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February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans even though it is largely preventable.
More specifically, more than half a million men have heart attacks every year and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all American men younger than 40 will develop heart disease during their lifetimes.
Lifestyle habits are the primary cause for heart disease. Poor diet, tobacco use, physical inactivity and the stress that life brings us all contribute to poor heart health.
Let’s look at some ways to reduce our risk for heart disease and live healthier lives.
Get checkups. We take our cars in for tuneups and regular maintenance but we often times neglect our own health. Surveys have indicated more than half of men do not get regular checkups. Conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes are known as silent killers because they do not show any clues. Men can expect blood pressure to start to rise around the age of 45. Undergoing an annual checkup will allow men to talk with their doctors about any health concerns that can indicate heart disease such as erectile dysfunction.
Eat healthy. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important to heart health. Skipping meals, snacking on foods high in fat and sugar and loading up with a big meal in the evening all contribute to weight gain. Try to get the most out of your daily calories. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Look to purchase whole-wheat products. Eat more fish. Try to use herbs for flavor instead of salt. Salt raises blood pressure. Diet does not have to be a four-letter word. Healthy meals can be delicious and satisfying.
Exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all American men do not get enough exercise. Brisk walking, jogging, bicycling and swimming all are great ways to build heart strength and health. This needs to be done for 30 minutes a day, five days a week and in an intensity that increases the heart rate and produces a sweat. Find something you enjoy doing so you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
Stop tobacco use. Although tobacco use is down, it still is estimated that a quarter of the male population smokes or uses spit tobacco. The use of these products can have a devastating effect on heart health. Quitting can be a very difficult thing to do but very well worth it. Talk to your doctor about medications to help you quit and/or nicotine replacement therapy. Or email me at the health department or contact the education department at Hardin Memorial Hospital for more information.
Reduce stress and anger. Women tend to talk their stress away while men bottle it up. Chronic stress or anger is a risk factor for heart disease. Find ways to reduce the stress in your life such as using relaxation techniques, deep breathing, exercise or a hobby to relieve your stress. If you’re a sports fan like I am, you might even have to walk away from watching a game to reduce your stress and, more likely the case, anger. If your children and pets all leave the room every time your favorite team is playing, then you might want to take a deep breath, pick up the remote and check out the History Channel or take a walk.
This thing called life can be a long and bumpy road at times. That’s why it’s so important to get our lifestyles under control so we can function and perform in an efficient way.
Again, just as we schedule maintenance for our cars, men need to overcome our fear of doctor’s offices and get in there to make sure everything is in good working order before it’s too late.
Donny Gill is a health educator at the Hardin County Health Department. He can be reached at email@example.com.