View All Articles

Take Charge of Your Heart While You Are Still Healthy

As men age into their 50s and 60s, the risk for heart disease increases substantially. But it’s not as if someone flips a switch that suddenly makes you more vulnerable.

Instead, cardiac disease is the result of exposing your heart to a variety of risk factors starting as early as your 20s and 30s. This accumulation of damage is responsible for making heart disease the leading cause of death for men in the United States, accounting for about one in four deaths.

One of the most important things to know about heart disease is that it is much easier to prevent than it is to treat. There are many steps you can take, including lifestyle changes and working with a cardiologist, to improve your odds of avoiding a range of heart conditions.

The time to do this is when you are still relatively young, rather than waiting until you feel sick.

Common Heart Conditions

Heart disease includes numerous disorders of your heart and the network of blood vessels that supplies your body with the oxygen and nutrients its needs to thrive. The most common condition is coronary artery disease, where cholesterol deposits accumulate in your arteries, restricting the flow of blood. Often the condition goes unnoticed in its early stages. But as it progresses, symptoms include:

  • Chest pain (also known as angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Swelling in your hands or feet
  • Heart attack

Other conditions include abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), heart valve disease, abnormal heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and heart failure. Blood flow issues can also cause cerebrovascular diseases, which can lead to stroke.

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that can increase your chances of developing heart disease. One way to break them down is to look the ones you can’t control and those that you can change through medications and lifestyle/diet.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about your genetics or a family history of heart disease. Some families pass along genetic factors that make you more susceptible to heart diseases and some of the key risk factors, including high blood pressure. Your age also contributes, with your risk increasing with each passing year. Some ethnic groups are also more vulnerable, including African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

There are, however, several risk factors you can control. Those include:

  • Smoking: Tobacco use is linked to a range of health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
  • High cholesterol: This can lead to fatty deposits in your blood vessels, making your heart work harder.
  • High blood pressure: Your arteries can be damaged by the extra force of the blood flow, making them less elastic.
  • Obesity: This makes you more likely to develop conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Diabetes: Critical blood vessels and nerves can be damaged by high blood sugar.
  • Unhealthy diet: Eating too much saturated fats, salt and cholesterol is linked to heart disease.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption: Drinking too much can increase your blood pressure and triglycerides, a fatty substance in your blood.

Protecting Against Heart Disease

While there’s nothing you can do about your genetics and other unmodifiable risk factors, you can take control of other important heart elements.

Decide to create a healthier environment for your heart. Start with what you eat. Among the better diets for your heart is the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce your risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in your arteries) and heart attack.

Cutting down on salt can lower your blood pressure. Focus on fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, healthier oils and fats (olive oil, for example) and whole grains. Limit your consumption of red meats, fried foods, sugar, saturated fats, refined carbohydrates (white breads and pastries, for example) and alcohol.

You also need to get your body moving. Regular exercise can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. You don’t need to be running marathons or biking 100 miles a day. Even simple exercise, like a brisk walk, will help significantly. The key is to build it into your life as something you do at least five days a week for 30 minutes at a time.

And when diet and exercise aren’t enough, your doctor can prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Related Articles