9 Heart Health Mistakes Commonly Made by Men
Many of the mistakes that men make related to heart health are due to good intentions. What is good for one area of your health may not work as well when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. Plus, we all want to think that we’re healthier than we actually may be.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, men have a higher risk for heart disease than women and develop heart disease at an average of 10 years earlier than women do. Studies reveal that the higher risk is due to behavioral, biological, and psychosocial factors. For example, men tend to be less adaptive to stressful events than women. They’re also more likely to drink and smoke to excess.
Being more aware of heart disease risks and changing a few habits can put you on the road to better heart health throughout your life.
However, you need to know what you might inadvertently be doing wrong before you can change your habits. Let’s look more closely at the nine heart health mistakes men make that put them at a higher risk for heart problems.
Failing To Get Regular Checkups affects heart health
If you feel healthy, it’s easy to forgo getting a regular checkup. But regular checkups can help you catch problems before they have deadly consequences, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Men of any age can have heart problems and not even notice them without a doctor running tests.
If you’re under 50, you should have a medical checkup every 3-5 years. Meanwhile, men over 50 should have a checkup yearly. You should also check your blood pressure at least once every two years. You should check it more often if you have high blood pressure or are at risk of developing high blood pressure.
As far as cholesterol goes, you should check it every five years between the ages of 18 and 44. However, you should check it more often if you’re over 44, have a family history of high cholesterol, or are at high risk for high cholesterol.
Ignoring Heart-Related Symptoms
It’s not uncommon for men to chalk up heart attack symptoms to something else. Surely, those chest pains are from acid reflux, you’re out of breath because you’re out of shape, or you tire easily because you’re getting older. Right?
But sometimes, these symptoms can be the signs of an impending heart attack or advanced cardiovascular disease instead. Symptoms that could indicate heart problems include:
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness, pressure, or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Leg or arm pain, weakness, numbness, or coldness
- Neck, jaw, throat, back, or upper abdomen pain
- Racing, slow, pounding, or fluttering heartbeat
- Heart rhythm changes
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Feeling faint or fainting
- Leg, ankle, or foot swelling
Eating a High Protein Diet
High protein diets are popular with men who are athletes or trying to build up their strength. Keto and low-carb diets are all the rage in the 2020s. And what man doesn’t enjoy grilling outside when the weather turns nice?
While protein is a part of a balanced diet, it’s important to note that many higher protein foods are also higher in saturated and trans fats, which are not necessarily heart-healthy.
Be sure that you’re choosing high-protein foods that are heart-healthy or are being smart about how much you eat. Heart-healthy foods high in protein include:
- Lean cuts of red meat. Limit red meat to 12 ounces per week for optimal heart health.
- Eggs: Eat no more than six eggs per week if you’re at risk for heart disease.
- Skinless poultry: Poultry can have a neutral impact on heart health when eaten alongside a heart-healthy diet.
- Fish and seafood: Oily fish are high in omega-3 fats, which increase your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
- Beans, nuts, and seeds: Eating legumes instead of meat can help to lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables can contribute in a positive way to your heart health.
Eating 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day can help lower your chance of a heart attack, while eating five cups may decrease your risk of premature death by 31% and your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% for as long as you keep up this healthy practice.
Studies indicate that fruits and vegetables that provide heart health benefits include:
- Citrus (such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons)
- Leafy green vegetables (such as lettuce, spinach, and kale)
- Cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts)
The study also shows eating salads as meals as being healthy.
Not Limiting Saturated Fat Intake
Eating too much saturated fat raises your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, putting you at higher risk for heart disease. Research suggests a diet that only consists of 5%-6% calories from saturated fat. So if you’re eating 2,000 calories per day, only 120 of those calories should come from saturated fat.
Saturated fats are the types of fats that are solid at room temperature. Some sources of saturated fats are:
- Meat fat
- Palm and palm kernel oil
Instead, try to incorporate more lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken, fish, nuts, vegetable oils, and low-fat dairy into your diet.
When we think about the risks of smoking, we usually think about lung cancer and other breathing-related problems. However, smoking can have an effect on the cardiovascular system as well. One in every four deaths from cardiovascular disease can be attributed to smoking.
If you’re between the ages of 65 and 75 and have smoked more than 100 cigarettes over your lifetime, you should have a one-time ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms. If you have a family history of the disease, you should have regular screenings starting at age 60.
The effects of drinking alcohol on your heart are complex. If you know that you are at risk for heart problems, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to drink at all.
Having two drinks per day may protect some men from heart disease. It raises “good” (HDL) cholesterol, prevents blood clots, and prevents damage from “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Two drinks per day equate to 24 ounces of beer or wine coolers, 10 ounces of wine, or 3 ounces of 80-proof liquor such as vodka or whiskey.
However, regular high consumption of alcohol can harm your heart through heart disease and raised blood pressure.
Binge drinking can also cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). Binge drinking for men is the consumption of 5 or more drinks within two hours, which equates to 60 ounces of beer or wine coolers, 25 ounces of wine, or 7.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Not Accounting for Risk Factors
If you have a family history of heart disease or your doctor has diagnosed you with anything that puts you at risk for heart disease, you shouldn’t ignore it. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. If you have risk factors for heart disease and don’t make adjustments to account for them, you’re putting your health and life at risk.
What are significant predictors of heart disease in men? The CDC lists the following as the leading risk factors for heart disease:
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol
- Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
- Eating unhealthy food
- Not getting enough physical activity
Even if you don’t have any outstanding risk factors, you’re putting yourself at risk if you’re eating a lot of fast food and/or living a sedentary lifestyle.
Not Managing Stress
One factor that puts men at higher risk than women from heart issues is their inability to handle stress as well. Do you blow your top easily in heavy traffic? Do you come home wound up from work problems every day – and need a beer to relax?
Your body increases cortisol levels in response to stress. Over time, high levels of cortisol in your body can increase your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease. High stress can also promote plaque buildup in your arteries.
Day-to-day stress is hard enough on your heart. But undergoing extreme stress from trauma can affect your heart even more. In rare cases, sudden stress can lead directly to a heart attack.
Some healthy ways to handle stress include:
- Practicing meditation techniques that can be applied in stressful situations
- Lower your caffeine intake, or try quit it altogether
- Learning to say “no” to requests that may add to your stress level
- Engaging in relaxing activities that don’t include substances
- Going for a walk (and engaging in exercise in general)
- Undergoing treatment from a therapist or doctor for depression and anxiety
What Can Men Do To Reduce Their Risk for Heart Disease?
We’ve talked about heart health mistakes men make. But men can also take steps to correct those mistakes.
Here are some of the ways you can reduce your risk for heart disease:
- Get a checkup every 3-5 years if you’re under 50 years old and yearly if you’re over 50.
- Don’t ignore heart-related symptoms.
- Choose proteins that are low in saturated fats.
- Eat 2.5-5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Only get 5%-6% of your calories from saturated fat each day.
- Stop smoking.
- Drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, or consider giving up drinking if you have heart issues (ask your doctor for their recommendation).
- Make the proper life adjustments to account for increased heart disease risks.
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms to help your stress.
It’s never too late to fix some of these heart health mistakes. Even by implementing some of these changes every day, you can reduce your risk of heart problems overall.
Kate is the communications director for the American Medical Resource Institute, where they’ve trained over a million healthcare professionals to study for, earn and maintain life support certifications that allow them to better respond to cardiac emergencies. When not in the office, you can find Kate practicing her tennis skills. She also frequents live music venues and is always looking for her next creative hobby.