4 Simple Changes Add Up To Heart Health
The number one killer of men is cardiovascular disease. And yet studies show that many of those deaths could be prevented with some modest changes to lifestyle. Still, less than 2 percent of American men have made those changes. Have you? Read on to find out the 4 simple changes that you can make to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 86 percent.
By making these changes you can start to take charge of your health. And you can protect yourself from dangerous drugs. As you may recall, in previous articles we’ve explored the dangers of popular statin drugs, including increased risk of diabetes and muscle damage among others. And we’ve also recently seen how daily aspirin can pose a serious threat. By doing the four things I’ll share with you in this article, you can improve your health by far more than any drug can do.
About The Study
A Swedish research group wanted to know what can men do to improve their cardiovascular health. They studied over 20,000 men aged 45 and up for 11 years. The researchers kept track over more than a decade of lifestyle factors, including diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and exercise.
According to the results, four lifestyle choices stand out as reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. Those are:
● not smoking
● a healthy diet
● low alcohol consumption
● regular exercise
Of course, none of this comes as a huge surprise. But with some of these points there’s more than meets the eye. Let’s look at some of the details and give you a plan for how to put this into practice.
The Dangers Of Smoking
The evidence is clear that smoking is harmful for health. If you smoke or use any form of tobacco regularly, quitting may be one of the best things you can do for your health.
Smoking tobacco regularly is clearly shown to be damaging to cardiovascular health and increase the risk of many types of cancer. But it’s not just smoking that can be problematic. Chewing tobacco can also produce the same problems. And bad news for e-cigarette users because they also carry many of the same risks. In fact, even nicotine gum or patches could cause cardiovascular problems because nicotine causes negative changes to the cardiovascular system.
If alternative ways to administer nicotine are helpful aids to quit smoking, that is good. But don’t make the mistake of believing that they are benign. If you smoke, find a way to quit. And if you spend much time around smokers, reconsider. Studies show that second hand smoke isn’t much different than smoking cigarettes yourself.
A Healthy Diet
What constitutes a healthy diet is a matter of debate. Lots of people have differing opinions. But honest science shows that a healthy diet is an inclusive diet. You don’t need to eliminate fat, cholesterol, salt, meat, dairy, or bread in order to be healthy. In fact, as we often explore in these articles, eliminating many of those things can actually be harmful for health.
But what makes for a healthy diet is that it includes an abundance of some types of foods while minimizing highly processed fast food. According to the Swedish study, men who eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables have the best heart health. The healthiest men eat many fruits and vegetables along with dairy, beans, fish, eggs, meats, and grains.
In order to make your diet healthier do the following. Double your vegetable serving at most meals. And if you don’t currently eat many vegetables, start! Find vegetables that you enjoy, and explore new vegetables you haven’t tried. Experiment with new ways to eat vegetables too if you find that you need more reasons to eat vegetables. And then snack on fruit when you get hungry during the day.
Other than eating more fruits and vegetables, simply strive to eat foods that are minimally processed. If you purchase prepared foods, find those that have fewer ingredients and no ingredients produced in a laboratory. These foods are normally more flavorful and delicious. Eating healthy can and should taste good.
The Pitfalls of Alcohol
There’s little doubt but what alcohol can be harmful. But how much is too much? Do you need to be a teetotaler to be healthy? Or can moderation be healthy?
Every study shows essentially the same thing. Up to one drink per day causes no problems. But beyond that is when the troubles start to show up. The more one drinks, the worse the fate in most cases. Excess drinking beyond the one a day limit can lead to damage to the liver, the brain, and, of course, the heart and cardiovascular system.
One drink is defined by the type of alcohol. One bottle of beer, one glass of wine, or a shot of whiskey all quality as one drink. But when it comes to types of alcohol, some choices are also better than others. Red wine comes out as a winner because of the natural antioxidants and nutrients that it contains. Unpasteurized, natural beers are the close second, but for men all those hops can be problematic if imbibed regularly (they are estrogenic). Harder alcohols have few if any beneficial properties.
Of course many men reach for alcohol as a way to calm their nerves and relax after the stresses of the day. But learning and practicing new ways to unwind or, better yet, not get so stressed in the first place, can be a healthier option. For example, as you’ve learned in a recent article, the habit of reading can reduce stress and uplift. Getting outside for a walk, talking with friends, doing some light stretching, or practicing meditation can also provide relaxing benefits with no negative side effects.
The Right Types of Exercise
The final lifestyle change is exercise. The Swedish researchers found that specific exercise habits offered the greatest protection for heart health. Those men who do light, low-intensity exercise such as walking for 40 minutes every day enjoy the greatest heart health. In addition, those men who perform another type of exercise once per week enjoy even greater protection.
Of course 40 minutes of walking or other low-intensity exercise may seem like a lot. But the Swedish researchers were measuring total movement. In other words, it’s not necessary to walk for 40 minutes straight every day to benefit. Instead, every step counts. Many of us are sedentary most of the day. But with some simple changes, we can increase our activity significantly. Here are some suggestions:
● Get in the habit of taking a short (10 minute) walk before or after breakfast each morning. This gives you not only some time walking, but also some early morning sunlight exposure, which is proven to be beneficial for health.
● When you drive somewhere, park a little further away than usual. For example, park at the far end of the parking lot or on the next block. This will give you another opportunity to add some more steps to your day.
● After eating lunch, go for a walk for 10-20 minutes. If you work then find a group of colleagues who would like to form the habit as well and walk together. If you are retired, walk with your spouse, family member, neighbor, or even your dog. If someone else does it with you, you’ll be more likely to keep it up.
As mentioned, the Swedish researchers found that the healthiest men are those who also do another type of exercise once per week. As I’ve explained in other articles, some exercises are better than others. Endurance cardio exercises like long distance running or cycling have been proven to be harmful to heart health. But short duration, high intensity exercise can improve heart health. Some examples of good types of exercise include sprinting using a high intensity interval training model, lifting weights, and playing a short (less than 30 minute) game of tennis or another competitive sport.
A Game Plan For Life
What the researchers found is that any improvement in any of these categories can significantly improve a man’s heart health. For example, by eating a healthy diet and reducing alcohol intake men can reduce their risk of a heart attack by 35 percent. So any improvements you can make will be helpful. If walking 40 minutes a day is too much, 10 minutes a day will offer some protection. Eating more vegetables every day is best, but if it’s just a few times a week, that’s an improvement.
Of course, the more you do in each category, the better. If you do nothing then your risk isn’t reduced at all. But if you stop smoking, lower your alcohol intake, eat more fruits and vegetables, and walk and exercise regularly, you can reduce your risk by 86 percent. That’s far better protection than any drug can offer. So take charge of your health and your life today by making positive changes.