Once you reach 50, it’s harder to break that lazy lifestyle. Perhaps you start your work day by grabbing a fast-food breakfast sandwich that’s loaded with meat and drippy cheese. If you face a hectic schedule at the office, your only chance for lunch may be to visit the local convenience store for a beef stick and a maple bar. You arrive home, watch the first half of your favorite basketball game and eat dinner. Then it’s straight to the computer to forward a joke to your best friend, answer an e-mail and do some office prep work for the next day. Already it’s bedtime.

If this is your lifestyle, consider the harm you may be doing to your heart. Cardiovascular disease affects your heart or blood vessels. These diseases can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability.” The CDC says blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and diabetes are risk factors. Behavioral risk factors include tobacco use, obesity and heavy alcohol use. At a moment’s notice, a baby boomer can find himself in a hospital bed for coronary artery disease, a myocardial infarction (heart attack), a stroke or a number of other diseases. The good news is that healthy habits can reduce the chance of taking that dreaded ambulance ride. Even a simple daily walk around the shopping mall can make a big difference in improving artery and heart health.

Dr. Steven Schnur, Florida cardiologist and author of “The Reality Diet,” says the 50-year-old man “needs to be very concerned with whether or not he is beginning to develop underlying heart disease, because this is the age when you have to be concerned that your lifestyle for the last 20 or 30 years is going to start to catch up to you.” A good first step is to break away from your computer (you can do it) and visit the doctor. Schnur recommends having a lipid profile and developing a family tree to see if heart disease runs in the family. Other tests include a CT heart scan (to check for the beginnings of calcified plaque in the heart) and a screening EKG. Depending on the results, says Schnur, an ultrasound of the heart and a stress test may be necessary.

As you become more comfortable talking with your doctor, bring up your lifestyle. Discuss what you eat. Diet is a critical factor. Schnur suggests a diet higher in fiber. You should eat “the right fat, the right protein and the right carbohydrates.” And while you’re at it, see if your MD can suggest an exercise program. 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise is important, says Schnur, adding that it’s important to boost the heart rate appropriately. He says aerobic activity is important, with some resistance training to maintain muscle mass.

If your doctor says you’re healthy enough to exercise, you might try the fitness club. But if you’re pressed for time, consider a daily walk at the mall. Leave the credit card at home and be prepared to people watch and help your heart at the same time. Schnur likes the idea of 30 to 45 minutes of continuous, brisk walking in an effort to boost the heart rate. Schnur says exercise, weight loss and diet can help lower blood pressure.

Screening is key for the 50-year-old man. Schnur says, “I would tell baby boomers who are now reaching middle age that screening for colon cancer, a good urologic exam and a good heart scan” are important preventive measures, in conjunction with the right diet and exercise program. And don’t forget stress. Schnur says you should try to engage in activities that lower your stress level.

If all of this doesn’t convince you to exercise more, cut out stress and choose healthier food options, you might consider these sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Almost 700 thousand people die of heart disease in the United States each year.

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