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Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men — and not just older men who are out of shape. You’d probably be surprised to know that ahead of cancer, heart disease takes the lives of more than 375,000 Americans per year, according to the American Heart Association.
As part of the 2015 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update, the AHA reported that heart disease accounts for one in seven deaths, and takes a life roughly every 90 seconds. And Bill Phillips, editor-in-chief of Men’s Health and author of "The Better Man Project," says men aren’t paying enough attention to these startling numbers. Women on the other hand, he says, are three times more likely to visit a doctor. This alone is the largest mistake that men make when it comes to maintaining a healthy body.
To kick off Men’s Health Week, which is celebrated from June 15 to 21, TODAY.com spoke exclusively with Phillips about the risks of poor health habits. Here's what we learned.
Having low blood pressure is crucial to your health. The inverse leads to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia, among other issues.
“Blood pressure indicates the force of your circulating blood on the walls of your vessels. The top number [systolic] is the pressure created when the heart muscle contracts. The bottom number [diastolic] is the pressure between beats, when the heart is resting. Anything over 120/80 indicates an underlying problem. Either the heart is malfunctioning or your arteries are narrowing.”
The major mistake men make when it comes to health is…
“Ignoring it! The No. 1 excuse for men: 'I don’t have time.' Reality is, they’re either in denial about their health, or afraid of what the doctor might tell them. Men are problem solvers by nature, so if they don’t see a specific problem, they assume they’re fine.”
Cholesterol is essential to the body’s functionality, but there are a few things that you should look out for.
“When you have too much [cholesterol], it raises your risk of everything, from heart disease to stroke. Low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein are actually two types of proteins that cholesterol attaches itself to. LDL is much smaller, which enables it to deliver cholesterol through the bloodstream to the cells that need it. HDL is the cleaning crew; it courses through the bloodstream and picks up any excess cholesterol that the body’s cells don’t need. HDL barges through your arteries like garbage trucks on empty early-morning roads, whereas LDL is termite-like in its ability to dig into artery walls, making vessels narrow and inflexible. Because of their antagonistic relationship, the ratio of HDL-LDL is most important. Measure your risk by subtracting your HDL from your total cholesterol number (which is your LDL plus a couple of lesser known types). Your target is 130 or lower.”
Maintaining a healthy body is so important because that will, in turn, lead to a healthy mind.
“The combination improves every aspect in your life: better health, better relationships, better sex, more success, higher levels of satisfaction and overall happiness. Studies show that fit, happy and successful men live an average of 10 years longer — and get sick far less often — than unfit, less successful men.”
Looking to start small? Try this simple routine to improve heart health.
“Do 30 minutes of cardio exercise three days a week. Cardio gets your blood pumping, which is good for your heart and your brain.”
In his book, “The Better Man Project,” Phillips provides DIY tips for improving all aspects of health: reducing blood pressure, losing weight and even sculpting a six-pack, among many others.
DIY: Lower your blood pressure by 16 points
- Lower sodium intake — Sodium causes you to retain water in your blood, which adds volume and boosts pressure. Constant high pressure on your arteries, in turn, exposes you to a greater risk of heart attack, stroke. Take out salt and ADD seasoning.
- Tea up — Australian researchers found that people who drank three cups of black tea every day for six months saw a two-point drop in both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
- Breathe slowly and deeply — Slow breathing and meditative practices (yoga) decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try five minutes in the morning and at night or you can even do it on your commute: Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release tension.
- Breathe quickly and deeply — three times a week, do a cardio workout, which could even be just a walk. In a study, hypertensive patients who went for walks at a brisk pace lowered their pressure by almost 8mm Hg over 6mm Hg.
- Beet it — drinking 17 ounces of beet juice can yield a five-point drop in blood pressure according to a 2012 Australian study.
- LOL—laughing out loud at a funny movie causes blood vessels to dilate by 22 percent according to a study from the University of Maryland.
- Grab a bunch of grapes — men with metabolic syndrome who ate the powdered equivalent of about two cups of grapes daily for a month lowered their systolic blood pressure by six points (University of Connecticut).
- Try a DASH — Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, a plan developed by the national heart, lung and blood institute. A typical DASH menu focuses on fruits and veggies, whole grains and protein from poultry, fish, beans and nuts while minimizing added sugars and salt. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that it can lower systolic blood pressure by up to 16 points in four months in people with high blood pressure.