Cardiovascular disease is an unavoidable topic in the wellness industry, so we cannot continue to avoid how our everyday habits impact our heart health.
5 Heart Healthy Habits for Men
Heart Healthy Habits... for Everyone, Really.
Men and women are just as likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease, and- while the root causes are the same- the paths we take as men and women are slightly different. With that said, what we suggest is applicable to everyone. Maintaining healthy habits is a crucial preventative measure to ensure a happy and strong heart!
Implementing the 5 habits below can not only strengthen your heart, but also help you evaluate your current lifestyle, address weak spots in your relationship with your body, and encourage you to prioritize the most important muscle that literally keeps your body RUNNING.
Evaluating your heart health begins with a checkup! But don't underestimate the need for a balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, stress management, and whole foods.
Checkups! An American Academy of Family Physicians survey revealed that more than half of men do not get regular/annual checkups, which also means these men do not have a bigger picture of their various risk factors. The biometric screening portion of the checkup is critical as specific measurements (cholesterol, weight/height/waist, glucose, etc) can illustrate a lot about men’s health.
Open conversations with your doctor are just as critical. What seemingly “random” signs and symptoms are you experiencing? How does your stress level affect you? Checkups are a perfect opportunity to discuss health concerns you may not feel comfortable relating to those at home. More often than we realize, these conversations with our primary care physicians can lead to potentially life-saving discoveries.
Can you answer the question: When was my last checkup?
Let's first talk about how the heart beats. The efficiency of our heart is typically qualified by our heart beat (beats per minute or bpm), during active and resting states. Just like the rest of the muscles in the body, the heart requires dedicated physical activity to feel and function optimally! Each heartbeat pumps blood to throughout the body, and blood carries oxygen - a pretty important task if you think about it. The stronger your heart, the more effective each pump is, increasing the amount of oxygen circulated and thus allowing you to work smarter and play harder!
Physical INactivity is a major risk for cardiovascular disease. Men tend to exercise more consistently than women, but half of men are still not exercising on a regular basis. Strength training (the form of exercise chosen by most men), albeit beneficial in many ways, does not offer the same benefits as cardiovascular exercise.
One way to intentionally increase your heart health is through regular cardiovascular exercise. Heart rate training can give your cardio purpose– and take the guesswork out of your routine! Several devices are available to measure these numbers in real time during your workout, but here is how to calculate your zones at home.
First, find your resting heart rate (RHR). This is your heart pumping the lowest amount of blood to circulate the oxygen your body needs. A healthy RHR is usually between 60 and 100 bpm. To determine yours, measure your heart rate before you get out of bed in the morning.
Next, find your maximum heart rate (HRmax). This is the rate at which your heart is beating when it is working its hardest to meet your body’s oxygen needs. To determine your HRmax, follow this simple formula: 220 - (age). The goal is not to work out until your heart rate reaches this number. Your workouts should stay within healthy zones for your own cardiovascular improvement!
Lastly, find your target heart rate (THR). This is a calculated percentage of your HRmax. Different zones correspond with different training levels. If you are a beginner with exercise, consult your doctor for a safe place to start.
Can you answer the question: What kind of cardiovascular exercise, if any, do I include in my exercise regimen?
Stress Management Is Crucial
While both men and women tend to bottle up their emotions, letting the stress impact their daily lives (sleep, food choices, relationships, etc.), research shows men avoid dealing with stressors more than women. Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease – a risk factor that is more difficult to “measure” (in comparison to how many servings of vegetables you eat, how often you exercise, as well as your cholesterol and glucose numbers). Having a person in your life to help you work through stressful situations, learn stress management techniques, and put things into perspective is invaluable. This person can be your best friend, spouse, doctor, or therapist.
While we have your attention, we have just a few tips to help our male counterparts to stay present, release negativity, and avoid holding onto stress.
- Do one thing at a time. Simplify your tasks by focusing on what you need to get done in the moment- no matter what it is! Say you're spending time with family or friends, try turning your phone on silent. This prevents distracting notifications from grabbing your attention, or any people not in your physical presence from taking your energy. Remain present in the moment, slow down, and enjoy the stress melt away!
- Speak kindly to yourself. As cheesy as it may sound, positive self-talk can do wonders for the soul. Rather than slip into a spiral about mistakes you've made, personal attributes you're not a fan of, or nitpicking your less than favorite behaviors, try reframing the way you think of the opportunities you've had, flaws you admire, or skills you contribute to the world around you. Instead of looking in the mirror in the morning and thinking you don't like the way you look, laugh at your bedhead, smile at yourself, and say one thing you're grateful for.
- Commit to at least one feel-good activity per week! Whether it's alone or with company, engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy can help release stress. You will contribute so much to your mental health and that of others emotional well-being! Also read more via our Social Connectedness blog.
Can you answer the question: Who do I talk to about stress or how do I mitigate stressful times in my life?
Balance Your Lifestyle Through Diet
Research shows that men skip meals just as often as women, but for various reasons. The most common reason men skip breakfast is from a lack of hunger in the morning, followed by lack of time. The same men report they snack more and end the day with a large meal consisting of mostly protein and fats. This kind of unevenly balanced meal can lead to trouble sleeping, raised glucose and cholesterol levels, and of course, feeling full and sluggish in the morning! By choosing a well-balanced breakfast consisting of whole grains, lean protein, and a small amount of healthy fat, you are setting the tone for the rest of the day. Resetting your food choices and being intentional with how you fuel your body in the morning can increase both focus and energy levels.
Can you answer the question: How does my dietary lifestyle support or hurt my heart health?
Embrace Your Influence
While many health conditions and diseases “run in the family,” our genetics only contributes to 10-30% of our risk for most chronic illnesses. This means that 70-90% of our risk is due to lifestyle and environmental factors! That is a lot of influence WE have on our health and well-being. Talk with your doctor about your genetic risk in conjunction with your daily lifestyle.
Can you answer the question: What can I do to embrace my influence and improve my overall health with information received from my doctor?