We now know that cardiovascular disease—a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including heart attack, angina, stroke and others—impacts as many women as men. But it’s still the number one killer of men, and accounts for 31 percent of all deaths among males.
So what can men do about it? “They should get a checkup and know their risk factors,” says Dr. Andreas Wielgosz, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and senior cardiologist with The Ottawa Hospital. Starting at age 40, checkups should include blood pressure and cholesterol tests. A healthcare provider may do these tests earlier for men with a family history of cardiovascular disease, or if test results are worrisome.
And men can lower their risk of heart disease with a few common-sense lifestyle choices: regular exercise, keeping weight under control—particularly abdominal fat, which is associated with a higher risk—and not smoking. Here are some more strategies for keeping the ticker healthy, drawn from the latest research.
See the dentist
Dental problems have a powerful link to heart disease, especially in men under 60. In a 2008 study, Boston University researchers looked at 1,203 men who had had frequent medical and dental check-ups for up to 35 years. They showed that for every 20 percent of tooth bone loss thanks to tooth decay, the risk of coronary heart disease went up by 39 percent. One possibility is that gum disease and tooth decay release bacteria into the body that might affect the heart. Many of these problems are preventable: Regular visits to the dentist, plus good care at home, can help lower heart disease risk.
Take a nap
A study published in 2007 in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed 23,681 men and women over a six-year period and found that those who napped frequently were 37 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease. That number doubled for working men. The researchers theorized that napping helps relieve stress. “I am trying to do it whenever possible,” admits lead researcher Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Get fit—even just a bit
A major Canadian study says you don’t need to be an athlete to dramatically protect your heart. The study, from Queen’s University, followed 19,125 men for an average of 10 years and found that those who were physically fit had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. “Both high-risk and low-risk men received a benefit from exercise,” says researcher Peter Katzmarzyk. To be as fit as the men in the study, you’d only have to walk for 30 minutes four or five times a week. So regularly playing road hockey or soccer will help keep the men in your life young at heart—in more ways than one.