man holding a heart to his chest

June is National Men's Health Month, so it's more important now than ever for men (and everyone else!) to prioritize a few lifestyle changes in order to improve heart health.

The leading cause of deaths worldwide are the result of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) with number one on the list being Cardiovascular Disease, followed by Cancer, Chronic Respiratory Disease, and Diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is a result of one or more chronic conditions and may include elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugars, elevated cholesterol, and obesity. It can result in medical conditions such as a heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.

Metabolic risk factors that may increase incidence of developing NCDs include a Blood Pressure of 130/85mm or higher, HDL (aka the good cholesterol) less than 40mg/dL, triglycerides of 150mg/dL or higher, fasting blood glucose of 100mg/dL or higher, and a waist circumference > 40in (for men). Click here to learn more about Metabolic syndrome.

Lifestyle risk factors that can contribute to developing NCDs include physical inactivity, tobacco use, alcohol use, and consuming an unhealthy diet that is high in trans- and saturated fats, processed sugar, and sodium, while also being low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Addressing lifestyle factors to reduce risk for developing NCDs is the first line of defense and our most controllable prevention tool. So, here are 4 lifestyle changes you can start making today.

1. Increase physical activity.

30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is the current recommendation from the CDC. Those 30 minutes do not have to happen all at once. Breaking them up into 5 or 10 minute periods of activity are equally effective!

2. Don’t smoke or vape.

3. Keep alcohol intake to a minimum.

2 standard drinks or less daily for men is the current dietary recommendation.

4. Maintain a healthy diet by following these 7 dietary goals:

  1. Consume 1 ½ - 2 cups of fruit and 2 - 3 cups of vegetables daily.
  2. Eat varied lean proteins, including seafood 2x a week. Plant-based alternatives to animal sources are appropriate and include foods such as tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils.
  3. Add whole grains to your diet - 6 servings a day to be exact. Whole wheat and whole grain are not always the same, so review the label to be sure. Other sources of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, whole grain cold cereal or oatmeal, corn taco shells, polenta, beans, corn, and lentils.
  4. Include healthy fats in your diet. Unsaturated fats high in omega 3’s are key and may include avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, black cod, Bluefin tuna, striped bass), algae (seaweed), flax seeds (ground), flax seed oil, chia seeds, edamame, beans, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, eggs, and walnuts.
  5. Limit less healthy fats such as fried foods, red meat, coconut oil, and prepackaged foods.
  6. Limit intake of food high in sodium (salt). Look for hidden sodium on food labels. Packaged foods are a big culprit of hidden sodium. Current recommendations from the CDC are to keep daily sodium intake at 2300mg or less.
  7. Limit foods high in refined sugars such cookies, cakes, ice cream, candy, and even some not-so-obvious sources including store bought ketchup, tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, granola bars, fruit juice, and sports drinks.


Regular visits with your doctor and working on lifestyle changes like these can help lower your chance for developing metabolic risk factors that could lead to a non-communicable disease. June is National Men's Health Month, so what better time than now to improve your way of living?


Blog written by Marie Gorski MFN,RD,LD

Marie Gorski is a Registered Dietitian with the Gateway Region YMCA. Click here to learn more about working one-on-one with Marie!