Men’s Heart Health: A Guide to a Stronger Heart

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States since 1921, and it’s the leading cause of death for men and women. However, men tend to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than women. Heart disease is a leading cause of unexpected mortality in men of all races and ethnicities. Among white men, it affects 1 in 13; among black men, 1 in 14; and among Hispanic men, 1 in 17.

Some risk variables, such as age, gender, and family history, are beyond our control. For example, having a parent with coronary artery disease raises your chance of developing heart disease. That’s particularly true if that parent had the condition at a young age: 55 for male relatives (like your brother or father) and 65 for female relatives (like your mother or sister).

However, men can do a lot to reduce their chances of heart disease. Some of the steps require big changes and significant commitments. This guide on men’s heart health will also show how a few simple adjustments can make a big difference.

Recognizing symptoms and early signs of heart disease

Heart disease can manifest through various symptoms, depending on the specific condition affecting the heart. Symptoms of heart disease that affects the blood vessels (coronary artery disease) often include:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, or coldness in the extremities due to narrowed blood vessels
  • Pain in the jaw, throat, neck, upper abdomen or back

Symptoms of coronary artery disease may manifest differently in males and females. As an example, chest discomfort is more common in males.

Irregular heartbeats (heart arrhythmias) can cause symptoms such as:

  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Rapid or slow heartbeats
  • Dizziness and fainting spells

Congenital heart defects, present from birth, may not show symptoms until adulthood but can include:

  • Shortness of breath during exercise or activity
  • Tiring easily from exercise or activity
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, or hands

Cardiomyopathy, or diseased heart muscle, often presents with:

  • Shortness of breath during exertion or rest, when trying to sleep or upon waking up
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet

Heart valve problems (valvular heart disease) can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which part of the heart is affected. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue and fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Recognizing symptoms early can lead to timely medical intervention and improved outcomes.

Identifying and managing risk factors

Understanding the risk factors for heart disease is key to your overall health. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of developing heart disease.

  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Little to no exercise or physical activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use
  • Poor dental health
  • High amounts of stress

The critical role of stress and its management

Stress is not only a factor on its own, it can exacerbate other risk factors. When the body is constantly under stress, it releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause long-term damage if not controlled. Whether it’s scheduling regular meditation or massage sessions or doing anything else that helps you relax and unwind, finding ways to reduce stress should be part of your daily routine.

Blood pressure and heart health

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart disease in men. It contributes to conditions like heart attacks and strokes by causing damage to arteries and the heart itself. To maintain healthy blood pressure, men should adopt lifestyle changes such as regular aerobic exercise, a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and stress management. Limiting alcohol consumption, reducing sodium intake, and avoiding smoking are also critical for controlling blood pressure. Regular health check-ups and adhering to prescribed medications can further help keep blood pressure within a healthy range​​.

High blood pressure is a detriment to men’s heart health and a significant risk factor for heart disease

The effects of alcohol

Reducing alcohol intake to keep your blood pressure down may confer other benefits for the heart. It had been thought that moderate alcohol might be beneficial for cardiovascular health, but newer research has failed to find any advantages. There seems to be no impact on heart health from light alcohol use, defined as one drink or fewer per week. Even moderate drinking seems to be neutral for heart health. (Moderate is one or two drinks a week for a man — with a drink being 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.)

Consuming more than that can increase your risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart failure. Heavy drinking also is a risk factor for cardiomyopathy, a disease that damages the heart muscle. Drinking can lead to other problems that affect the heart, like weight gain, obesity, hypertension, and excessive triglycerides.

Cholesterol: Knowing your numbers

Cholesterol is essential for cell growth and repair. Excessive amounts, however, put you at risk for cardiovascular disease due to the accumulation of fatty deposits in your arteries, which makes it harder for enough blood to flow through. Your diet, weight, degree of physical activity, and genetics all have a role in determining your cholesterol levels. Talking with your doctor and getting your cholesterol levels tested are the best ways to know for sure whether you have high cholesterol. If so, changing things to create a more healthy lifestyle can help bring your cholesterol levels down. If that doesn’t work, you might need to take cholesterol medication.

Exercise: The heart of men’s health

Your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure all benefit from regular exercise. Plus, exercising regularly may boost your attitude, general wellness, and problem-solving abilities.

Regular exercise reduced mortality risk by approximately 25% in a men’s trial that lasted for a decade, and that was after controlling for other risk variables. An ideal amount of time to exercise each week is 2.5 hours, but even shorter sessions can have a significant impact. Being consistent is key.

Exercise also can reduce inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease.

Ways to incorporate regular exercise into your routine:

  • Consistent walking, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day.
  • Practice yoga in a studio or at home.
  • Cycling, whether on a road cycle or a stationary one.
  • Get active by playing a sport, going skating, playing tennis, skiing, or engaging in some other activity.

Physical activity: More than just exercise

There are several alternatives to conventional exercise that can help men maintain an active lifestyle and lower the risk of heart disease. Simple, everyday changes will have a big impact, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator, riding a bike or walking to work, or going for a quick walk during a lunch break.

You can even turn everyday activities, such as gardening, playing with pets, or leisure sports, into sessions of physical activity. If your work involves sitting at a desk, you may want to consider getting a standing desk. One study shows that standing desks help reduce fasting blood glucose and body fat mass, both of which play a role in heart disease.

Two men ride bicycles. Physical activity and exercise are important for men’s heart health

Nutrition and diet: Foundations of heart health

Key components in avoiding heart disease include maintaining appropriate weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure via the consumption of a nutrient-rich, balanced diet. A diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables and low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol contribute to overall heart health. Among the many benefits are good circulation and a reduced risk of arterial plaque accumulation.

Eating salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and heart-healthy nut varieties like almonds and walnuts are great ways to achieve a heart-healthy diet. For optimal cholesterol health, eat whole grains such as quinoa and oats. You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from leafy greens. Drinking plenty of water is also essential for your general health, and green tea has antioxidants that make it a good beverage choice for better heart health.

Other prevention strategies for men’s heart health

Hypertension, obesity, and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and poor sleep quality or lack of sleep may contribute to these conditions. You should aim to get six to eight hours of good sleep every night to help your heart and brain recover and function at their best.

Routine check-ups allow for timely intervention and proper lifestyle adjustments. In addition to visiting your primary care doctor, you need to schedule regular appointments with your dentist and eye doctor, since they can help you identify risk factors you have for heart disease.

And, last but not least, don’t smoke. It damages blood vessels and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting may cut your risk of heart disease in half.

Getting help from experts

Men suffering from heart disease can get all-encompassing treatment at the Florida Medical Clinic’s Cardiology Department. To correctly diagnose cardiac issues, our board-certified cardiologists create individualized treatment programs that use cutting-edge diagnostic testing, including stress tests and echocardiograms. In addition to medication management, we provide interventional procedures such as angioplasty and stenting. By helping patients modify their lifestyles and maintaining frequent monitoring, our clinic places an emphasis on preventative treatment and the management of risk factors. Request an appointment on our website or call (813) 780-8440 today.

Meet Dr. Failla

Dr. Athena Failla is an Internal Medicine physician with Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health. She earned her MD from Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in Miami.

Dr. Failla was born in New York City and relocated to Tampa as a child. Her medical interests include preventative health and public health. When not caring for her patients, Dr. Failla enjoys cooking, baking, reading, playing piano and spending her time outdoors and with her family.


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