If you’re a guy, you’re not only more likely to nap with one hand on your junk, you’re more likely to die of a heart attack. Heart disease is the leading killer of men in the United States, according to the CDC, and even though you may think you’re not “that guy”, an estimated 790,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, and most of them are men.
There are numerous types of heart disease, but the kind we’re talking about here is the preventable kind — the one that can be wholly prevented with a healthy lifestyle and a careful eye on your health.
A short side bar: You probably already know this stuff. But American men continue to drop dead of heart attacks, so apparently something’s not getting through. Knowing how to prevent heart disease isn’t enough. You have to take action. So stop sitting on your ass and ordering take-out. Don’t wait for chest pains to wonder if you’ve been doing enough for long-term health. Stop bullshitting yourself — this isn’t just about your waistline; it’s about your life.
TL;DR: What you Need to Know About Preventing Heart Disease
- There are some heart attack risk factors beyond your control, but many you can do something about.
- Eat a healthy diet, consistently.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Check-in with your doctor annually to ensure your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are within healthy ranges.
- Manage the effects of stress in your life. It’s not only important for your mental health, but your heart health.
Know the Risk Factors of Heart Disease
A risk factor is a characteristic that makes you more likely to develop a certain condition . In this case, heart disease. Some risk factors are beyond your control — your sex, for example. Others, however, are completely your doing.
The many risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:
- Age: The older you are, the greater your chances of heart disease.
- Sex: Men are more likely to suffer from heart disease than women.
- Family history: If heart disease, and particularly early age heart disease, is present in your family, you’re at a greater risk.
- Smoking: No shit.
- Overweight or obese.
- High blood pressure.
- High blood cholesterol levels.
- Stress: Chronic stress can damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors such as high blood pressure.
- Unhealthy diet.
Even if several of these risk factors apply to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to suffer a heart attack. There is still time. Keep an eye out for early symptoms now, and consistently take steps to lessen the impact of these risks starting today.
Know the Signs
Watching for the signs of heart disease involves more than thinking, “Oh my god, is this it?” every time you feel a chest pain. Sure, chest pain is the most recognizable sign that you’re suffering a heart attack, but there are many other (earlier) clues as well:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and pressure
- Neck, jaw, throat and pain
- High heart rate
- Pain, numbness, or cold in your arms and legs
- Swelling of feet, ankles, and legs
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Erectile dysfunction
Take Action Early to Reduce Your Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Don’t wait until you start experiencing signs of heart disease to take steps to prevent it. Obviously the goal here is to avoid it in the first place. Fortunately, that’s relatively easy, particularly if you start early.
Preventing heart disease is really a matter of living a healthy lifestyle and incorporating four basic tenets: eating right, exercising, combating the effects of stress, and monitoring your health with regular visits to the doctor. The first three of these activities will help you manage your weight, one of the biggest determinants of heart disease risk.
(We’re going to assume you don’t smoke here, as that’s a no-brainer. If you do, stop. That’s kindergarten-level prevention.)
1. Eat Right.
Assuming you’re operating from a basic level of intelligence: You know what you should be eating. Given a choice between a pizza loaded with meats and beer or grilled salmon with vegetables and a glass of red wine, you know which is the heart-healthy option. Again, knowing isn’t enough — you have to take action.
Take consistent steps to:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Like as many as you can stand.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Avoid high-sodium foods and skip the table salt.
- Limit saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are those found in red meat and full fat dairy products. Trans fats are found in deep fried foods, baked goods, margarine, and packaged snacks like cookies and chips.
- Eat more fish. Aim for two to four servings per week.
Thirty minutes, five times a week. That’s the official exercise recommendation for preventing heart disease. If you find a form (or several forms) of physical activity that you actually enjoy, five 30-minute sessions is pretty damn easy — you could probably do even more. So, make finding enjoyable exercise goal number one.
Schedule your physical activity like you would any other engagement, and don’t flake out on yourself. Creating an exercise habit may seem daunting at first, but once you see and feel the results, it gets much easier.
3. Manage Stress.
Keeping stress at bay is a lifelong challenge for many men. But managing your stress can help you make dramatic improvements on your health. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to make poor choices — you may drink more, smoke, and order take-out instead of cooking a healthier option.
Fortunately, if you’re already doing #2, exercising, you’re one step closer to managing stress. Add to that some meditation, or scheduled down-time, and you’re well on your way to living a little more carefree.
If stressful situations just seem to follow you wherever you go, it may be time to reevaluate some of the people and circumstances you keep around you. An asshole boss, dysfunctional relationship, or a job you just can’t stand — if you can’t change how these things make you feel, you may need to remove them from your life entirely. I mean, you’re doing it for your health.
4. Check Your Stats.
Knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels check out is a great way to ensure your efforts on the above prevention measures are actually working. Visit your doctor once a year for a check-up and lab work. Identifying early risk factors here can ensure you stave off more serious problems down the road.