I subscribe to a monthly publication called “Harvard Men’s Health Watch” published by the Harvard Medical School. It contains lots of good information about the latest medical developments that should be of particular interest to males. The latest edition for this month features a lead story entitled “Four Keys to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease.” Since the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) has risen over the past few years, according to the American Heart Association, sharing these four keys with folks seems like a good idea to me.

According to the lead article, “the good news is that an estimated 80% of all CVD cases – heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke – can be prevented.” Generally, the way to prevent heart problems is to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and by maintaining healthy habits. Healthy habits include exercising regularly, eating a plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking.

The article cites comments by Dr. Ron Blankstein, a preventive cardiologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He says, “Heart health is not about short-term fixes, but rather making long-term lifestyle changes. [People] are not destined to have poor heart health, and there are simple steps [people] can take that may lower [their] if [they] approach it the right way.”

What follows are the four keys people should focus on.

1. Exercise. Everyone should exercise for 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” five times a week. Dr. Blankstein adds, “Keep in mind that this is the minimum, and evidence suggests that doing more is better.” He notes that there are two types of exercise: purposeful and daily movement. Purposeful exercise is defined as traditional workouts that include power walking, treadmill running, swimming, cycling, or rowing. Daily movement focuses on doing “small bouts” of activity throughout the day, such as walking for five minutes every two hours, doing a set of two pushups either on the floor or against a desk or kitchen counter, and dong ten repetitions of standing and sitting where you rise from a chair not using your arms to help you stand or sit. Dr. Blankstein also says that doing things like washing your car instead of going through the car wash, parking farther from the grocery, taking the stairs, and doing simple yard work like weeding, planting, and raking can count toward overall exerciser requirements.

2. Diet. For heart health, a diet should include lots of plant foods and minimize the intake of red meat, especially processed meat. Of particular value to heart health are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, (peas, beans, and peanuts are examples), nuts, and healthy oils like olive oil. Dr. Blankstein notes that adopting a plant based diet isn’t easy for everyone so, he suggests, people should ease into it. “Find a few plant-based recipes you enjoy and add them to your regular meals,” he says. “Gradually, you will feel the positive effects of the diet which can motivate you to do more,” Dr. Blankstein concluded.

3. Sleep. According to guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society adults should get at least seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. Studies have found that getting less than this amount of sleep is associated with heart disease risk factors like higher stress, increased inflammation, high blood pressure, and weight gain!

4. Numbers. It’s important to see your doctor to have cholesterol levels and blood pressure checked on a regular basis to see if treatment is necessary. The latest guidelines recommend that people between 40 and 75 have their risk of cardiovascular disease calculated by a doctor to determine if they should take a statin to help lower their cholesterol level. (Statins are a class of drugs that will help lower cholesterol levels in the blood.) The American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology recently changed the definition of high blood pressure to 130/80 or higher. Dr. Blankstein said, “Because people cannot feel when their blood pressure is elevated, it is important to get it regularly checked.”

So, there are the four keys to help prevent heart disease: Exercise, diet, sleep, and monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure on a regular basis. While everyone is different, of the four the two most important, in my opinion, are exercise and diet because both have a major impact on cholesterol and blood pressure. Here’s a little more sobering news about diet. Of all fifty states, Indiana ranks 7th, with the highest percentage of obese people. Arkansas ranks first with 35.9% of the population considered obese. At 7th, Indiana has 32.7% of our population considered obese. Interestingly enough, all the states between first and seventh are all southern states. Indiana is the first northern state on the list. An old motto worth remembering with regard to diet is “eat to live, not live to eat.”

Exercise is probably the hardest habit for most people to change. Most of us tend to lead relatively sedentary lives: we drive to work, we watch a lot of television, and many of us sit at a desk most of the time. Summoning up the commitment to exercise regularly is very difficult when there’s a recliner close to the television.

I started an exercise program at Any Time Fitness after I had knee surgery to strengthen the leg. I’m not trying to be a body builder – too old for that – but they designed an exercise program for me to improve my balance and I’m to the point where I miss exercising if I don’t go. I also try and watch what I eat. There’s just too much to live for not to try and take care of ourselves!

That’s –30—for this week.