Here’s a hypothetical situation: You’re on the set of Family Feud. In between admiring how magnificent Steve Harvey’s mustache is in real life and preparing for the Fast Money Round, you’re brought up to the stand to answer a critical question — what is the number one killer of men in the United States?
If you answered “bear attack” or “sniper fire” (the second one mainly to get a comically bewildered reaction from Harvey), you’d be 100 percent wrong. The answer is far less exciting: heart disease.
Heart disease kills roughly one in four Americans every year, and more than half of those deaths are men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Prevention (CDC). While everyone should harbor some concern for the coronary health, men in particular need to be extra vigilant, getting routine checkups and cholesterol tests to ensure the old ticker doesn’t run out of juice too soon.
It’s Not a Problem for a Later Date
If you’re a relatively young dude, I know what you’re thinking: Heart disease is for grandpas, the congenitally afflicted, and my old man. I’m young, thin, and I’m definitely going to live forever. It’s not an uncommon thought. Even I have said those words verbatim immediately before placing my lips on a beer bong, shirtless, and in public. Yikes.
But taking control of your heart health now, while you’re still young, is the most financially savvy move you can make. The latest statistics indicate that heart disease costs more than $18,000 per year per person, heart attacks can set you back over $50,000, and the cost of both is only going to continue to rise.
|Demographic Age (Men)||Prevalence of Heart Disease (Percentage)|
|80 and over||32.2|
Source: American Heart Association
6 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease
That price financially dwarfs the cost of adapting and changing your lifestyle now, especially if you intend to do something like, I don’t know, retire after the age of 65 (just a thought). Fortunately, there are five easy, cheap (if not free) steps any guy can take to safeguard his heart and wallet. These will ensure heart disease isn’t really a hard disease (I’m sorry).
1. Get Your Blood Pressure Checked for Free
The highly venerated Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power,” and although he died of pneumonia in 1626, were he alive today, he probably wouldn’t have died of heart disease.
That detail aside, getting your blood pressure checked regularly is a necessary, free step you can take to address heart disease. If you’re under 40 and have low blood pressure, you should get checked out every three to five years, but if you’re over 40 or have high blood pressure, you’ll want to be checked annually, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
High blood pressure (BP) is often asymptomatic, meaning you won’t directly notice it rising through the years, and high blood pressure increases your likelihood of heart disease or stroke. Keeping tabs on your BP, starting in your 20s or 30s, can be a critical first step in assessing what other external measures you’ll need to take to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Not only is this the easiest step to take in addressing men’s most deadly killer, but it’s also the cheapest.
Many pharmacies, including chains like CVS and Walgreens, have free-to-use blood pressure testing machines in house.
Even some local health clinics offer usage of their machines for free. A targeted web search can help you find one in your area.
With no need to schedule a doctor’s appointment — or the need of health insurance, for that matter — a free blood pressure test is a no-brainer measure you can take as early as this afternoon to ensure good, lasting heart health.
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2. Manage Your Stress — With an App, Music, or Laughter
The nexus between emotional well-being — particularly stress — and its relation to cardiac health has been well-documented.
“Distressing emotions such as depression, stress, and most potently anger have been linked to heart disease,” says psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, a professor at Pepperdine University. “As such, emotional self-management is a key aspect of maintaining a healthy heart.”
Your 20s and 30s are likely key periods of your career, a time in which some may find themselves on a short deadline or in a high-pressure environment. And while most people are probably unable to retire at 35, creating strategies for dealing with stress can guarantee you’ll be cool as a cucumber through your 50s and 60s.
Apps and Music
One method of keeping good vibes abound is to download an app to your smartphone, such as Simple Habit, Pacifica, or Oak. They are all highly rated, free, phone accessible ways to take a breather in the jungle of the workday. All three focus on guided meditations to reduce stress and anxiety at your convenience.
Alternatively, music and auditory stimulation are lifesavers when the (professional) going gets tough. In a personal capacity, when I’m not condensing all the best heart disease information into an informative and jovial article, I play rain sounds to cut out the noise of my busy coworking space. In doing so, I’ve got peace of mind that I’ll make it through the day with my enormously affectionate heart intact.
Meditation Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
Granted these tips aren’t for everybody, and if you find yourself shaking your head at the idea of what you perceive as new age hippy-dippy meditative bullshit, making time to laugh can be a more visceral solution.
“Wit is the experience of humor that shifts thinking from negative to positive,” adds Sultanoff, who previously served as the president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. “Activating the funny bone activates perspective on life’s challenges and, therefore, reduces the distress created by negative thinking.”
To that end, if you find yourself regularly stressed, Sultanoff recommends finding a “humor buddy.”
“Have someone with whom you purposely and intentionally share humor on a regular — possibly everyday — basis,” he says.
Perhaps the old adage “laughter is the best medicine” had some basis in the truth, at least as it relates to heart disease.
3. Tackle Your Mental Health
In line with stress management, depression — another form of emotional distress —can heavily affect your likelihood for heart disease. And unfortunately, the two can feed off each other, with symptoms of depression occurring at triple the normal rate among individuals who have suffered an acute heart attack, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The bad news is that there’s no easy fix to handling depression, and every individual battle with mental health is different. Fortunately, there are ways to not break the bank in doing so; more and more therapists offer sliding scale payments to get the necessary talk therapy you need.
More importantly, lean on your boys for help when you need it. While the stigma of asking for mental health help has yet to go away entirely, particularly among men, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t take the time to talk to my guy friends about how I was feeling. Your bros are there for you to talk it out, and your heart will thank you, too.
