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Simple lifestyle changes can decrease men’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

DrBenjaminSpringgateThough genetic heritage plays a role in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease or complications, many other factors also contribute — especially when it comes to men’s risk of these diseases. “Overall, men genetically have a higher likelihood of having heart disease than women,” says Dr. Benjamin Springgate, an internal medicine specialist at Crescent City Physicians. “But there are certain modifiable risk factors that all men need to be attentive to in order to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Factors that can increase a man’s risk of developing heart disease include diabetes; elevated cholesterol; high blood sugar or blood pressure; tobacco use; and being overweight. “Each of these risks, including cholesterol, contributes to the development of plaque in blood vessels,” Dr. Springgate explains. “Over time, it reduces the blood flow to everything that’s past that plaque. But perhaps even more dangerous is when a plaque ruptures or breaks off. It can completely occlude a vessel. Then you get a heart attack or a stroke where the blood vessel is located.”

Many men may not even be aware that they are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Springgate. He cites a “substantial proportion” of people who remain unaware of their blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol levels until symptoms begin to surface — sometimes years after these conditions start silently affecting health. “As men get older, they are increasingly likely to be at risk for coronary artery disease,” he notes.

However, because many of these risk factors are lifestyle-related, men can take steps to improve their cardiovascular health. “I think the most important things to focus on are those factors which we can try to attend to on a more individualized basis,” Dr. Springgate says. “By learning about these various factors, one can develop an action plan to try to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

He recommends that men visit their primary care physicians regularly for weight and body mass index check-ins, along with periodic assessments of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking is a must, as smoking increases blood pressure, damages heart and lung tissue, and compounds the risk of heart-disease development when other risk factors are also present.

Exercise is crucial, too. “Even before visiting your doctor, try to get regular cardiovascular exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes a day,” Dr. Springgate says. Routine cardiovascular exercise reduces the amount of fat in the blood, along with lowering blood pressure and helping control body weight.

Dietary changes can also make a big difference. “Eating a diet that’s higher in vegetables, for example, is advocated by some specialists,” Dr. Springgate says. In addition to eating more vegetables, avoiding foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt can help men maintain a healthy heart.

“The take-home message really is: Try to pay attention to these risk factors as things that you can control on your own,” Dr. Springgate says. “If you need help with those things, see your physician to talk about getting help.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Springgate, call (504) 897-8118.