Heart disease is the number one killer of men in the United States, accounting for nearly 25% of all male deaths year after year. This is true across racial and ethnic backgrounds, with 1 in 13 white men, 1 in 14 Black men, and 1 in 17 Hispanic men having coronary heart disease—a condition that can lead to sudden death in about half of all men who have it. Sudden death can occur in asymptomatic men.
In other words: Prioritizing men’s heart health is important and cannot be understated. Every man should take steps to keep their hearts healthy and strong. Not all changes need to be made at once. Incorporate one healthy lifestyle change per month.
Heart disease in men vs. women
“Heart disease affects men more than women,” explains Evan Jacobs, MD, FACC, the national medical director of cardiovascular services at Conviva Care Centers. “This is true across all age groups. Men also are more likely to develop heart disease at a younger age.”
That said, it is worth noting that women with heart disease tend to have a higher mortality rate and worse overall prognosis, according to Arvind Nirula, MD, an interventional cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley.
Risk factors for heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol
- Smoking history
- Family history of premature heart disease
If you are obese (have a BMI greater than 30), lead a sedentary lifestyle, or eat a diet high in fat and sugars, you’re more likely to develop heart disease.
Symptoms of heart problems in men
Heart disease is a term that includes several different conditions, such as arrhythmias, heart attack, and heart failure.
Typical signs of heart disease in men include:
- Chest discomfort that occurs during physical exertion and is relieved with rest
- Shortness of breath
- Jaw pain
- Left arm pain
- Cold sweat
Atypical symptoms of heart disease may include:
- Feeling faint or light-headed
- Squeezing sensation in back
- Abdominal discomfort
Dr. Jacobs explains that women are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms and to dismiss them.
According to Dr. Nirula, typical signs of a heart attack in men may include:
- Pain in the chest (left of center) with or without radiation to the jaw
- Pain in the left arm
- Feeling of pressure or heaviness (“elephant sitting on the chest”)
- Sudden shortness of breath
However, he said that a small percentage of people may have less obvious symptoms such as chest discomfort, lightheadedness, or stomach pain.
Symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath while engaging in exercise or movement (like walking up stairs or carrying packages)
- Shortness of breath while lying flat in bed and a need to prop yourself up to breathe comfortably
- Waking up gasping for air in the night
- Swelling in both ankles
“It is always important not to ignore symptoms that persist and are out of the ordinary,” Dr. Nirula says. “Most importantly, alert your physician.”
How to keep your heart healthy
The heart is just like every other muscle in the body. “With regular exercise, it can be made stronger and more efficient,” Dr. Jacobs says. To keep your heart healthy, take the following steps.
Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week for optimal heart health, according to the American Heart Association. “The most important type of exercise for the heart is aerobic exercise, such as walking/jogging, biking, or swimming,” Dr. Jacobs says. “Exercising 30 minutes a day has been shown to improve heart health.” No gym is needed. Walk out your front door at a brisk pace for 15 minutes and then turn around. If you need an “accountability partner” to stick to the plan, make a phone date or meet a friend.
Incorporating heart healthy foods in your diet can help to prevent heart disease. According to Dr. Jacobs, plant-based and Mediterranean style diets have been shown to reduce the risk of poor circulation, which can otherwise lead to heart attacks. Research also suggests that diets high in fiber can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
A healthy diet, along with exercise can help you to lose weight, reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and lower blood pressure—four big risk factors for heart disease.
There are seven supplements that may help foster heart health:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Grape seed extract
- Coenzyme CoQ10
- Vitamin D
They are most effective in combination with a healthy lifestyle. Whenever you’re considering a new vitamin, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider first. Some over-the-counter remedies can interact with medications you may already be taking. It is best to get nutrients from food.
If your heart disease risk is increased by an underlying condition, taking medication to control that condition can help protect your heart. For example, if you have high blood pressure, taking an ACE inhibitor, like Prinivil (lisinopril) will help decrease blood pressure. Or, your physician may prescribe a blood thinner to prevent blood clots. Blood thinners include Aspirin, or an Rx, such as warfarin. Discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
“The body needs to restore and repair, and that’s what happens while you’re sleeping,” says Robert Greenfield, MD, double-board certified cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute. How much sleep each person needs may vary, but a reasonable recommendation is generally not less than six hours and not more than eight.
6. Stress reduction
Stress is the most underrated heart disease risk factor. “Continuous stress releases stress hormones in the body like adrenaline and cortisol, which when in excess, damage the body over time,” Dr. Greenfield explains. Incorporate stress reduction into your daily routine, whether that means setting aside time to meditate, get a massage, or engage in other activities that typically relieve you of the tension you may otherwise be carrying.
“Finding a rest period during the day, learning how to meditate, avoiding and eliminating aspects of your life that are non-essential but stressful is a great start,” Dr. Greenfield says. “Also, not creating your own stress during the day that could have easily been prevented is a smart way to proceed.”
7. Prioritize wellness
“Lifestyle changes are key and may be the best medicine, especially if you’re looking to prevent cardiovascular problems,” says Dr. Greenfield.
Start this lifestyle-change process. Schedule annual medical checkups with your doctor. Visit your dentist and dental hygienist. Maintain open lines of communication with your medical care providers. These steps will help detect untreated heart issues and avoid complications.
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