During Heart Health Month, It’s a Great Time to Focus on Prevention

Every day offers us a potential fresh start to do something good for our hearts. Kicking off Heart Health Month, that’s the core message cardiologist and Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine Dr. Robert Harrington has shared with the Weill Cornell Medicine community, the residents of New York City, the New York Metropolitan Region and beyond. 

Throughout February, Dr. Harrington and his colleagues will share tips on how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, along with updates on the latest advances in the fight against heart disease, so look out for these. 

Life’s Essential 8 

The American Heart Association has pulled together a list of highly effective strategies that will cut your heart disease risk down to size. They’re called Life’sEssential 8: 

  • Be more active. 
  • Follow a healthy diet. 
  • Quit tobacco. 
  • Get regular, adequate sleep. 
  • Manage your weight. 
  • Control your cholesterol. 
  • Manage your blood sugar. 
  • Manage your blood pressure. 

Working with your primary care physician or your cardiologist, you can start to make the kinds of lifestyle changes that will pay off handsomely as you move through midlife and beyond. Adopting Life’s Essential 8 will also cut your risk for other diseases and conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and depression. 

Heart disease in men 

Because we recently reported on heart disease in women, we’ll focus on heart disease in men in this post. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. In 2021, approximately 1 in 4 men died from heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death for men belonging to most racial and ethnic groups in the country, including African Americans, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Hispanics and whites. For Asian American and Pacific Islander men, heart disease is second only to cancer as a leading cause of death. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term heart disease refers to several conditions, including arrhythmia, heart failure and heart attack. 

What are the symptoms of heart disease? 

Heart disease can often be silent,” until a man experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure or an arrhythmia. 

The symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. 

Heart failure means the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should. As a result, your body isn’t getting enough of the oxygen-rich blood it needs. Heart failure may come with shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen or neck veins.  

The main symptom of arrhythmia—or irregular heartbeat—is a fluttering feeling in the chest. Most arrhythmias are considered harmless. Your cardiologist will need to find out whether your arrhythmia is abnormal or merely reflects the heart’s normal processes. 

To learn more about other diseases and conditions that affect heart health, visit the American Heart Association’s website here.

What are the risks for heart disease in men? 

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease in men. It has no symptoms, so it’s important to have it checked regularly, or learn to do it yourself. 

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put men at higher risk for heart disease, including: 

  • diabetes 
  • overweight and obesity 
  • an unhealthy diet 
  • physical inactivity 
  • excessive alcohol use 
  • smoking  

How can I reduce my risk? 

  • Speak with your health-care provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes, which raises a man’s risk for heart disease.  Learn more about diabetes here. 
  • Quit smoking. Learn how to quit here. 
  • Have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked regularly. 
  • Prepare healthy food. Consider following the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet. 
  • Limit alcoholintake to one drink a day. 
  • Lower your stress level. Learn more about coping with stress here. 

One preventive measure that is no longer recommended for every patient is the daily baby aspirin regimen. However, if you’re already taking an aspirin a day, discuss it with your doctors before you stop taking it. 

The ultimate strategy for reducing your risk of heart disease is high-quality sleep. Poor sleep is a risk factor for heart disease and can also be linked to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

Finally, start integrating small amounts of exercise or activity into your daily routine. That’s the kind of “fresh start” Dr. Harrington has in mind for all of us—men and women alike—during Heart Health Month. 

To express his commitment to spreading awareness about preventing and treating heart disease, he plans to wear red socks every day during Heart Health Month. How about wearing something red this month as well—especially on Valentine’s Day!?  

Please visit here to make an appointment with a cardiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.