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4. Exercise, Diet, and Keeping Down the Pounds
Keeping yourself at a healthy weight and eating well are fairly obvious answers to guaranteeing coronary health. They’re among the top three recommendations from the CDC to lowering your risk for heart disease.
But when you’re in early adulthood, they often seem like a prescription for a later date, and these suggestions are often met with a myriad of excuses. “I’m too busy to work out” and “buying healthy food is too expensive” are frequent offenders.
But as we said before, establishing healthy habits in your youth can save you thousands in medical bills later down the road.
“Physically, if you don't watch your diet and exercise from an early start, you compromise your quality of life later on with heart disease,” says ER nurse and financial writer Lauren Mochizuki. “Financially, you could potentially incur multiple medication fees, various kinds of cardiac surgery bills, and also a complicated multiple-discipline treatment plan.”
Being Healthy on a Budget
To that extent, Mochizuki, who previously paid off more than $200,000 in credit card and mortgage-related debt with her husband, understands that living healthily and well can be done within your means — even if you’re a broke millennial riddled with student loans.
The solution lies in buying whole ingredients in bulk and planning ahead. “Shop at wholesalers like Costco, buy organic ingredients in bulk, and make and freeze big batches of smoothie packs or soups to defrost throughout the week,” Mochizuki recommends.
There are specific, cheap foods and supplements you can add to your diet to ensure lasting heart health. For example, organic eggs and magnesium are good options.
Tips From the Pros
“The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has done a complete about-face,” says stress management, diet, and nutrition expert Carolyn Dean, MD, a medical doctor and author who focuses on healthy eating and natural detoxes. “They are finally acknowledging what the science shows, which is that cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
Dean outlines that eating eggs actually keeps your choleric levels in check. It prevents choleric levels from rising and subsequently increasing your likelihood of heart disease.
Contrary to popular wisdom, “a diet without cholesterol does not necessarily lower it,” Dean adds.
“Most of the cholesterol in the body is produced in the liver, so when cholesterol is high, it is often acting as an antioxidant. If you take other antioxidants, you can take the pressure off your cholesterol so it doesn't become elevated beyond its normal levels.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but by adding cholesterol to your body through food, you can lower the amount made by your liver as an antioxidant, keeping your body in check.
“Additionally, I recommend the best heart health mineral to every one of my male patients: magnesium,” Dean continues.
“After heart muscle contraction, magnesium relaxes the muscles. If there is not enough magnesium, the heart muscle cells keep contracting, causing angina and possibly a heart attack. Magnesium relaxes the smooth muscles lining the blood vessels.”
Luckily, any guy can waltz down to the pharmacy and pick up a bottle of magnesium supplement for under $10. Not a bad price to potentially add a few years to your life — or at least keep your ticker in tip-top shape.
5. Get On Your Feet!
A small amount of daily exercise is all you need to fight heart disease in the long term; we’re not recommending you stunt your way down to Equinox or annoyingly tell your boys about your new CrossFit routine.
“You don't need an expensive gym membership to reap the benefits of walking a few times a week,” Mochizuki says. “Walking is a great, free activity, and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent, according to a study published by Harvard Medical School.”
It goes without saying, but you can get in some additional steps nearly anywhere. One guy in our office climbs the steps up to the ninth floor multiple times a day, which allows him to get some extra steps into his day and burn off stress. Set a daily reminder, use a pedometer app for your phone, and go strut your stuff.
6. Drink Less Booze
This is a recommendation that’s easy to fall by the wayside after a long day when all you want are a few crispy pints to celebrate the completion of hard work. But it’s a slippery slope from “happy hour” to “happy hours” to an “unhappy next morning.”
For those of us in our 20s and 30s, it seems like everyone is drinking all the time, and there’s some truth to this perceived inebriated increase. There has been an increase in alcohol-related illnesses in the last two decades, particularly among the 25 to 34 demographic, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
While no one would fault you for celebrating, maybe in excess, every once in a while (we’re not prudes), consider the effect of prolonged binge drinking on your health, your liver, and your wallet. Specifically, drinking alcohol in excess can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
And financially, if you drink like I do (at least five fiscally responsible beers consumed over the course of several hours at a prudent dive bar), you’re setting yourself back an addition $3,000 a year at least.
As such, opting to drink less is a health-savvy, money-smart choice.
That said, anyone who has ever been on antibiotics can attest that not drinking in a libation-heavy environment is dull. To that end, maybe designate one night out to consume only nonalcoholic, or low-alcohol, beer. Not only will it satiate your need to have a drink in your hand, but it can also covertly help tackle heart disease.
What the Research Says
Research from two journals — Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, as well as the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry — shows that nonalcoholic beer can help prevent thrombosis, a blood clot forming in an artery, and reduce the risk of arteries becoming clogged with plaque. The jury’s still out on whether nonalcoholic beer definitively reduces symptoms of heart disease. However, consuming less alcohol is better for your cardiac health.
While the best strategy to reducing alcohol’s effect on your heart health is to not drink at all, limiting your consumption of booze (or drinking low-alcohol beverages) can help rectify the artery clogging from all those college keggers you went to not so many years ago.
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The Bottom Line on How to Prevent Heart Disease
Heart disease isn’t a faraway issue that you can address post-retirement from the comfort of your yacht. Guys need to take active measures today, building healthy habits for how we live, breathe, and eat, to make sure our hearts keep beating. Keep these tips in mind, and you can expect both a high-quality heart and a high-balance bank account.