Author: S. Scott Wiggins, M.D., F.A.C.C.
With Father’s Day approaching, this provides an excellent opportunity to promote men’s health. Given that heart disease is the leading killer of Americans and that more than half a million men will have a heart attack each year, let’s spend a little time reminding that special man in your life several ways to improve his heart health. Unfortunately, all too often your father, husband or brothers fail to watch after their own health and ignore this vital organ.
The good news is that with a little bit of personal awareness and more effective treatments, fewer people have died over the past decade. The American Heart Association credits prevention efforts such as smoking cessation with better outcomes. There is a considerable amount of scientific evidence confirming that even a little bit of risk factor modification can make a substantial difference in whether someone suffers a heart attack. Let’s look at six ways to improve men’s heart health.
1. Encourage men to get checkups.
More than half of all men don’t get regular checkups and don’t know what their risk factors are, according to a published survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians. That means they are less apt to get important routine tests for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. High blood pressure and diabetes are both described as “silent killers” as they have little or no symptoms. Blood pressure typically starts climbing once a man hits age 45 (even younger for African-American men), and at least a quarter of those men with diabetes don’t know it. Furthermore, men are much less likely to report symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath to a physician. Erectile dysfunction, a topic men are reluctant to discuss, can be an indicator of heart disease as well.
What to do: If you can’t remember your last physical exam, try to get one as soon as possible and quickly report any symptoms that suggest something’s “not right.”
2. Encourage men to eat healthy.
Keeping trim is not only good for your heart, it may reduce the risk of diabetes. Type II diabetes (insulin resistance) is directly associated with obesity, a major and growing problem in Americans. A stressful life frequently leads to many men skipping meals, snacking on empty calories and eating late at night. Not surprisingly, these high-caloric, fat-loaded meals lead to weight gain. This localized weight gain around the belt line called “visceral fat” has a strong correlation with the development of heart disease. Besides portion control, the American Heart Association and many nutritionists support a more plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Choose fish as a good protein source. Cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines all contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to be heart healthy. Consider pistachios or walnuts, which have antioxidants, as a healthier snack alternative.
What to do: Clean out your refrigerator and pantry of processed foods. Start preparing meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, use mono- or polyunsaturated plant-based cooking oils, look for heart-healthy recipes and quit eating out so much.
3. Encourage men to exercise.
According to the C.D.C., half of all men don’t exercise regularly. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease, contributes to obesity and increases the incidence of diabetes. Men who choose to exercise frequently focus their efforts on resistance and weight training. While this can burn calories and build muscle, cardiovascular or aerobic training is necessary for heart protection. Brisk walking, jogging or biking for 30 minutes a day five times a week at a pace vigorous enough to raise heart rate and break a sweat is all that is needed.
What to do: Make sure a doctor agrees you’re healthy enough and start an exercise program today. Not only will you feel and look better, but you will also reduce your stress cortisol hormone levels and reduce inflammation, both of which are linked to heart disease and heart attack.
4. Encourage men to reduce their stress.
Women and men deal with stress differently. The ladies like to talk it through, while guys tend to bottle it up. Studies show that chronic stress, especially anger, is an independent risk factor for heart disease. While stress itself isn’t something that makes you sick, some pressure is actually good for productivity and motivation. It can also trigger a cascade of biological responses that can be deleterious to your health. Uncontrolled anger and fear can cause the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, which goes to the liver and releases sugar, which is typically needed to fight and be alert, important when dealing with sabertoothed tigers. However, over time, this can lead to diabetes, weight gain and chronic inflammation. Next, you have the release of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, which cause the heart rate and blood pressure to elevate. In turn, cholesterol goes up, the blood vessels constrict, and blood platelets get stickier, all contributing to the increased risk of heart attack associated with stress.
What to do: Explore stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga and relaxation exercises, meditation, prayer and massage.
5. Encourage men to stop smoking.
The fact that one even has to explain this speaks to the extremely addictive properties of tobacco. Tobacco is an undisputed major cause of heart disease, and while its use among U.S. males has declined, surveys suggest that more than 25 million or almost one-quarter of men in America still smoke. There is the added concern that a new generation of smokers will be spawned by the introduction of vaporizers and e-cigs.
What to do: Smoking is a hard habit to break. Support is the key to success. Get help from family, friends and your doctor. Consider smoking cessation aids such as medication and nicotine substitutes. Change your work and home environment. Smoking is both a chemical addiction and a behavioral “habit.” Make a quit date on the calendar and stick to it.
6. Encourage men with self-care.
After having identified the risks and medical conditions associated with heart disease, it is necessary to follow through. Men can be lax in taking daily medications for conditions that have little or no symptoms like hypertension and high cholesterol. Likewise, they may be reluctant to take a medication that can cause side effects such as fatigue or erectile dysfunction.
What to do: Give gentle reminders and support. Have him talk to his doctor about any side effects. Often, a change in the medication or dose can remedy any problems and keep him on course.
Dr. S. Scott Wiggins is a senior practice partner with Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists, located at 1453 E. Bert Kouns. He is triple board-certified in adult cardiology, cardiac electrophysiology and internal medicine. Dr. Wiggins accepts new patients and referrals. For more information or to make an appointment, call 318-798-9400 or visit www.ACSdoctors.com.
This article was first published in the June issue of 318 Forum Magazine June 5, 2019.