Men’s Health: Listen to Your Heart Health this MovemberheadingContent
November is Men’s Health Month and I want to take this opportunity to talk about heart disease and us, men, the not so stronger gender.
Even though the majority of people who die of coronary artery disease (the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to a heart attack) are 65 or older, there are recent trends in industrialized countries, pointing to an increase in the incidence of coronary artery disease among younger people. Although coronary artery disease affects both men and women, men have a greater risk of having a heart attack than women do, and men have attacks earlier in life.
Research has identified factors that increase a person’s risk for heart disease and heart attack. The more risk factors one has, the higher the chance of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. Some of these risk factors cannot be changed, but there are many factors that we can modify to improve our heart health.
Major risk factors that we can modify include:
- Tobacco smoking
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Diabetes mellitus
Cigarette smoking interacts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary artery disease. Exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers. High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart muscle to thicken and stiffen; this increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. High cholesterol directly affects all arteries including the heart arteries. An inactive lifestyle negatively affects our heart health. Physical activity can help control cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. It can also help to lower blood pressure in some people.
In fact, recent medical research has shown that physical activity is associated with longevity in patients with coronary artery disease and an even minor increase in physical activity over two years lowers the risk for cardiac death. For those of us above a healthy weight, a sustained weight loss of three to five percent of your body weight may lead to significant reductions in some risk factors. Greater sustained weight losses can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The impact of diabetes on coronary artery disease is markedly higher in younger men. The risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well-controlled. Cardiac specialists can help identify risk factors.
Major risk factors that we cannot change include:
- Increasing age
- Male gender
- Family history of heart disease
Most people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older but there is evidence that the disease is affecting younger people. Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease themselves. Certain populations are more affected than others. For example, African-Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians, and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican-Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian-Americans.
As you can see, the so called stronger gender is not so strong after all since male gender is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. The good news is that by changing our life styles we can modify or even eliminate many of the major risk factors. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends focusing on heart disease prevention early in life. To start, let’s assess our risk factors with cardiac specialists and work to keep them low. The sooner we identify and manage our risk factors, the better our chances of leading a heart-healthy life.