It’s Father’s Day, and you’ve got love in your heart for the men in your life -- your husband, your dear old dad, maybe even your brother. But it seems they might not be watching after their own hearts. They ignore this vital organ at their peril: As with women, heart disease is a leading killer of Americans. More than a half million men have heart attacks each year.
Even so, fewer people have died over the past decade, largely due to more effective treatments. The American Heart Association also credits prevention efforts, such as quitting smoking. "This proves that even a little bit of awareness and doing something about the risk factors help tremendously," says Samir Kapadia, MD, an interventional cardiologist at The Cleveland Clinic.
Do you want to help a man in your life get more serious about heart health? Here are six ways to increase his heart smarts:
Encourage men to get checkups. An American Academy of Family Physicians survey found that more than half of men don’t get regular checkups -- and don’t know what their risk factors are. High blood pressure and diabetes are both known as "silent killers" because they give no clues. Yet blood pressure starts climbing once a man hits 45 (or a younger age for black men), and 24% of those with diabetes don’t know it. An annual checkup also gives men the opportunity to talk with their doctor about any concerns; erectile dysfunction, for instance, can be an early indicator of heart disease.
Help men with their diets. Keeping trim is important for heart health, but many men skip meals, snack during the day, eat a big meal loaded with fat and calories at night, and, not surprisingly, gain weight. So why not show your man he can stay fit and full with a healthy meal that’s satisfying and delicious?
Choose fish -- grilled tuna, salmon, trout, or mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids -- and add flavor with fresh herbs instead of salt, which raises blood pressure. You could also serve a glass of wine; Kapadia favors red wine, which contains compounds like flavonoids and antioxidants that might reduce heart disease risk.
Help men get exercise. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease, and although more men exercise than women, the figures aren’t impressive -- about 50% of men don’t exercise regularly, according to a CDC survey. Like women, men find lots of reasons not to work out and can get discouraged if they were athletic in high school but now find they lack stamina, Kapadia says.
Also, he notes, "many men lift weights because they want to build muscles, and they think that, when it comes to exercise, they’re all set." But men need cardiovascular exercise for heart protection, which means brisk walking, jogging, or biking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, at a pace vigorous enough to increase heart rate and break a sweat.
Help men with stress reduction. Women and men tend to handle stress differently -- women like to talk it through, while guys tend to bottle it up. Studies show that chronic stress, especially the kind that engenders fear or anger, is a risk factor for heart disease. Explore stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, meditation, and massage.
Help men quit smoking. Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, is a major cause of heart disease. And while tobacco use among men in the United States is declining, surveys suggest that 26.2 million, or almost one-quarter of the male population, still smoke.
Smoking is a hard habit to break, and support is key to success. Encourage your guy to talk to his doctor about smoking cessation aids, such as medication or nicotine substitutes in the form of patches or gum.
Help men with self-care. "When it comes to being proactive about their health and taking daily medications, men can get lax, especially with conditions that have no symptoms, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol," Kapadia says. So gently remind your man to take his pills. And let him know that some medications, such as those for high blood pressure, can cause side effects, including fatigue and problems getting an erection.
If this is the case, encourage him to talk to his doctor. "Very often, changing medications can help," Kapadia says.