Men’s Health Month: How to keep your heart healthy in your 20s and 30s
June is men’s health month, and at Step One Foods - as we did for women during women’s health month - we want to help the men in our lives experience their best health at every age. Heart disease may be the number one killer of men, but just as for women it is also predominantly preventable. However, there are some nuances in how one should approach keeping one's heart healthy based upon age.
Your 20s and 30s is not too early to start a heart disease prevention campaign
Now you might be thinking that this is way too early to be concerned about heart disease. After all, most heart attacks and strokes happen in men who are far older. However, atherosclerosis, the process of building up plaque in arteries, starts really early. For example, autopsy studies looking at heart arteries in soldiers killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars (young men in their 20s and 30s) demonstrated the presence of plaque buildup in most of the casualties. Your 20s and 30s are no time to take your heart's health for granted. In fact, prevention strategies you deploy during this time will have an outsize effect during the remainder of your lifetime.
What steps to take to reduce chances of a future heart attack or stroke if you're young
Perhaps the most important thing you can do in your 20’s and 30’s for your heart and your health in general is to avoid smoking… and vaping. (If you’ve already started, quit A-S-A-P.) Not only can nicotine cause an increase in blood pressure. It can also diminish our arteries’ ability to dilate (which is critical to healthy erectile function) and cause a fall in HDL (good) cholesterol while increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol leading to accelerated plaque deposition. And that’s just the nicotine part of a cigarette or vaping cartridge. The additional chemicals that serve as carriers for that nicotine can have their own deleterious effects. Nicotine and smoking/vaping are designed to be addictive so quitting is not necessarily easy. But if your goal is to get into your 50s and 60s unscathed, now’s the time to get - and keep - nicotine out of your system.
Next, maintain a healthy weight. Our bodies respond to food and exercise adjustments more easily when we are young, so start now! Being fit and lean heading into midlife gives you a huge head start on heart health (and vascular function in general). Develop a daily exercise routine that you like and look forward to now. The hard truth is that metabolism starts to slow down in your 30’s - but regular exercise can help ensure that that doesn’t lead to weight gain.
You should also start talking to your doctor about risk factors that can only be discovered through testing. If you haven't been in for a physical in a while, set one up and make sure you have baseline tests for cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. After that, your provider should check your cholesterol blood levels at least every four to six years and your blood pressure every two years, and more often if you have a family history of either hyperlipidemia or hypertension (or the tests are abnormal). Tell your doctor if you have blood relatives who have experienced early heart or vascular events so you can discuss getting your lipoprotein A level checked as well.
And, of course, make sure you’re eating a colorful diet rooted in whole foods. Just like exercising, the earlier you include healthier foods in your routine, the better. Even in your 20s, Step One Foods can be part of your diet. You’ll never go wrong snacking on nutritionally dense foods formulated specifically to enhance health.
After Father’s Day, I’ll be back with tips for men heading into midlife.
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