A broken heart is not always about love: Heart health for men
Throughout the lifecycle men have higher rates of heart disease than women; however the gender gap becomes much greater starting at age 55, and men over 55 are twice as likely to die from heart disease. In fact 30% of all male deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease – that’s about 35,000 Canadian men each year. 90% of Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke. Here are the top 10 risks to heart health in men and what you can do about them.
1. Being overweight or obese.
Almost 60% of adults ages 18 and over, or 14.1 million Canadians, are overweight or obese. More men than women fall into this category. See if you’re at risk:
- Measure your waist - belly fat is bad! The danger zone is over 102cm (40 inches), or 90cm (35 inches) for Chinese & South Asian men
- Calculate your body mass index to see if your weight falls into a healthy range.
Lose weight – especially that belly fat. Check out the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Healthy Weight Action Plan for a free 12 week program to help you improve your eating habits and lose weight.
2. Not eating enough vegetables and fruits.
Men lag behind women when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake.
Aim for 5-10 servings per day. Eat 1 or 2 with every meal and snack and you’re set. To read more about how to get enough vegetables and fruit in your diet click here.
3. Too much salt in the diet.
60% of women and 85% of men consume too much salt.
Most salt in the diet comes from processed or packaged foods and eating in restaurants. Try cooking your own food more often, eating real food (not food that comes in a package), and reduce the amount of salt you add to your food. For more salt tips click here.
4. Not coping well with stress and anger.
Major life events and changes, as well as daily hassles can cause stress, which increases your risk of heart disease and makes it harder to lead a healthy lifestyle. Men are especially vulnerable to “poorly managed anger”. Some examples of poorly managed anger are: aggression and violence, road rage, yelling, hurtful comments, and blaming others without all the facts. Bottling up anger and getting defensive are also examples.
First of all, figure out what’s really bothering you. Make sure your life is balanced – make time for yourself, as well as friends and family. Talk about what’s bothering you. Participate in stress reduction activities such as meditation, yoga, or any exercise or sport you enjoy. For more about stress click here. To manage anger be assertive, not aggressive – it’s important to be respectful in your communication with others. Direct your anger towards solving your problem rather than lashing out – it’s much more productive. For more about anger management click here.
We all know that smoking is bad for us. Unfortunately 20% of men still smoke. The good news is within one year of quitting, the risk of dying from smoking-related heart disease is cut in half.
6. High cholesterol
There are 2 types of blood cholesterol: LDL "bad" cholesterol can narrow the walls of your arteries, while HDL "good" cholesterol can decrease the amount of plaque that gets deposited in your arteries. Lots of men don’t know they have high cholesterol.
Solution: Learn your cholesterol numbers – it’s a simple blood test. Ask your doctor about cholesterol testing, especially if you are over 40. Lowering high cholesterol is all about a healthy lifestyle – not smoking, eating well, and exercising. More information is available here.
7. High blood pressure (hypertension)
20% of Canadians have high blood pressure, but almost half of them don’t know it because there are no symptoms. High blood pressure strains the heart and can damage blood vessel walls, leading to fatty plaque build-up which may narrow or block arteries. Even 30 year old men can have high blood pressure!
Solution: Get your blood pressure checked.
- 120 over 80 is normal.
- 120 – 139 over 80 – 89 is a bit higher than recommended but still in the normal range.
- 140 over 90 is considered high.
Talk to your doctor about how to control high blood pressure and get your Action Plan here.
Diabetes itself is a risk factor for heart disease. Moreover, many people with diabetes have further risk factors or health problems that increase their risk of heart disease. Diabetes can be brought on by obesity.
Solution: Make sure you keep your blood sugar levels under control – heart disease risk is increased in those with poor blood sugar control. Visit the Canadian Diabetes Association for more information about living with diabetes.
9. Drinking too much alcohol.
Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure and lead to heart disease. How much is too much? For most men it’s more than 2 drinks per day and 14 drinks per week.
Solution: Stick to the guidelines. If you don’t drink don’t start drinking because you’ve heard it’s healthy. If you already have high blood pressure, start drinking less. Click here for more information.
10. Not enough physical activity or exercise.
Almost half of all Canadian men don’t move enough – that means their risk of heart disease is doubled.
Solution: Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity every day of the week. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise – things like gardening, walking, and household chores count too. Start slowly increasing the amount of activity you do – any amount is better than nothing. Follow the link for more tips to get active.
One more thing to look out for is problems with erections. Erectile dysfunction can be a warning sign of heart disease. Blood vessels throughout your body, including your penis, can be affected by cardiovascular disease. The smaller blood vessels of the penis will often be compromised several years before the slightly larger vessels of the heart. Get more information about erectile dysfunction here.
As you can see, lifestyle factors have a huge impact on heart disease risk and health in general. Heart disease is the consequence of poor lifestyle choices and many chronic diseases. By not smoking, eating a healthy diet, losing weight and exercising you can reduce many risk factors for heart disease and improve your health overall. Although it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes it’s important for men to start thinking about preventing heart disease early in life and adopting healthy habits from an early age.
Perhaps your Valentines Day gift to your partner should be adopting new healthy heart choices .