HARLINGEN & BROWNSVILLE — With June officially serving as Men’s Health Awareness Month, there is no better time for men who normally put their own health on the back burner to take stock of their personal fitness.
Physical inactivity, high blood pressure, and smoking are risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer of men in America. Over time, fat and cholesterol can build up in blood vessels. When arteries that supply the heart and brain with blood become clogged, a heart attack or stroke can occur. These risk factors can be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle.
While there is no cure-all when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Christopher Romero, an internal medicine specialist with Valley Baptist Health System, said exercise can reduce the risk factor for a wide array of serious health complications and diseases ranging from stroke to diabetes.
“If there was a medication available today that could accomplish all of the health benefits that exercise provides nearly everyone would be on it,” Romero said. “Regular exercise is one of the single most important factors for improving overall health, and has been shown to increase life expectancy.”
Exercise can help keep body’s blood vessels open and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Exercise can also have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, raising levels of good cholesterol while reducing bad cholesterol numbers. Exercise can also lower the amount of fat in the bloodstream, assist in weight loss, and makes the heart and lungs work more efficiently, Romero said.
While it is important to consult a physician before incorporating any new exercise routine into plans for living a healthier lifestyle, walking, stair-climbing, jogging, and other activities of at least moderate intensity can also help prevent or manage several chronic diseases that become more common with age: type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis.
Both body and mind can benefit from exercise. Exercise can help manage stress, make life more enjoyable, boost self-image and help counter anxiety and depression.
“Significant improvements in overall health can be achieved with even the most modest increase in activity,” Romero said. “The key is starting with simple, achievable goals that when combined over time can turn into really great results.”
The Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, four to five days a week. Both organizations also recommend moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity at least two days a week.
In addition to exercise, Romero said it is important for men not to ignore their emergent health issues, chronic conditions, and scheduled health screenings as the community continues to navigate the latter stages COVID-19 pandemic.
“If men delay care because of fear of COVID-19, their problems being ignored can often get worse and lead to worse outcomes, sometimes even death. We have known for a very long time that for serious injuries, heart attacks, strokes, and other major health emergencies getting treatment as soon as the possible makes all the differences,” he said. “Often when medical problems are able to be treated early they can have much better outcomes than if treatment is delayed. For example, being seen as soon as possible after the onset of a stroke can potentially mean the difference between being able to walk out of the hospital and being permanently disabled.”
Examples of such scheduled health screenings include annual tests for colon cancer. As rates of colorectal cancer continue to rise among young adults, the Centers for Disease Control recently reduced the age individuals should start receiving colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 years old, Romero said.
“So much care was delayed due to the pandemic it is important that we all get back into the practice of following up with our doctor to help us stay on track, and identify health issues early before they become major problems,” he said. “Hispanic men are more likely to delay healthcare, despite the fact that we have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver problems. It’s important that we take care of ourselves, so we can continue to take care of the ones we love. The pandemic truly highlighted the need for more attention to preventative care for Hispanic men, as we suffered the highest number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the State of Texas.”
Use these tips to move toward a more active life:
· Choose enjoyable activities. The key to starting and sticking with an exercise program is to picking the right activities. Then choose a convenient time and place to work out. Try to make exercise a habit. Finding an exercise partner may make it easier to stick to a regular schedule.
· Build up endurance. Start out by exercising slowly and gradually build up intensity and duration of exercise sessions. Overdoing exercise increases the risk of injury. Do not ignore any pain in joints, ankles, feet, or legs.
· Drink plenty of water. During exercise, drink water every 15 minutes, especially in hot, humid conditions. Be sure to drink before experiencing feelings of thirst.
· Check with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program, especially when starting from a long period of inactivity, or if you have a chronic health problem like heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or if you are at high risk for developing these problems.
In addition to exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, one low in fat and calories, is another weapon for fighting cardiovascular disease, stroke and many other conditions. For more information on men’s health, visit www.valleybaptist.net.