Do you have any idea what a hard worker your heart is?
Think about it: At the end of every day, you get to go home, put your feet up, and watch CSI. Just imagine if your heart tried to kick back after a grueling 9 to 5 of pumping blood. While it was relaxing, you’d be busy dying.
In fact, if there were an award for Organ of the Month, we know which framed x-ray we’d expect to see hanging on the wall.
Still, while nobody’s ticker takes time off, some do up and quit. Maybe the workplace conditions are horrible. Or perhaps the boss sits on his ass all day.
Whatever the cause, it’s almost always something that was building up for a while. So we asked three guys to bare their hearts for us: They revealed their daily diets, exercise habits, family history—they even guessed which guy’s heart was most likely to go haywire first. (Hint: They were all wrong.)
Then we enlisted the help of Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology for the University of Maryland Medical System and the author of Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. He evaluated each man’s current cardiac risk factors to predict who’s first in line for an infarction.
Height / Weight 1.8m/90kg
Relationship Status Married
Job Banking manager and business officer
Family Heart History Maternal grandfather had a heart attack; paternal grandfather had congestive heart failure.
Exercise Three to four days of running, plus weight training in between. “I still have some pudginess even after recently losing 18kg.”
Diet Protein-heavy meals, plus nuts for snacking. “Twice a week we order takeout, like Italian. But the miles I log balance it out.”
Self-Assessed Stress Level 3/5
Which Guy He Thinks Will Lose “With both his grandfathers and his father passing due to heart attacks, I would say that Chris is genetically at the highest risk.”
His is a story of nuts versus gut.
Genser’s habit of eating a handful of nuts every day provides him with a steady stream of magnesium, a mineral with anti-inflammatory properties that has been associated with improved heart health. Just 50 to 80 grams of nuts a day can provide enough magnesium to lower a person’s chance of dying of coronary artery disease by 22 percent, according to research from Harvard School of Public Health.
But Genser’s lingering gut could be negating some of that benefit: A man’s waist size needs to go up only 5cm from what it was in his 20s for his risk of heart disease to increase, says Dr. Miller.
Pounding the pavement doesn’t give Genser license to load his plate. At 33, his fat furnace is no longer burning at its hottest: A typical man’s basal metabolic rate, or the amount of energy burned at rest, dips by about 2 percent per decade after his 20s. “As you age, you have to work harder or eat less to manage your weight well,” says Dr. Miller.
Genser should limit his cheat meals to one day a week and give his belly a different kind of work-out-with laughter. Watching a funny movie boosts vascular function by as much as 6 percent, Greek researchers report.
Height / Weight 1.7m/70kg
Relationship Status Married, infant son
Job Freelance graphic designer
Family Heart History father, as well as both grandfathers suffered heart attacks and died.
Exercise Running and pilates a few times a week, and a daily walk. “I usually hit the 10,000-step count each day without much trouble.”
Diet Meals include one protein and two vegetables; one or two alcoholic drinks at dinner. “We rarely eat out, and I don’t drink soda.”
Self-Assessed Stress Level 2/5
Which Guy He Thinks Will Lose “I feel like I’m the worst of the three! My only leg up is my zenlike approach to heart health: low-key exercise and less stress.”
Campbell’s risk may be higher due to his family history, but he’s made the right preventive moves.
His secret? Calm your mind, and your heart will follow.
“Stress and negative emotions account for a good portion of heart attacks,” says Dr. Miller. “Living in a state of chronic stress really exacerbates your risk.”
Campbell has managed to sidestep one major stressor by opting to be his own boss: People who have jobs that are highly demanding and that offer little freedom to make decisions are 23 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with more flexible, less demanding careers, according to researchers at University College London.
Since being your own boss is probably not an option, you can let go of your work stress by turning up the tunes during your daily commute, says Dr. Miller. His research team found that grooving to a favourite song can help dilate blood vessels, while less-liked songs tend to induce stress. Then come home and hug your family: Touch can lower stress and blood pressure, a Japanese study found. That’s because positive physical contact can trigger a surge in the hormone oxytocin, the researchers say, which tamps down tension and improves overall heart health.
Height / Weight 1.85m /84kg
Relationship Status Single
Job Digital marketing manager for a news site
Family Heart History Both grandmothers had strokes; grandfather had a stroke and died of a heart attack.
Exercise High-intensity training four days a week. Diagnosed with hypertension at age 25. “I don’t take meds, but exercising helps.”
Diet Five small meals a day. “I try to eat well and include more vegetables than meat in my meals—except for the occasional burger.”
Self-Assessed Stress Level 4/5
Which Guy He Thinks Will Lose “I think Wyatt’s most at risk. The banking industry can be cutthroat. And his family history doesn’t help his situation either.”
Few things set a guy up for cardiac catastrophe like hypertension, says Dr. Miller. According to a 2014 JAMA study, having untreated high blood pressure in your late teens and 20s doubles your risk of plaque buildup and heart disease 25 years later, compared with the risk of people who don’t have hypertension.
And while Moya may think that hitting the gym four days a week is taking the pressure off, doing high-intensity workouts could actually worsen his condition. That’s because vigorous exercise can cause systolic blood pressure to skyrocket to levels as high as 250, says Dr. Miller, especially in people who already have hypertension.
He may need an actual Rx-and ASAP. Moya should talk to his doctor about taking meds for his high blood pressure, says Dr. Miller. A study review published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that popping BP-lowering drugs can significantly reduce a person’s risk of stroke and death from heart disease, even when blood pressure is only mildly elevated. As for exercise, Moya should switch to isometric strength training. Researchers in Australia report that doing isometric exercises (think wall squats or planks) can significantly reduce blood pressure after four or more weeks.