When is the last time you thought about your heartbeat? No matter what you’re doing, day and night, your heart is hard at work pumping blood that carries oxygen and nutrients all through your body. Scientists estimate that your heart beats about 100,000 times a day.
You need to take care of your heart so it can keep taking care of you. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, and a lot of people who have heart disease don’t know it until they experience a major symptom like a heart attack or heart failure.
The good news is there are simple preventive steps you can take now to keep your heart beating strong and avoid the main risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
In honor of Men’s Health Month in June, we are sharing 5 steps to heart health:
1. Visit the Doctor
During our 32 years of service, we have found that men tend to wait to see the doctor until it’s absolutely necessary, which makes it difficult to diagnose a chronic disease and start a timely treatment.
If you have any of the conditions listed above, visiting your doctor regularly can help keep them in check so they don’t lead to more serious illnesses.
Even if you have not been diagnosed with these conditions, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor at least once a year for a physical to ensure you catch any concerns early. Lifestyle changes, age, stress, and genetics can all lead to shifts in your health that you may not notice right away.
2. Eat Healthy
A balanced diet is good for your overall health, and especially your heart. You don’t have to change your whole diet in one day, but making small, sustainable changes over time can lead to healthier habits. Here are some examples:
- Incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Try adding antioxidant-rich berries like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to your morning cereal or smoothie, sneak some spinach into your sandwiches, or if craving a crunchy snack, try sugar snap peas or cucumbers with lemon, a healthy flavor enhancer.
- Cook with less salt. Experiment with spices to add flavor, and swap out sodium-rich cheese for nutritional yeast, which has a similar savory taste. A tip from our Director of Nutrition Maiyu Fernandez: “When cooking with spices, think of typical regional flavor combinations – when making an Italian dish try adding oregano or rosemary, or for a Middle-Eastern dish try turmeric, cinnamon, and paprika. For any cuisine, garlic and onion will provide a huge flavor boost to your food.”
- Limit your alcohol consumption to two drinks a day at most, and your heart and body will thank you later. One drink is equal to 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
- Hydrate! Aim to drink 8 cups of water a day on average. If you are craving a soda, try flavored seltzer drinks – plenty of fizz without the sugar. Another tip from our Mary’s Center Nutritionists: Freeze orange or lemon slices, and use those instead of ice cubes to cool your water while also adding a refreshing taste.
Regular exercise keeps your heart happy by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of diabetes and obesity, and even improving your mood.
Starting an exercise regimen can sound intimidating, but exercise really just means moving your body. Adding movement to your day can be as simple as taking a walk, cleaning, or fixing things around your home.
Ideally, adults should exercise about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week at a minimum, but every bit counts.
The best way to make exercise part of your routine is finding physical activities you enjoy, like going for a jog with a friend, playing soccer, taking a hike, or gardening. “You can even try putting music on and dancing for 30 minutes,” recommends our Physician Assistant Mable Dunn.
“If you feel like you don’t have time,” says Mable, “try fitting in quick sets of push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, or squats when commercials come on while you watch TV. Limiting screen time will also give you more time to exercise.”
4. Quit Smoking
We always hear how smoking cigarettes is bad for your lungs, but frequent smoking damages your heart and blood vessels, too. The nicotine in cigarettes also raises your blood pressure, which adds to your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Nicotine makes cigarettes addictive, and many people who try to quit on their own deal with withdrawal symptoms like nausea, cravings, irritability, anger, anxiety, headaches, and insomnia.
Having the right support to address both the physical addiction and psychological habit of smoking is key. Our Community Health Education Associate Director Rosa Goyes recommends speaking to your provider about FDA-approved treatments.
These types of treatments, says Goyes, offer low doses of nicotine in different forms, along with counseling and support, to make quitting more manageable.
Like healthy eating and exercise, altering your smoking habit won’t happen overnight, but our Mary’s Center team is here for you every step of the way.
5. Care for Your Mental Health
Men often avoid seeking mental health treatment, but it’s important to remember that your mental health is closely linked to your physical health, especially heart health.
People who don’t take steps to manage emotional challenges are more likely to rely on unhealthy coping strategies like binging unhealthy foods or alcohol, smoking cigarettes, avoiding an active lifestyle, or engaging in other behaviors leading to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity – the main risk factors for heart disease.
Mental illnesses are not a sign of weakness. If you struggle with an illness like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you are not alone; over 6 million men suffer from depression every year. These are diseases like any other and are best handled with a support system of friends, family members, and professionals.
If you are experiencing any mental health symptoms, please bring this up with your Mary’s Center provider team, who are always ready to listen and help.