5 Potentially Fatal Cardiovascular Health Mistakes that Dads (and Men) Make

Dads have some of the biggest hearts (and worst jokes), but men in general are prone to making five common mistakes when it comes to taking care of their own hearts.

Every year on the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day presents an opportunity to highlight some of the things that we associate with dads — grilling (pretty much anything), dad jokes, road trips, getting lost during road trips, “fixing” the lawnmower (often followed by the purchase of a new lawnmower), falling asleep on the couch, and of course, heart disease.

Wait — heart disease?

Unfortunately, yes. Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is the number one cause of death for men in the U.S., and it’s responsible for about 1 in every 4 male deaths. What’s more, on average men develop heart disease 10 years earlier than women. And about half of men who suddenly die from coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.1 Plus, compared with premenopausal women of the same age, men typically have higher blood pressure — which forces the heart to work harder, and raises the likelihood of cardiovascular disease over time.2

And the story gets even worse.

5 Potentially Fatal Mistakes Men Make When It Comes to Cardiovascular Health

Johns Hopkins Medicine points out that, compared to women, men are prone to making five potentially catastrophic mistakes regarding their heart health.3 Here is a look at the unforced errors and what men can do to avoid making them.

Mistake #1: Skipping preventative care

Men tend to visit their physician for an annual checkup less often than women.4 Consequently, they are less likely to get routine tests for things like blood pressure — which is key to measuring and monitoring heart health. 

What to do: Book an appointment for an annual check-up, and know — rather than guess and hope — what is going on. You can also ask your employer to provide you with the Hello Heart app, which lets you access personalized wellness tips and biometric data directly on your mobile device. The app is powered by artificial intelligence and behavioral psychology, and in a peer-reviewed study published in a JAMA Network Open, Hello Heart’s hypertension self-management program was clinically shown to help people reduce their blood pressure.5

Mistake #2: Not taking erectile dysfunction seriously (or being too embarrassed to get help)

Contrary to what many men believe — and what is often portrayed in movies and on TV — difficulty getting or maintaining an erection is often linked to heart health, rather than mental state. The problem may be due to dysfunction of the inner lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) and smooth muscle. Endothelial dysfunction causes inadequate blood supply to the heart and impaired blood flow to the penis, and aids in the development of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances on artery walls. According to the National Institutes of Health, disease linked to atherosclerosis, such as coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

What to do: Speak with your physician to discuss your symptoms and concerns. Be assured that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. Life is precious. Don’t die of embarrassment. 

Mistake #3: Thinking “I’m too young” to have have a heart attack

Of all the cardiovascular health faux pas on the list, this may be the most pervasive — and therefore, possibly the most devastating. The inconvenient truth, as noted earlier, is that on average men develop heart disease 10 years earlier than women. Furthermore, heart attacks are becoming increasingly common in younger adults. In fact, between 2006 and 2016, the proportion of individuals under 40 suffering a heart attack increased two percent each year.6

What to do: Snap out of the mistaken belief that you are “too young” to have heart disease or suffer a heart attack, and start focusing on ways that you can manage and mitigate your risk factors. In a study analyzing over 55,000 people, individuals with favorable lifestyle habits such as not smoking, not being obese, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a healthy diet lowered their heart disease risk by nearly 50 percent.7

Mistake #4: Believing that self-medicating is the answer

Someone once wisely said that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” And thanks to the Internet and social media, that warning is as true as ever. Hydroxychloroquine anyone? There is no shortage of fraudulent or woefully uninformed individuals and organizations that claim to have the “solution” for preventing or alleviating heart disease.

What to do: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other places on the interwebs may be a useful source for some health-related issues at a general level. But when it comes to YOUR heart health, the most reliable source that you should consult and trust is your physician (and other licensed healthcare professionals).

Mistake #5: Accepting that heart disease is inevitable because it "runs in the family”

Heart disease may affect a few, some, or even many branches of a family tree. But this categorically does not mean that a heart attack, stroke, or other serious — and potentially fatal — problem is guaranteed to be on the horizon. Heart disease is not inevitable.

What to do: Share your family history with your physician, assess your risk, and inquire about smart and safe prevention activities. You have much more control over your health and future than you may realize!

Let's keep dads around for longer

Men who take their heart health seriously and follow the advice above — especially the one about booking an annual physical exam — can significantly increase their chances of enjoying plenty of grilling, bad joke-telling, lawn mowing, adventurous road tripping, and glorious couch naps for many years to come!

Footnotes:

1 Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2012 update: a Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012;125(1):e2–220. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/125/1/e2.short?rss=1&amp%3bssource=mfr.Accessed 6/16/22.

2 J F Reckelhoff. Gender Differences in the Regulation of Blood Pressure. Hypertension. 2001 May;37(5):1199-208. doi: 10.1161/01.hyp.37.5.1199. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0b013e31823ac046?rss=1&ssource=mfr Accessed 6/16/22.

3 Johns Hopkins Medicine. Heart Health Mistakes Made by Men - and How to Avoid Them. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-heart-health-mistakes-made-by-men-and-how-to-avoid-them. Accessed 6/17/22.

4 Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Survey: Men Will Do Almost Anything to Avoid Going to the Doctor. https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2019/09/04/cleveland-clinic-survey-men-will-do-almost-anything-to-avoid-going-to-the-doctor Accessed 6/17/22.

5 Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed 6/8/2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. There were 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163. See additional important study limitations in the publication.)

6 American College of Cardiology. Heart Attacks Increasingly Common in Young Adults. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-03-heart-increasingly-common-young-adults.html. Accessed 6/17/22.

7 Amit V. Khera et al. Genetic risk, adherence to a healthy lifestyle, and coronary disease. N Engl J Med 2016 Dec 15;375(24):2349-2358. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1605086. Epub 2016 Nov 13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27959714. Accessed 6/17/22.