A Healthy Heart

The heart is something men famously struggle with understanding.

Whether it’s not listening to it enough, not treating it right from a health standpoint or having a heart so small it drives you to ruin Christmas for an entire town, there always seems to be an issue. Each issue has its own repercussions and should be dealt with, but a healthy heart can give you the time you need to fix the other problems. So let’s put that at the top of the list.

Cardiovascular diseases are one of the most prominent diseases in men and are also one of the leading causes of death in the United States. A good way to create a healthier heart is through knowledge.

“Know your ‘numbers’ – your blood pressure, your weight and your cholesterol,” suggests Dr. Alex Garton of PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute. “If you keep those controlled, your risk going forward is controlled.”

But you can’t keep those numbers under control without knowing what each one should be. The normal blood pressure number according to the American Heart Association (AHA) is less than 120 over 80. Anything above that is considered prehypertension or hypertension, which is the medical term for high blood pressure. What doctors are measuring is the pressure in the arteries during heartbeats and in between them.

Weight, on the other hand, doesn’t have a standard measurement like blood pressure to be considered healthy, though it is suggested for men to have a waist measured at 40 inches or under. Other factors like age, race, and height go into what weight should be as well.

Cholesterol is the last of the three numbers of which to be aware. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in specific foods but can also be made naturally by the body. Having a diet that focuses on foods high in cholesterol can have an impact on your heart. Having high cholesterol can create plaque within the arteries that builds up and creates blockage. The blockage makes it harder for blood to travel to the heart and can lead to coronary heart disease. Maintaining a cholesterol level of under 200 is considered good.

Aside from knowing your numbers, another way to keep a healthy heart is through your diet. Knowing which diets produce the most success can be beneficial when choosing a diet of your own.

“The diet which has shown to provide the best heart health is the Mediterranean diet. That diet consists of olive oil, tree nuts and peanuts, fruits, vegetables, fish, white instead of red meat, legumes and a glass of wine a day,” says Dr. Garton.

Avoiding sodas and dessert foods that are high in sugar can also be helpful.

But you don’t need to swap out your whole fridge to incorporate this new way of eating. Making rash diet decisions can lead right back to the initial eating habits you were avoiding.

Dr. Eric Chan, a cardiologist at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, suggests moderation when it comes to dieting.

“Going on extreme diets can actually be harmful to your health. The bottom line is to choose a diet that you can stick with. We are focusing on long-term outcomes, not short-term results.”

Having a long and healthy life is the goal for most men, but many men experience setbacks in the form of heart attacks. The average age of first heart attacks in men is around 65 years old, and 1 in 5 men will die within a year after their first heart attack.

In the movies, they hit you like a train. A man will grab his chest, grab something else, make a shocked facial expression and then fall to the ground. Though this sudden shock factor can be common with heart attacks, it is not the only way they happen. They can show many symptoms beforehand.

“If you have any symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath, seek attention from a medical professional immediately. Keep in mind that, in addition to chest pain, you can also experience arm, neck or jaw pain,” says Dr. Chan. “If these symptoms are indeed from a heart attack, time is of the essence in terms of reversing potential permanent damage to the heart. There are many instances of people minimizing their own symptoms of true heart disease, reverting to the old adage of ‘toughing it out.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Knowing all the symptoms, numbers and diet tips are just a few of the many things there are to know when it comes to staying healthy. Through knowledge and keeping up with attending doctor’s visits, staying healthy can easily be checked off the to-do list.