There is increasing awareness of the importance of cardiovascular health among men – for information on maintaining cardiovascular health, read on.

What does cardiovascular mean?

The word cardiac refers to the heart, which is made up of specialised muscle to pump blood around the body.

The word vascular refers to the arteries, veins and capillaries that carry the blood around the body.

Put them together and we are referring to a system that carries essential substances such as oxygen and glucose to our body organs and takes away the waste products such as carbon dioxide.

Humans have a double circulatory system:

  • One system pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide
  • The other pumps the blood around the rest of the body.

What is cardiovascular health?

If this double pump is going to work effectively in providing the entire body with energy and ridding it of its waste, then many factors must be working well together:

  • The heart muscle must be strong
  • The electrical messages must be moving across the heart so that it beats effectively
  • The vessels (arteries and veins) must be clear of fatty build up from cholesterol or blood clots
  • The pressure in the vessels must be normal – that is your blood pressure – so that the system is not working under stress.

Why is it so important?

We have all heard the heart breaking story of the family man who drops dead in his 40s or 50s from a sudden heart attack. Many men also suffer from sudden cardiac failure around or just after retirement. Often there were no warnings, he was healthy and it seems he did all the right things. So not fair.

Sometimes tragedies happen and there is nothing it seems that can be done to prevent this. However, most often these fatal conditions can be prevented.

We only have one cardiovascular system, it is absolutely vital to every minute and second that we live. We need to look after it.

What are the major cardiovascular problems common in men?

Heart attacks are common in men over 40 – this is caused by a blockage in a major artery of the heart itself – so the heart cannot feed part of its own muscle with vital oxygen. It is also known as a myocardial infarction. It commonly causes pain called angina, it may even cause the heart to stop beating – cardiac arrest.

High blood pressure is also common in men as they go through middle and old age. It is often stress related and can be worsened by life style factors, such as diet, smoking and lack of exercise.

Heart failure is more common in men that women – it results from heart attacks, valve problems between the chambers of the heart, high blood pressure or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Stroke is caused by an inadequate blood supply to the brain. Strokes are common in older men and women.

What can we do to prevent cardiovascular problems?

The great news is that much of these risks are preventable:

  • A healthy diet – made up of fresh fruit and vegetables, plenty fibre and healthy carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes – will maintain a healthy cholesterol level in the blood

  • A moderate amount of alcohol reduces the risk of heart disease – 21 drinks per week is the maximum recommended amount for men. The Alcohol Advisory Council in New Zealand defines binge drinking as drinking four or more drinks for women and six or more drinks for men. This is the most dangerous way to drink alcohol.
  • Research categorically shows that smoking is linked to cardiovascular disease. Stopping smoking and avoiding passive smoking reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • Exercise maintains the strength of the muscles of the heart and blood vessels and is vital to long lasting health. Cardiovascular fitness comes from regular exercise which increases your heart rate. Three times a week is the minimum recommended amount.
  • Avoid stress! Avoid stressful people whenever you can – if you can’t avoid them, avoid engaging with them in their stress.
  • Take time out. Make the time. If you drop dead from a heart attack nothing will get done anyway.

Unfortunately some of the risk factors are not under our control – but that makes it even more important to tackle the above list!

  • Men have a higher risk than women
  • Our risk increases as we get older
  • A family history of cardiovascular disease does affect our risk – but if your life style (diet, exercise, alcohol intake and smoking) is different to your family then your risk will be different too
  • Previous heart problems do increase your risk of further problems, hence the urgent need for a change in lifestyle after a heart attack.

What can I do to help my family?

The habits that we develop as child are often very hard to break. Get your kids off to a great start by being an active, healthy father:

  • Spend quality time, daily if possible, kicking a ball/shooting some hoops with your kids
  • Get involved in the kitchen, preparing healthy, scrummy meals and encourage your children to get involved with good food preparation from an early age
  • Quit smoking – ban smoking in your house
  • Keep a check on the alcohol consumption. Ensure you have a few alcohol free days each week and stick to 2 or 3 drinks at a time. You are the strongest role model for your children
  • Take time out to manage stress build up, be that on your own, or with your partner, or with a group of mates
  • Make regular sport part of your weekly routine.

Useful Men’s Health articles

Visit our Food and Nutrition section for some specialised advice from Dietitian Fiona Boyle

For advice on Quitting Smoking, click here.

Check Out Your Testicles provides potentially life saving information for all men over the age of 14.

For information on Men & Prostate Glands visit our article in this section

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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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