Helping Men's Hearts Stay Healthy
Year round women play an important role in influencing the health of their families. What we purchase at the grocery store, stock in the cupboard, plan for dinner, or even put on the calendar impacts the health of those we love.
This Father's Day as we celebrate our husbands, fathers and grandfathers, we asked Dr. Patrick McBride, co-director of UW Health's Preventive Cardiology Program for some guidance on how to encourage and support better heart health in the men we love. From setting a good example to managing risk factors and improving lifestyle choices, McBride says there are many ways women can positively impact heart health of the men in their lives.
According to McBride, heart disease and cancer, the two greatest medical problems, share many common risk factors including tobacco use/smoking, high fat intake, low nutritional variety in diet, lack of physical activity and weight gain and obesity. McBride says, "These factors are truly within one's control and women can play a significant role in helping men modify and control these behaviors and risk factors."
Aside from behavioral or lifestyle risk factors, there are medical issues that women can help men become aware of and manage. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol (which is more common in men) and high blood glucose all need to be controlled. Men also are more prone to carry weight around their midsection, which increases their risk for developing metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes. If waist circumference is greater than 40 inches at the hip bones, it is highly likely that blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels will be abnormal. Men can "lose the waist" with healthy eating and exercising.
If you manage your family's calendar, McBride notes that it is important to help your partner or even parent stay on top of their physical exam schedule. He explains, "The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that men ages 20 – 50 have a physical every five years. Because men aren't required to have an exam annually as women are, it becomes much easier to avoid the doctor and five years can quickly turn into ten." Men age 50 – 60 should have a physical every two years, and men over age 60 should have an exam every year. McBride also recommends that men have their blood pressure checked annually and follow up to monitor any abnormal results for blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose screenings.
Men also tend to handle stress differently. "Person to person, men tend to hold more things internally," McBride says. Major stressors such as the loss of a loved one, loss or change in job, economic stress, behavioral issues with kids, or even the loss of a beloved pet can negatively impact heart health. It is important to encourage your husband to open up and discuss his concerns and most importantly, not deal with them through alcohol use. Although research shows that moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial to heart health, it is not a treatment or preventive measure for heart disease.
If your husband or father seems depressed or anxious, or appears to be going through a personality change, encourage him to seek help. And if he experiences any exertional symptoms such as chest pain, radiating pain or shortness of breath during stress or physical activity or has gained significant weight or snores heavily, these too can be warning signs of heart disease and a visit to his doctor is a good idea.
Tips to Promote Heart Health in the Men You Love
McBride provides the following suggestions to help you promote heart health in the men you love:
- Set the best example possible: If you do the grocery shopping or meal planning, make sure you are providing enough fruits and vegetables (5-7 recommended servings/day). Find out what vegetables your husband likes and try to incorporate more of them into his diet.
- Take a positive approach: When it comes to heart health and lifestyle behaviors, a negative or nagging approach isn't effective. Find things to do together; suggest "why don't we go for a walk, or we go to the gym." Remind him you are doing this out of love and concern.
- Don't skip breakfast: Skipping breakfast is a major cause of obesity as those who skip tend to pack calories on at the end of the day. Help your husband spread his calories throughout the day by eating a healthy breakfast.
- Cut portion sizes: Find ways to make food appealing without increasing the size of the portions.
- Reduce screen time in your home: Find activities such as walking, biking, gardening or playing catch that promote physical activity instead of sitting in front of the television or computer.
- Give the gift of time: Spend time instead of money this Father's Day. McBride recalls his favorite Father's Day gifts, "The homemade coupon books that promised time spent together were always the best gifts I received from my family." Make coupons for a play date in the park, date night, hike in the woods, healthy family picnic or anything you enjoy doing together. Download our Father's Day coupons to get you started: Father's Day Coupons (pdf).
Heart health isn't just for Father's Day. When you are an informed and encouraging partner, daughter, sister or granddaughter, you can promote better heart health all year long.