you drink alcohol, do so moderately — two drinks a day max.

Ease stress

Stress can make you physically sick. Long-term stress, in fact, increases your heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause damage to the artery walls.

You’re probably wondering: How can I lower my stress? Well, regular physical activity, as discussed above, is one way. While you burn off calories and build strength, you’ll also be burning off stress.

Talking with friends, laughing regularly, getting plenty of sleep and volunteering are other ways you can lower your stress levels.

One “stress reliever” to avoid? Smoking. Nicotine damages the function of your heart and constricts your blood vessels.

Get checked out

Because heart disease can be silent, it’s important to see your doctor for regular checkups. And you have no real excuse: Under most health insurance plans, an annual checkup is covered free of cost.

During this checkup, your doctor will offer up suggestions for lifestyle changes and monitor certain heart-health numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and blood glucose, among others.

Since high blood pressure and high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels are two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, keep a particular eye on those. Aim for a blood pressure lower than 120/80 mm Hg and an LDL level less than 100 mg/dL.

Know the warning signs

Heart disease is a broad term, applying to conditions including heart failure, angina and arrhythmia, among others. Because of this, its symptoms can vary. In general, seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, back or chest
  • Sudden headache
  • Distorted vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Loss of balance
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Have you had your annual checkup? If not, schedule one today! Need a doctor? Find one here.