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Men's health

Man eating fruit Your diet and lifestyle can make a big difference to your long-term health.

It's never too late to start making changes! So start by taking a look at what you eat during the day and try to get the balance right.

Protect your heart

coriander chopping We all need to think about what we can do to protect our hearts, and the rest of our bodies, for a long and healthy life.

Heart disease accounts for half of cardiovascular deaths, killing more than one in five men. Half of all 40-year-old men will develop heart disease sometime during the rest of their life.

High blood pressure

Having high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. Men should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (see Cut down on salt).

It's possible to develop high blood pressure at any age, but as you get older your blood pressure tends to rise. In England, almost one third of men have high blood pressure, also called hypertension.

Reducing your blood pressure reduces the risk of developing heart disease, even if your blood pressure is already within the normal range.

What can I do to protect my heart?

A healthy heart is vital for a healthy body. You can help protect your heart by doing these things:
  • eat plenty of fruit and veg
  • eat plenty of fibre
  • cut down on salt
  • cut down on fat, especially saturated fat
  • eat oily fish
  • try to be a healthy weight
  • be more active
  • go easy on the booze and give up smoking

Healthier eating tips

Eat plenty of fruit and veg

carrots Fruit and veg are good sources of many of the vitamins and minerals that we need to help us feel our best. And people who eat lots of fruit and veg are less likely to develop diseases such as coronary heart disease and some types of cancer.

We should all be eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day. It's a good idea to eat as wide a variety as possible, to give you a selection of different vitamins and minerals.

Eat plenty of fibre

bread Giving your fibre a boost could be good for your heart, as well as your digestion. But most people in the UK don't eat enough fibre. We should all be eating 18g of fibre a day – in the UK men are having on average 15g a day.

To eat more fibre, try these things:
  • choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can, such as wholegrain bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice and wholemeal pasta
  • eat more vegetables, dried fruit and pulses (such as beans and lentils)

Cut down on salt

spice jars Cutting down on salt can help to reduce blood pressure, especially as part of a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruit and veg.

Here are some tips for cutting down on salt:
  • 75% of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy, so check the label and choose those with less salt
  • get out of the habit of adding salt to your food – remember to taste it first
  • cut down on salty snacks such as crisps and nuts, and heavily-salted foods such as bacon, cheese, pickles and smoked fish
  • choose tinned vegetables, pulses and fish that say 'no added salt'
  • use herbs, spices, chilli and lemon to add flavour to your food instead of salt
  • go easy on the ketchup, soy sauce, mustard, pickles and mayo – these can be high in salt
  • look out for words on labels like: cured, smoked and pickled – these foods can be high in salt
Men are eating on average 10g of salt a day. We need much less than this. In fact, we should be eating no more than 6g per day.

Cut down on fat, especially saturated fat

meat chops big There are two main types of fat: saturated fat and unsaturated fat.

Over time, eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. Having high cholesterol increases your chance of developing heart disease.

Here are some tips for cutting down on saturated fat:
  • Choose lower fat dairy products. Try semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurts.
  • Grate cheese instead of slicing – this can help you eat less of it. And look out for cheese that is lower in fat.
  • Eat chicken without the skin. And when you’re cooking chicken, go easy with the creamy sauces – try a bit of lemon and some herbs instead.
  • Use leaner mince. Or try using turkey mince, which is even leaner.
  • Trim the fat off meat. And try grilling meat instead of frying.
  • Compare food labels and choose the option that is lower in saturated fat.
  • Eat less pastry. Pastry is high in saturated fat, so try not to have pies, pastries and sausage rolls too often.
  • When you're cooking, use unsaturated oils such as sunflower, olive and rapeseed, instead of butter, lard and ghee.
  • Eat healthier snacks when you’re on the go. Many snacks can be high in saturated fat, so pick up an apple, some dried fruit, or another healthier option.
Cutting down on saturated fat can also help you to eat a healthy balanced diet and control your weight.

Eat oily fish

fish three Oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines) are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which can help keep our hearts healthy. Aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including a portion of oily fish. But try to avoid having more than four portions of oily fish a week.

Healthy lifestyle, healthy body

Try to be a healthy weight

woman preparing herbs Being a healthy weight is an important part of protecting our health. So it's not good for you to be overweight or underweight. It's easy for weight to creep on, or drop off, without you really noticing. So it's a good idea to check if your weight is within the healthy range, using the chart at the link below.

Remember, whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or just stay the same, it's very important to eat regularly and eat a variety of types of food.

If you're worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.

Be more active

Man drinking bottle of water As well as protecting our hearts, being active is a great way of using up extra calories, and helps control our weight.

But this doesn't mean you have to join a gym – just try to get active every day and build up the amount you do. Even small changes can help, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to the shops instead of driving, or getting off the bus one stop earlier.

Walking is a great way to be more active – fit in as much as you can into your daily routine and try to walk at a good pace. Or make time for another type of activity you really enjoy, for example cycling.

Go easy on the booze and give up smoking

beer Men can drink 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day (2 to 3 units a day for women) without significant risk to their health. A unit is half a pint of standard strength (3 to 5% ABV) beer, lager or cider, or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine is about 2 units.

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your weight, particularly around the abdominal area, as well as leading to other long-term health problems such as stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and liver disease. It can also affect mental health. To help you cut down, you could try drinking lower-strength drinks, drinking half pints instead of pints or alternating alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks.

Smoking increases your chance of developing heart disease, so giving up is a good way to help reduce the risk.

Make gradual changes

wheat biscuit cereal Remember that you don't have to make big changes overnight. It's much more effective to make changes that you will be able to stick to in the long term. So try adapting your diet and lifestyle gradually.

For example, you could:
  • start the day with a healthy breakfast – choose a high-fibre cereal that is low in salt and sugars
  • try to fit in one more portion of fruit a day
  • start going for a brisk walk at lunchtime
  • get off the bus one stop earlier
  • switch to wholegrain bread instead of white
  • choose lower-fat dairy products
  • swap high-fat foods such as pies and sausages for lean meat or fish
  • keep some healthy snacks to hand, such as fruit or a handful of unsalted nuts, so you'll be less tempted by snacks high in fat and sugars

More information

This advice was produced in partnership with the Men's Health Forum, as part of their Haynes mini-manual series. You can find out more at the link below.