Gentlemen—or those who love a gentleman—here are some facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Heart disease kills more of you per year than every type of cancer combined.

Yes, prostate cancer is a killer, and the risk goes up as you age. Yes, diabetes seems to be claiming an increasing number of men. Yes, chronic liver and kidney disease can be deadly. But nothing compares to deaths caused by heart disease. According to the CDC, heart disease was responsible for 24.9 percent of men’s deaths in 2010, with all ethnicities combined. That is nearly one quarter of all male deaths in America.

Breaking the numbers down by race, only men identified as Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic have more cancer deaths than deaths due to heart disease – but even those are very close.

By the Numbers

Here are the top killers by race:

  • All races: Heart disease – 24.9 percent
  • Hispanic: Cancer – 20.7 percent (Note: Heart disease is a very close second at 20.6 percent)
  • Black: Heart disease – 24.1 percent
  • White: Heart disease – 25.1 percent
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: Heart disease – 18.9 percent
  • Asian/Pacific Islander: Cancer – 27.1 percent (Note: Heart disease is second at 23.5 percent)

By comparison, the third leading cause of death for men (all races combined) is unintentional injury at 6.2 percent. Diabetes, at 2.9 percent of all men’s deaths in 2010, is just above suicide. Is the point made?

Key Factors Putting You at Risk

Some forms of heart disease are unavoidable. Call it a cruel trick of nature if you wish, but “Congenital Heart Disease” affects about eight in 1,000 people. Sometimes symptoms do not appear until adulthood, sometimes they appear right away. Cardiomyopathy—also called “Enlarged Heart”—is another condition that is probably more a result of genetics than behavior.

But let’s take a closer look at that number: eight in 1,000 men. That is 0.8 percent. Now compare that to the number cited above: 24.9 percent. This disparity between what’s known to be genetic and what develops later in life has led most experts to agree that behavioral factors play the major role in heart disease. And this is very good news.

The Good News

In many, many cases, heart disease is preventable. Very preventable, in fact. It is certainly more preventable than Alzheimer’s disease, which claims far fewer men’s lives every year. Of the behavioral causes of heart disease, the three biggies are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and cigarette smoking. The CDC estimates that about half of all Americans have at least one of these risk factors.

This will probably not be news to you, but it’s worth repeating: The major causes of high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are poor diet and nutrition and lack of physical exercise.

The Even Better News

While every habit is tough to break, breaking the habits that lead to high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol pay off even beyond making your heart healthier. They improve your quality of life. As Dr. Richard Stein, a cardiologist at New York University School of Medicine, put it on the website Heart.org, “There’s no one I know who said: ‘I felt better being sedentary. I felt better eating a terrible diet...’ All these things [that you can do to improve your heart] actually make you feel better while they help you.”

Here are some simple steps that most anyone can take to help improve heart health:

Physical Exercise. As mentioned above, physical exercise is key. Being active 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, is all it will take to help your heart and make you feel better. Even a brisk walk will help. And think of the stress-reducing benefits of letting your mind wander while your feet do the work.

Healthy Eating. Eat whole, natural, unprocessed foods and foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Substitute a salad for pasta and fish for steak. It may take some getting used to, but you’ll feel great and you might add years to your life.

Nutrition. While diet and nutrition are closely related, they are not necessarily one and the same. “Diet” refers to the food you consume, “nutrition” refers to the nutrients—vitamins and minerals—used by the body to keep going. Most of these nutrients will be found in food, but some can be found through supplements, such as fish oil (which is high in Omega-3) and Ubiquinol (which promotes optimum heart health, among other benefits).  

ESPN and Tracking Game

Our hearts are marvellous beasts. They start their work in the womb and never take a break until the end. It is unclear whether our ancestors of different eras had such high levels of heart disease, but many think they did not. It is clear that behavioral choices factor significantly in overall heart health. Many of us eat like our pioneering and farming forebears—namely, anything we can find, especially if it’s rich in fat and protein—but rather than vigorously tracking a buffalo or deer for a few miles over the cold prairie, we finish lunch and sit back down at the computer to track our teams on ESPN.

Men, we don’t need to track buffalo and eat nothing but berries, but our hearts will thank us if we do take a few more walks and eat a few more berries.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Heart.org.